Adol the Red has a pathological need for adventure. This enigmatic hero has been traipsing around a number of far-flung lands during the long tenure of Falcom's Ys series and has laid down scores of monsters with the edge of his sword. Rather than a franchise that is built on extensive storytelling, Ys is built around hacking and slashing and not much else. This is both an advantage and a detriment, with the result that if you love a singular focus on dismembering monsters and stealing all their stuff, Ys Seven will satisfy.
Assuming the role of Adol, your adventure gets underway as you and a companion, Dogi, arrive in Altago City, a bustling port that has only recently earned victory in a conflict with a neighboring country. As outsiders, the two travelers are viewed with hostility and suspicion by the Dragon Knights, the city's guardian force. The king has fortunately heard tales of Adol the Red, and you are soon asked to investigate some activity at a nearby ruin. For a figure of such world renown, Adol Christin is pretty much a blank slate. You don't get a sense of what he does besides kill monsters, travel, help random people with their problems, and enjoy Dogi's company. Nor do you get a sense of his history beyond the fact that he's an adventurer who goes on adventurous adventures. Other characters are fleshed out with only the broadest of narrative strokes, enough to push matters onward without being strong individuals. There are a few dramatic twists to keep the sense of urgency alive as all of Altago falls into inevitable peril, but the story is just a basic scaffold around the gameplay. That's somewhat unfortunate, since you end up wanting to know more about the famous red-haired hero. The setup can leave you feeling a bit lost, particularly if you haven't played a Ys game before.
You cross the regions of the kingdom through circuitous paths across plains and mountains and through forests and deserts. Each area is brimming with native wildlife that has been extremely naughty to the local populace, giving you ample chance to hone your blade. Your three party members each have a basic attack that you can hold down a button to charge up, a slew of special skills that can be learned from weapons, and an ultimate attack that can be executed when an extra gauge is full. Smacking enemies around earns you skill points that replenish a meter from which your special skills draw their power. As you clear your way through the wilderness or dungeons, you fall into a natural rhythm of mashing monsters for skill points, unleashing your special skills to earn extra points, and then hoarding your most powerful ability for your strongest foes. You can switch between any of your characters on the fly, which is useful since different characters can equip different weapons that inflict strong damage on specific monster types. If you use a non-ideal bit of armament, your damage output becomes pitiful, so it's obvious when you need to swap even if you can't anticipate the species of monster.
Combat results in a cascade of coins, bones, horns, and other such collectibles--and the glory of putting multiple creatures through the combined blender of Adol and friends is the great hook that propels exploration. There's a good mix of uncomplicated foes that are fodder for the button-mashing meat grinder and powerful beings that require you to skillfully employ your evade ability to skirt disaster. The real stars are the titanos and other giant boss monsters, which are hulking beasts that require quick evasions and wise use of your skills to defeat. It's not just a matter of hitting vulnerable spots or moving around projectiles, either; bosses have diverse skills, and they unleash new strategies as you whittle down their health. To defeat them you need to be able to adapt rapidly, and this makes their demise all the more gratifying. The only issue with these marquee battles is that bosses have a tendency to be somewhat cheap, chaining projectiles and powerful area-based skills that can make it impossible to avoid getting hit hard when you have to go in and stab. Fortunately you can carry with you a limited number of healing items that will quickly become your best companions, so getting juggled into the air by a convergence of ridiculous powers won't necessarily mean your doom. There are a couple of different AI settings for your friends, but mostly they seem to run around and do whatever the heck they want, which usually works.
Healing items, weapons, armor, and accessories can be purchased or synthesized. As you journey through Altago, you accumulate all manner of animal bits, leaves, fruits, ore, and other materials used for crafting. Spending your money is always a valid option, but ultimately the best weapons and armor in the game are created through synthesis. It's up to you how much crafting you'd like to do, and the game does such a good job of flooding you with materials that you won't have to do too much in the way of hunting for rare toenail clippings. Some denizens of the villages you come across offer you quests, and though these side tasks aren't terribly involved and can be easily skipped over, they give a little more personality to the places you visit and a few nice rewards.
Character portraits bring the cast to personable life, with a few shifting expressions to convey the important emotions of the moment. The 3D models are not beautiful but get the job done, and there's a good assortment of monster types all throughout the game so that you're not fighting the same slime in a different color all the time. Your special skills have punch while not being all that fancy, and the ultimate extra abilities have just enough flash to make them fun without slowing down the action. While most of the game locations are the standard grassy plains, trees, and sands, many of the later dungeons are a lot more visually interesting, with wind, water fountains, and even a few lasers. You find a number of key items that allow you to ride updrafts, run across lava, and breathe underwater to facilitate your exploration without necessitating a lot of backtracking. They're well placed within the dungeons that require them and are all useful through to the end of the game, which arrives after 20 to 30 hours of looting everything in sight. Energetic dungeon themes serve as great audio backdrops for the length of your travels without grating.
It's a shame that the characters aren't more fully fleshed out and that events hew so closely to role-playing game cliche, but ultimately Ys Seven rests on the strength of its action. This is an old recipe for hack-and-slash enjoyment, and while it may not be the most memorable or modern, there's something to be said for grand, giant bosses wiping the floor with you. The satisfying elements of the gameplay still carry the Ys formula well in the present day, for new fans and old.