This piece of my Anniversary Feature for the Ys series features Tom Lipschultz, of XSEED Games- also known to the internet as Wyrdwad. Tom has been active in the Ys community, even before he began his work with XSEED. –and even since then, he has remained very active and one of the ‘faces’ of the people who talk from XSEED.
I believed, that of some of the individuals in this, he definitely had to be one of the ones to speak about his experiences.
Iwent into this not sure what I would write… and I wound up writing a lot. A lot more than I ever expected I’d write. This is all basically stream of consciousness — in other words, the raw, unedited ramblings of a Falcom (and by extension Ys) fanboy whose passion literally changed his life. So please do excuse the sloppiness of this ranty mess. Should you read all the way through, I do hope you’ll get something from it… and I also hope you won’t judge me too harshly for my excessive nerdliness and ultra-verbosity! ;)
My first exposure to Falcom was “Faxanadu” on the NES (inasmuch as that counts, anyway, being a Hudson-developed game) — though I had no idea who Falcom was at the time, and since there was no fancy logo screen to stick in my memory, I didn’t even notice their name. I loved the game, though, and ranked it as one of my favorites for a long, long time.
Years later, I picked up another NES title called “Tombs & Treasure” — a largely forgotten game released stateside in 1991 by Infocom, which just so happened to be a port of the Falcom PC title “Asteka II: Templo del Sol.” Again, I totally loved it, as it reminded me of another one of my favorite NES games: “Shadowgate.” Plus, it involved exploring ancient ruins based off of real-life locations, and I was a kid reared on The Goonies and Indiana Jones… so I was totally engrossed! But I still had no idea who Falcom was. (And sadly, I never played “Legacy of the Wizard” when it was new — I think the logo and box art just failed to catch my eye.)
While I was playing these lovely NES games, though, Ys I & II completely slipped me by. I never owned a TurboGrafx-16 in any of its incarnations, nor a Sega Master System, and I never saw the DOS version of Ys in stores. I didn’t even know the series existed, in fact, until Sammy released the SNES version of “Ys III: Wanderers From Ys” in North America. And because of the logo design they chose, I believed the game was called “Wanderers From Ys III” (as in, the third incarnation of the “Wanderers From Ys” series) for at least a couple years after.
Whatever I may have called it, though, I absolutely *adored* that game. I know it has a bit of an iffy reputation nowadays, but you have to remember, I was a grade-schooler back then. And I’d been weened on the Atari 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision and Vectrex, so I’d dealt with some pretty wonky controls in my day! Ys III’s lawnmower-like rapid-fire sword swings, awkward jumping physics and nearly complete lack of invincibility time may be seen as flaws by the critical eyes of modern gamer adults, but to the barely pubescent old-schooler I was back then, those were less flaws than they were features. I trained myself to play the game, and I pretty much mastered it… and I came to really enjoy cleaving a path through corridors full of enemies without even slowing down! Even back then, the speed and precision of Ys stood out to me as something special, and I just couldn’t get enough of it. If you’d asked me to list my favorite SNES games afterward, I dare say Ys III may have actually made my top five!
My favorite area was probably the clock tower, as not only did it look awesome, but it had a lot of really tricky platforming and ONE OF THE BEST PIECES OF GAME MUSIC I’VE EVER HEARD. To this day, I still rank “Seal of Time” (or “Frozen In Time,” if you prefer) as my personal #1 favorite track from any video game, and the SNES version holds a special place in my heart for its added trumpet sections (which exist in no other versions of the track; skip to 0:30 in the linked video to hear what I’m talking about).
The story, too, may have been pretty basic and wooden by today’s standards, but it had an undeniable charm to it. Every scene was memorable, like something from an over-the-top stage drama. And the ending was incomparably emotional for me.
The funny thing about all of this, though, is that I *still* had no idea who Falcom was. Sammy’s logo was the one that was prominently displayed at the start of the game, after all, and I was just a little kid who had no idea what the difference was between a developer and publisher… so for years, again, I thought Ys III was developed by some company called “American Sammy.” It wasn’t until BBSes, newsgroups and online services like NVN, Delphi and Prodigy came about that I began to go full-on nerd and do lots of research into Japanese games that never made it to the U.S., whereupon I finally familiarized myself with the name Falcom. I played the Sega Master System version of Ys I through emulation, and for a while I was hooked on the opening theme to Ys IV, “The Dawn of Ys,” which I downloaded in MIDI format and would play for all my gamer friends whenever they came over.
But for years, that was pretty much it. The next time I even thought about Falcom or Ys was during college. My newfound love of anime convinced me to study the Japanese language, which ultimately led to an East Asian Studies major, a summer abroad after my junior year and two years of teaching English in Japan post-graduation.
My interest in anime also resulted in me amassing quite a collection of obscure VHS fansubs, including the classic Ys I & II anime OAVs (which are now available in a fantastic DVD box-set called “Ys Legacy”).
Nobody else seemed to enjoy it much at the time, but I loved it. It screamed “1980s!” to me, and was like watching a top-notch Saturday morning cartoon. And it was actually my very first exposure to the story of Ys II.
My true descent into Falcom fanboyism occurred a few years later, though, after I returned from Japan. It was spurred on by Konami’s PS2 release of “Ys: The Ark of Napishtim” in North America. That was the first Ys game I played since my sped-up emulation of SMS Ys I back when I was in high school, and I really enjoyed it. I followed it up with “Zwei!!,” “Gurumin,” “Ys I & II Eternal Story” (the oft-overlooked Japan-only PS2 version of Ys I & II)… and “Ys: The Oath in Felghana.”
That last one was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. It was one of my favorite SNES games from my childhood… completely re-envisioned into an absolutely perfect 3D Metroidvania with the most incredible arranged soundtrack I’d ever heard. It was nostalgic and new at the same time, and to this day I still consider it the single greatest remake of any game EVER.
I imported a PSP shortly afterward — mostly for “PoPoLoCrois” (a series I’d been obsessed with for about 7 years at that point), but also partially because I’d heard one of its near-launch titles in Japan was “The Legend of Heroes: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch.” And being a newly-minted Falcom fanboy, I was really curious to try out their *other* flagship series for the first time. And needless to say, I loved that game too. (Though bear in mind, I played it in Japanese. That’s… erm… sadly a very important detail, let’s just leave it at that!)
Ever since then, I’ve been playing absolutely every Falcom game I could possibly get my hands on. And I wound up getting my hands on quite a lot of them:
This was a company that had done the impossible. They’d been around since 1981, and had been inordinately prolific the whole time… and as far as I could tell, they’d never once made a bad game. Sure, some games are better than others… but every Falcom title I’ve played — even ones in genres I don’t typically like — wound up grabbing me and never letting me go. It’s as if they never, ever lost the design sensibilities of their founders from the 1980s, crafting games that place emphasis on fun gameplay and immersive atmosphere above all else. The technologies changed many times over the years, but the “soul” of each game still remained (and remains) the same. Every Falcom title is a work of art, lovingly crafted by developers who truly enjoy what they do and put all their blood, sweat and tears into every little detail.
And now, due in part to my adoration of Nihon Falcom Corporation (and the many emails I sent to game companies trying to get Falcom games more exposure), I work as a localization specialist at XSEED Games, directly interacting with Falcom and helping to bring the games I love to English-speakers worldwide. They’ve been a joy to work with, and I look forward to many continued interactions with them in the future.
The Ys series alone has been around for 25 years, and I have no doubt it can last another 25 yet — without getting even the slightest bit stale. And I hope I can continue contributing to its worldwide proliferation that whole time.