When Nihon Falcom released Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished on June 21, 1987, it would begin the era of JRPGs, influencing the likes of Enix and Square. Despite the game's influence on other popular JRPGs, Ys never seemed to attract the same worldwide attention. We'll look at the company's history and impact on the industry and examine the reasons why it has struggled to succeed outside of the Japanese market.
The Beginning of ARPGs
Nihon Falcom was founded in Tachikawa, Japan in 1981, making them one of the oldest JRPG developers in the industry today. Their first title, Panorama Island, released on the NEC PC-8801 in 1983 and became the precursor to all JRPGs, incorporating RPG elements and real-time combat with various survival mechanics. The company then went on to create Dragon Slayer a year later, a game that many game historians consider to be the first ARPG ever created.
Instead of having turn-based combat, Dragon Slayer instituted a real-time, action-based combat system, along with giving players access to an item inventory and map. Additionally, it included puzzle-solving mechanics which would later be adopted by classic Action JRPGs like The Legend of Zelda and the company's own Ys series.
Falcom's Decision To Focus On PC
NEC released the PC-8801 in Japan on November of 1981 and by the end of the year, it had 40% of the Japanese personal computer market. This, coupled with the systems 8-bit hardware, spurred the likes of Sega, Enix, Square, and Nihon Falcom to produce multiple games for the platform. Falcom's love affair with the PC market only continued to grow and it would release the first Ys title on the PC-8801 and PC-9801 in June of 1987. The next couple titles would be released on PC, but Falcom changed things up with Ys IV: Mask of the Sun, a game that first released on the Super Famicom on November 19, 1993, though Falcom would hand over development to Tonkin House.
Due to poor reviews, the company returned the Ys series back to the PC with Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys, though they diverted development to Hudson Soft. What followed was years of PC releases that had high reviews but didn't break into the western market like Falcom had hoped they would. The developer wouldn't release a console-only title until Ys Strategy in March of 2006 for the Nintendo DS, a game that received mixed reviews at best.
Despite the lukewarm response, the company embraced the new console era and continue to release titles for both next-gen consoles and the PC going forward. With the release of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, the series finally saw some love from the western market. It would go on to sell 500,000 copies worldwide and receive Game Informers "Best Action Combat System" award in 2017.
Ys Status In Japan
Part of what makes Ys such a popular franchise inside of Japan is the fact that it's only second to Final Fantasy in terms of total games released. Ys not only signified the start of both JRPGs and ARPGs inside of Japan, but it also secured a dedicated fanbase within Japan during the PC boom. While the developer's decision to release games primarily on the PC hurt its influence outside of Japan, it ensured that the franchise wouldn't have to compete directly with the likes of Square Enix's Final Fantasy franchise.
Though the franchise has yet to see the level of success of other iconic JRPGs, those inside Japan understand the game's impact on the industry as a whole and as a result, they hold it in very high esteem. Furthermore, Ys separated itself from other ARPGs and JRPGs by giving players a highly detailed world, with terrific dialogue and NPCs that had lifelike qualities, something that other titles failed to do at the time.
What Hurt Their Chances In The West
While PC gaming is certainly on the rise these days, back when Falcom began releasing the Ys series of games the price tag associated with most PC's made it rather difficult for the average consumer to get into. This would force most game developers to release their titles on home console systems instead. As a result, most consumers gravitated towards game consoles and saw the PC itself as a secondary gaming system, even though it was superior to the average game console. Even after the eventual PC crash inside Japan, Falcom continued to release Ys for the personal computer, shrinking their market share even further.
Though the lack of console titles certainly hurt the franchise's chances in the west, it would be poor English localization that would ultimately dissuade many from purchasing the games. Even today, the company still struggles with issues in this area, with NIS America president Takuro Yamashita personally apologizing for the poor English localization quality associated with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana.
The Future Looks Bright
Though Falcom has struggled to find success in the West, its commitment to improving its localization, coupled with its willingness to release titles on next-gen consoles is a step in the right direction. In a recent interview, president Toshihiro Kondo talked about the company's impact on the industry and how it plans to break into the western market. He mentioned that remastering games like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky was core to their plan of creating new interest in the west. Additionally, in speaking about the company's new direction away from PC he stated: "I would love to be able to keep it that way, but we just came to a real crossroads where if we wanted to continue as a company developing video games, we needed to open up a new market."
He went on to say that it will be difficult for the company to produce games for consoles due to the strict deadlines, but that they remain committed to creating world-class games with improved English localization going forward. Kondo also touched on the future of the Ys series on PC saying that he hopes that the company can one day remaster many of the titles within the series themselves, being adamant that he will never allow another company to take over the process.
Falcom made many mistakes on its journey, but if history has taught us anything, it's that consumers are more than willing to purchase games that they feel have had love and dedication poured into them, something that Falcom does very well. If Kondo's vision is realized, the Ys series of games has a real chance of giving the likes of Final Fantasy a run for its money, especially when you consider the unique differences between them.