Ys: The Ark of Napishtim first saw the light of day on the PlayStation 2 last year, offering up some new RPG action in the storied Ys tradition. That same game has now been adapted for the PSP, and the results are mixed. The new minigames present in the PSP version are an addition weighed against the removal of voice acting and the introduction of sometimes painfully long loading times. The hack-and-slash gameplay remains hectic and true, but you'd have to be pretty patient to try to take advantage of it in this port.
Falcom's fiery-haired hero, Adol Christin, washes up on the shore of the isle of Canaan when his ship is tossed into the Great Vortex, a powerful storm that isolates a number of islands within its confines. He's discovered by two young priestesses of the Rehda tribe, a beast-man race marked by their elfish ears and tails as much as their inherent distrust of humans. It seems that the vortex enjoys swallowing human-bearing ships and disgorging scattered groups of survivors along the island chain, and those survivors are fond of sacrilegious terraforming. They're tearing down the stones of ancient ruins and using them to build villages, an activity the Rehda view with growing distaste. Still, Adol is nursed back to health, and soon proves his worth among the people by slaying a great monster. From there, the journey expands as Adol sets off to explore his new surroundings and the secrets that the islands and their ruins hold.
The exploring of course involves lots and lots of stabbing, as Adol must fight his way through all manner of monsters along his travels. While he initially possesses an ordinary blade, the Rehda soon grant him an emelas sword, a weapon crafted of a magical stone that enables it to harm the islands' greatest beasts. You'll gain a number of these swords along your way, each with a different elemental affinity: wind, fire, or lightning. Initially they're just ordinary weapons, but you can refine them by collecting emel stones, which have a chance to drop off the game's many monsters. You then take the stones to a special craftswoman who uses them to upgrade your swords. As they're further tempered, each blade not only increases in attack power, but also becomes increasingly imbued with elemental power. A sword thus strengthened will gain magical energy from defeating enemies, and you'll be able to unleash an elemental attack once your magic meter fills.
Such special attacks augment your existing arsenal. Adol has a small number of basic moves to bring to bear: He can chain slashes repeatedly in any direction, perform a jumping slash to attack aerial foes, and stab downward from the air to clobber enemies from above. Those moves, your special sword skills, and the ability to freely leap around like an idiot are the only things that keep you from destruction at the claws of countless foes, but these simple mechanics work well and allow you to exploit the weaknesses of given creatures. You'll need to exploit them over and over again, as often when Adol encounters a new area, the monsters are significantly increased in strength, and you'll have to do a lot of backtracking and reloading areas to fight the same beasties in order to level up and move on.
This is the point at which this port starts to break down--all this required backtracking and moving around between zones is in many cases seriously hampered by the game's load times. Each time you move into and out of a building, into and out of a village, and through the zones of the game's large outdoor areas and dungeons, you'll be faced with a loading screen. Some of these are short, but some can be as much as 15 seconds long and really put a toll on your patience and progress. There are even subtle pauses to load during some in-engine cutscenes, and the screen actually locks up for a short period every time you gain a level. The loads range from noticeable to truly frustrating, and derail the action.
This version of The Ark of Napishtim contains a selection of minigames that you'll unlock while playing, and includes a number of action trials, as well as time trials involving the game's often-tough boss battles. These are moderately interesting to play around with, but not quite as compelling as actually playing through the main narrative of the game, which should take a little bit north of 10 hours for most players to finish. The characters are a fun and distinctive lot that make the journey worth it, but there's not much to the game after you've beaten it once.
Graphically, the scaled-down visuals of Ys are a good fit for the PSP--the 3D sequences from the PS2 game are replaced with some nice-looking animation here, and while the sprites aren't the most detailed, they get the job done. The environments are varied and serviceable, aside from some muddy textures. Boss monsters are definitely the best-looking out of the lot, large and imposing and mean.
If you played the PS2 version of the game, you'll remember that the dialogue in Ys was all fully voiced. The PSP version contains absolutely none, which is a little surprising, but at least the script reads fine through text. The game's music doesn't reach the heights of other entries in the Ys series, but it's still very well done, distinctive, and motivating, and provides a very good foundation as you set out about your business.
Ys: The Ark of Napishtim still delivers on the action front on the PSP, but the removed features and decrease in performance means that this isn't the best version of the game you could play. If you absolutely must have Ys on your sleek Sony handheld, patience in moving around and dealing with the load times is a strict requirement--but at least you'll be able to take your frustrations out on the monsters.