At my friend Joe’s suggestion, I recently played through Ys Books 1 & 2, which are on the Wii’s Virtual Console. These particular versions of the games are 20 years old and were originally on the Turbo Duo, but even THIS collection happens to be a remake of the original games, which at the time of their release were 1-2 years old. The remake was on a CD-ROM, which gave it an amazing digitized soundtrack that sounds incredible, especially when you consider that it came out in 1989.

It was a strange experience. For the most part, I play old games for one of two reasons: because I have a past with them and I have some kind of attachment to them or because they’ve aged well and so it’s common for people to go back to those particular games.

In the case of the former, my history with an old game often changes my viewpoint. I’m liable to forgive problems with the gameplay or design flaws that modern games have made obvious because I know about these problems going in or I’m more interested in seeing the plot again. As for the latter, the fact that it has held up over the years means that it won’t feel as dated, either because the game was so well designed in the first place or because its reach did not exceed its grasp in terms of the hardware it ran on or something like that.

Ys Books 1 & 2 do not fit into either of these categories. It has not aged particularly well— the voice acting is atrocious and inconsistent (presumably due to storage requirements), the localization is terrible, and the actual combat gameplay is frustrating and arbitrary. The difficulty curve is ridiculous— a boss can go from taking 50+ hits to kill to taking fewer than 20 hits by just gaining one experience level.

That said, the fact that this game achieves what it does for its time is amazing. The level of intricacy in the plot and the way that things in the plot carry over from Book 1 to Book 2 (originally separate games) is fairly unheard of in its day. Characters die and come back, maidens are revealed as goddesses, and the sheer amount of text for a game available on a console in the late 1980s is staggering. As mentioned earlier, the soundtrack is fantastic, and the variety of spells in the second game is interesting.

Overall, playing the game (with my friend’s help looking up how to get through some of the more maze-like dungeons) was a little bit surreal. Playing a game this old for the first time was strange, but it was fun to learn how much this series had accomplished two full years before The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past came out, the first game in the same general genre that could probably top this game in terms of quality and scope.

(originally published on April 23 on