Brilliant. It's like the joy I had playing every single Zelda that I got for xmas/bdays, only combined, and well paced.
STORY + CHARACTERS:
While I'm yet to complete it, the game's plot so far is very well done. There is some backstory that the game alludes to, but I seem to be surviving without knowing it and thus any newcomer to the Ys franchise should also survive. The said backstory includes the prior journeys and adventures of the main character, Adol Christin (and his friend Dogi). Adol Christin has made quite a name for himself, both because of his extraordinary deeds and because of his distinct red hair - the game likes to refer to this, both using his nickname (Adol the Red), and in some references to his ethnicity (the game is set in the continent of Afroca, where as Adol seems to come from Europa). Dogi, his buddy who's always there by his side, also has some history to him. As a result of Adol and Dogi's backstories and personal histories, you get a feeling that this is all part of something bigger, which makes you feel more inclined to participate in the game knowing that it's going towards something that's worth it, unlike say the Zelda games where you know that the main character's actions ultimately seem rather pointless.
Essentially, the story feels like you are participating in some Viking saga, which is always nice.
Non-main-protagonist characters are just as interesting, unless they're the basic NPCs who patrol towns with nothing better to do, although you can learn more about the world you're in by talking to them. Be warned, some characters who join your party won't stay there for very long, normally playing the role as the guide for whatever region you're in. You will end up though having roughly 3 long-term characters though - Adol, Dogi, and another one who joins in after 5 hrs or so.
This is where elements like those of Star Ocean start to come in. While there's nothing cool like Reimi from Star Ocean 4's blindside attacks (which admittedly outshone those of even the main character of that game), overall, the fights you participate in will be more engaging and fast paced than those of the Star Ocean series. Dodging plays a heavy part in the combat, which is not so bad since even Dogi (being quite a *ahem* well built individual) can fly across the screen in a single bound. Each boss, and almost most normal enemies require a certain strategy if you hope to beat them unscathed. There are also charge attacks, special attacks and Adol even ends up getting a sort of "finisher" attack that charges up over a period of time, which is useful for fighting bosses. Unlike other action RPGs, fighting does not go to another screen, somewhat like the Zelda games.
Outside of fighting, there's cities, towns, the expansive plains and wilderness, all of which involve side quests (which are kept record of in Adol's journal, thank goodness). Such side quests range from giving someone a certain set of materials in exchange for money, or hunting wild titanos (basically, bosses, monster hunter style). Character interaction is also enjoyable enough, that it will take up just as much gameplay as fighting.
Oh, and one slightly important thing: You'll likely forget this is a PSP game, since loading is virtually seamless. In fact, much unlike the Metroid prime games or Red Steel 2, both being games that try to mask loading by having doors open terribly slowly, loading here is so seamless that it's as if there is no loading, or everything's simply loaded into some magical hidden memory device in the PSP when you first see the title screen. I honesty can't remember if I've seen a loading screen for this game or not, but if I have it must have been pretty short. Very uncharacteristic of a UMD game. (this isn't counting the half a second "loading game" Sony-save-game-system bits).
Nice, that's all I can say. You can practically control the game however you like, since they are all customisable, as are what buttons you use for special attacks.
GRAPHICS + SOUND:
Both are excellent. The graphics are more than up to par. Characters do look a bit blocky up close and are somewhat deformed, (unfortunately, Adol does not appear quite as cool in-game as his portrait might suggest) and the best comparison for character quality would be the pre-halo Bungie game Oni. The environments however are amazing, not breathtaking since this is a PSP, but they do make the player ask how exactly they managed to put so much detail into a PSP game. Tiled floors look like how tiles should, organic textures feel weathered and rough looking, dust and smoke looks OK too, water (unless it's far away and calm like the sea around Altago) looks alright, but most importantly the special effects have taken advantage of very well done shader and particle effects, which is important in anything in the fantasy genre. That is, the bloom is fine and not at all blocky, and reflections are smooth as they should be. It's safe to say that the PSP has come a long way since Crisis Core, although don't expect anyone as high-detailed as Zack to come out of the game.
Sound, well, it's spot on. Adol's sword doesn't sound irritating at all, the voices aren't terrible (if they were, it'd be horrible since a certain archer character can't keep her mouth closed when using her attacks), and the music is catchy. You will probably want good headphones to play this game with
If I had to compare this to anything, it'd have to be Zelda (or a Square Enix game) simply because the production values, like with Zelda games, are very high. Only, I honestly feel this game is of much higher quality. It's clear the developers knew the restraints of the console they were working with, and worked around them, without sacrificing the quality of Ys Seven. Because of their good work, playing Ys makes me forget about such trivialities like what console I'm using or how much of the game has been completed or is left to complete or whether I should keep backup saves before every boss for replay's sake, and just lets me play and enjoy the game.
Ultimately, the game makes me feel like I've gotten my $300 worth from when I first got my PSP3000 a couple of years ago, and makes me feel like not only is this the game I've been waiting for on this console, but also makes me question how I've been living as a gamer without this game (unfortunately, such an over the top expression is not a guarantee, and so I cannot say that everyone would feel that way).
10/10. A must have PSP game in my books, alongside things like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and Valkyria Chronicles 2.