~ YS IV: THE DAWN OF YS ~
Falcom / Hudson Soft
Fans of Book I & II get a treat right off the bat here, as Adol's confrontation with Darm is recreated in a thrilling opening cinema.
They also get the chance to romp through Esteria (the land that hosted the events of Ys I), visiting familiar locations, seeing familiar faces, and reveling in familiar tunes. I got chills as I played through the revisitation stretch for the first time. Ys IV will bring nostalgic tears to the eyes of I & II veterans as it effectively pays homage to its glorious predecessor, and it deserves a lot of credit for that.
Of course, IV has some money moments of its own, including fantastic "history lesson" scenes that feature moody, dramatic music and extremely cool artwork.
It also offers its own take on old-school-Ys-style combat. You can't simply have Adol lower his shoulders and bulldoze through everything now; you have to pay a little more attention to the impending collision spots if you're going to avoid taking damage. Despite the modifications, the bump-and-run method still lends itself to speed and convenience, and the Samson shoes (which turn Adol into a slow footed but nearly invulnerable wrecking machine) make late-game leveling a not-very-arduous task.
More impressive than the combat tweaks are the puzzles and challenges involving the environment, including a course of shifting desert sands and a bizarre warp-tile trial.
The graphics received the upgrade treatment and now flaunt slightly larger sprites and more background detail. I wouldn't call the visual improvements major, as I found Book I & II nice looking to begin with, but they contribute to the game's general appeal all the same.
The anime-style close-ups of the characters benefit from a new refined style: Lilia, for instance, looks much better here than she does in I & II.
Of course, despite Lilia's improved looks, Adol, as usual, finds a few new ladies to cavort with.
While I'm fine with the gameplay and graphical amendments, I'm not completely satisfied with the soundtrack. Sure, there are some brilliant tunes to be heard here, among which are the new rendition of Adol's hook-laden theme, the immensely catchy number featured during a late-game tower stretch, and the appropriately odd-sounding track that accompanies the warp-tile escapades. There are some forgettable and even awful moments, however: one of the field tunes, a repetitive electric-guitar-driven number, is horribly grating; and I always want to cover my ears when I hear the high-pitched shrieking that goes on within the flood-gate labyrinth. There are quite a few remarkable chip tunes included, however.
The humdrum villains constitute a greater concern than the hit-or-miss music. I would've preferred foes more intriguing than the cartoony lot we get here, as these miscreants would be more at home in a Schbibin Man game and seem particularly unfit when viewed as successors to the legends that were Dark Fact, Dalles, and Darm.
I don't like the fact that Dark Fact's old chambers are occupied by a chubby blonde oaf; and while the conniving girl looks cool on occasion, she doesn't do much aside from stealing a tactic from Dalles' old playbook. Evil bladesman Guruda does earn his place in PCE history with one shocking moment of treachery, but he isn't very memorable design-wise; he's just a generic blue-haired anime dude.
A lot of folks consider Ys IV to be the Duo's greatest action-RPG. While I do think it's very good, I don't agree with praise of that sort. I believe the game is outmatched in many respects by a number of its peers, even within the Falcom fraternity: Book I & II has the greater soundtrack and cooler villains, Legend of Xanadu is more challenging and features superior puzzle design, and Xanadu II boasts better visuals and more-satisfying combat. However, Ys IV does indeed offer up a fine overall package and stands as a worthy successor to I & II (which is truly the greatest PCE game of all time).