Ys X: Nordics is a game worth waiting for
When I reviewed Nihon-Falcom’s last release in the Ys franchise, I walked away conflicted - most of all due to the companies continued homogenization of their games. If nothing else, I’m glad that walking away from Ys X: Nordics I can say that the company has made a true step forward, with a game that reinvigorates the series in many ways - even if some elements do still remain from what has come before. For all its faults Ys X, is the most refreshing Falcom game I’ve played since the original release of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana all the way back in 2016.
First things first; gone is the “party system” of past Ys titles, where players had to juggle between a medley of characters with different playstyles, and different attack types, depending on the enemies that you found yourself facing - instead, much of Ys X, even down to the story, revolves around the duo of Adol Christin and new heroine Karja Balta. Bound together by a literal thread of fate, the two of them embark on a journey together, and the gameplay system revolves around this smaller, and more focused party.
While skills and SP remain, instead of using the right character to battle the right enemy, instead players are encouraged to swap characters due to both having their own separate SP gauges. Ys X introduces a “Chain Attack” system, where successive skills will reduce the SP consumption of further skills. However, there’s a catch; the timing for keeping the chain up won’t require you to constantly use skills, but use a stronger attack that leaves you with no SP to spare and you might be at risk of breaking the chain. Thankfully, that’s when you can switch to your partner to continue building your chain before you’re ready to start spamming powerful “Combo Skills”.
As part of the thread that binds Adol and Karja, players can hold down the right trigger to have both characters attack in tandem with the downside that movement will be greatly slowed. While this is useful for bursts of damage with regular attacks, the regular meat and potatoes of the system comes in the unique skills that you can access which lets Adol and Karja let loose flashy moves that can riddle the screen with effects; though unless you build up your chain, you won’t likely be spamming these powerful attacks outright, as they come with a hefty SP cost for both characters upon use.
Add in another wrinkle in that players can’t use the same skill twice in a row without breaking the chain, and immediately some of the core issues of the skill system in previous Ys titles has been solved. No longer will players always be able to spam their same, strongest skill for every fight; you’ll instead want to build up momentum to your stronger attacks, while still keeping track to ensure you don’t use the same skill twice in a row. For a first knack at the concept, Falcom has done a remarkable job here - and it succeeds in making players want to explore more of each character’s moveset, thanks to the fact that they’ll likely be using every skill in their arsenal sooner or later.
Flash Guard and Flash Evade have also been retooled; occasionally enemies will be surrounded by a blue or red aura, denoting that their next attack will be either a Speed Attack or a Power Attack, respectively. Speed attacks can automatically be dodged if you’re dashing when you come into contact with it, but specifically cannot be blocked; Power Attacks on the other hand can be blocked, but only when both characters are alive, and only if timed at the correct time. Both attacks when dealt with appropriately can sometimes lead to an opportunity for a flashy cinematic counterattack. Blocking attacks will also raise your “Revenge Gauge”, which will increase the damage of your next Combo Skill, and the better the timing of a block, the quicker the gauge will raise.
It’s a lot to process when put on paper, but in practice not only are the changes to the combat system intuitive, but insanely fun to learn how to utilize, leading to some dynamic and engaging boss fights - particularly in the latter half of the game. That's not even to go into some of the wrinkles of the Release Line system - a mix between the Orbment system from Trails in the Sky and the Crossbell duology, and a Sphere Grid, which can grant both Adol and Karja specific buffs while also raising their basic attributes along the way.
Without divulging into the story, as the game likely won’t be localized until 2025, I will say that despite some issues with specific storybeats outside of the main plot, I had a great time with Adol’s latest adventure, which straddled the line between appropriate stakes while continuing with the best strengths of Ys storytelling of the past. The final showdown, both thematically and from a gameplay perspective, might just be my new favorite from the series as a whole. Adol and Karja's relationship is a highlight, and probably the best chemistry that Adol has had with any of the series' heroines to date; and I'm sure a lot of that comes down to Ys X being just as much Karja's story, as it is Adol's.
Level design, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. Unlike previous entries, much of Ys X’s exploration is done on the open sea, aboard the ship the Sandras; which, despite what fans might have expected, proves Adol to be a more than capable captain. I’m of two minds about the ship; once you get a few upgrades under your belt, particularly the Manasail and a boost to your speed, it’s actually pretty enjoyable to explore the Obelia Bay. However, to start with your ship is unbearably slow, and battles rather dull. It certainly doesn’t help that the first region of the sea you start in is wide open, and as such you’ll be finding yourself begging for any currents that you can find to help make your travel easier.
Even then; due to the nature of naval travel, exploration on land has been more or less eliminated, with the islands that you do land on being a far, far more linear affair than the areas of Ys VIII, and even Ys IX; there’s far less off the beaten path, with what little collectibles there are to discover feeling far more like busywork between hidden crystal masses and invisible, buried treasure chests. That’s not to say that the levels themselves are bad, however; they’re actually quite good when it comes to their flow and level design.
One aspect that helps this is the introduction of the Grimble Board, which you can use to Manaride. This surfboard type object lets you glide across water, and will react to momentum appropriately. Some of the best dungeons in the game make use of this mechanic in puzzle solving, making the act of moving across the game world feel seamless, with an enjoyable pace to it all. However, again, these levels are very much linear; which might feel like a downgrade from levels of the past. How you’ll feel about the shift in priorities will be up to you, but rather than the level design of Ys VIII we’re looking at levels akin to those found in The Legend of Nayuta: Boundless Trails.
Another problem I have with the game, unfortunately returns from Ys IX: Monstrum Nox; visual variety. While that game was far too drab and gray, Ys X instead is far, far too much green and grassy hills. While there are certainly some areas with different locales to gawk at, a good 2/3rds of Ys X or so feels to be the same grassy environments, with a good chunk of the remainder either being the open sea or a non-descript cave. It’s less grating than Ys IX, but arguably even worse in terms of variety - and it still remains a disappointment after how striking Ys VIII’s locations were 7 years ago, as well as how Trails through Daybreak’s locations are, too. I'd also say that while I preferred Ys X's soundtrack to IX's, it's still concerning how inconsistent the music has begun to feel.
That all being said; historically, no new Ys system has been without its faults, as even Ys VIII’s original Vita release paled in comparison to the expanded release on PlayStation 4. I had a blast with Ys X, warts and all, and what truly counts Falcom nailed with their first attempt at the new formula. With any luck, it’s only up from here - and so many of the complaints that I do have feel like they could very easily be addressed in whatever is to come next for Adol, Dogi and their friends across the world. Here’s hoping the rest of our world won’t have to wait long before they can get their hands on Falcom’s latest adventure.
RPG Site received a copy of Ys X: Nordics from Nihon-Falcom for the purposes of this article.