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Ys: The Ark of Napishtim is an action RPG (read: typical turn-based combat replaced with real-time) that appears on the PSP pretty faithfully to its console counter-part, which was itself a port from the PC. Why the world needed a portable version of Ys: The Ark of Napishtim I’ll never know, but I’m sure the fans will be happy.

The Ark of Napishtim is fourth in a particularly niche series that has seen steady releases for almost 20 years. Don’t be put off by the game’s history, however. You can play The Ark of Napishtim without having played the others; it’s not like jumping into 24 mid-season. This chapter begins a few years after the events of the last game, with young Adol Christin, a “red-haired adventurer”, washing ashore after the pirate ship he was on got sucked into the “Great Vortex of Canaan found at the edge of the great ocean.” He awakens on a strange cluster of islands where he’s nursed by the furry, elfish Rehdan people before setting out for the legendary "Mirror of Zemeth." That’s pretty much it. You’ll run into a lot of NPCs with cool little anime representations along the way and run errands for them, in typical RPG fashion, then you’ll leave town and wail on endless hordes of monsters, leveling up and collecting items as you do.

Ys: The Ark of Napishtim

The combat isn’t very deep. There are three different elemental weapons to collect, a handful of attacks, and some spells. It’s pretty much on par with PSone action RPGs like Alundra and Azure Dreams, but it is highly kinetic and enjoyable enough to keep you pushing through the irrelevant story. You’ll typically have to handle eight or nine monsters at a time, and since they respawn every time you return to the area, there’s always something to fight. This, however, brings us to one of the game’s biggest problems – load times.

Load times have been one of the PSP’s most consistent flaws. Some games handle them well (Liberty City Stories, Daxter), while others are crippled by them (Smackdown vs. Raw, nearly every other PSP game). Sadly, Ys falls into the latter. Every time you enter a new area you have to sit through 8 to 15 seconds of loading. This wouldn’t be too bad if there weren’t so many of them! Every three feet you entire a new area, but the best part is that 60% of the areas in the game are completely useless! There are no enemies in them, no NPCs, no items, and no interactive elements of any kind. They are just there to fill out the game’s world, which is all well and good, but not when most of your playing experience is spent sitting through needless load screens. It’s another case of poor design, developers who tried to work the PSP around the game and not the other way around.

Even the menus require ridiculous amounts of loading, pausing noticeably between every selection. Cut-scenes, dialogue, leveling up (which happens mid-combat) – everything’s book ended by action-stopping disc access. You’d think a game this limited could keep all the loading to a minimum. It’s not like it packs any technical feats - the backgrounds are bland with limited textures, there’s no interactivity within the environment, and characters are sprite-based. Would larger zones or consistent frame rates be too much to ask?

Ys: The Ark of Napishtim

The game can also be surprisingly difficult, which seems like another bad design choice for a PSP title. I’m not against a challenge, nor am I saying there’s no room for difficult games on a handheld, but if you get killed 7 or 8 times by the same room full of rats that appears about 20 minutes into the game, something is wrong. Also, a good number of the game’s enemies cannot be damaged, yet kill you with one hit. You’ll only know which they are once they kill you. Yup, the trial-and-error level can be enormous. Luckily, save points are liberally placed, so you usually don’t have to backtrack very far – but you do have to wade through more trying load times.

While the PSP loses one of the PS2’s coolest features (fully-voiced dialogue) it does gain a few extras, like mini-games, character profiles, and a media player. Of course, you have to wonder who this game is targeted for. If you’ve already played through the PS2 version, do you really need to put $40 down to play through it on a smaller screen? I wouldn’t think so, though diehard fans may beg to differ. It’s a fine game, and perhaps the PSP’s lack of quality software will make its niche gameplay a bit more appealing, but unless you’re feeling nostalgic for 16-bit style adventuring, Ys doesn’t offer much appeal.

Bottom Line:

It's an enjoyable hack-n-slash as well as a fairly faithful port. I enjoyed my time with Ys: The Ark of Napishtim (when I wasn't being frustrated by the excessive load times and difficulty), but unless you are a diehard Ys fan or dying for a throwback action-RPG, there are better ways to burn your PSP's battery.

Pros:Cons:Final Score:
  • Faithful port of a niche series.
  • Fun, if not a bit simplistic, hack-and-slash gameplay.
  • PSP exclusive extras a nice bonus for owners of the PS2 version.
  • Weak visuals laden with load times.
  • At times, needlessly difficult.
  • Not much appeal for non-fans.

Posted: 2006-04-04 13:28:24 PST