Origin of my Falcom obsession
It all started in the early 90s for me, it was a golden era filled with baggy florescent clothing and the emergence of 16-bit gaming. I was a Sega Genesis fanboy while a good friend translated his summer of mowing lawns into a TurboGrafx-16 CD. I went over to his house one evening and tried something called "Ys Book I&II" on it. In an instant I was drawn in by the soundtrack, storytelling cut-scenes, and simple play control. I had to get this game for myself.
Before long the Turbo Duo was released and I bought it immediately. Ys Book I&II was a pack-in game and I logged many hours on it. Then I went after the sequel, different play style but a spectacular experience all the same. I didn't know much about this Falcom company except that I thoroughly enjoyed the first two games of theirs that I tried. I saw their logo on another game called "Legend of Heroes: Dragon Slayer" and snatched it up as well. Again it was a different style of game and again it was outstanding.
From that point forward I decided to buy every Falcom game I could find. Little did I know that I would wait years in between new releases. It's not like they weren't making new titles, so very few of them were making it across the ocean.
Being an American fan of Falcom games is difficult. You see new titles launch in Japan and wonder when, or if, you'll ever get to play them in English. They don't have a US division and seem content to live without one. Instead they've relied on an array of different publishers to translate and ship their games. All we can do is hope they choose a competent one who won't butcher things too badly.
This article is an attempt to catalog all the American releases of Falcom games. OK, I suppose Wikipedia has already accomplished that so I'll take this a different direction and add some brief reviews while attempting to explain how these map to original Japanese releases. I won't claim that I'll get everything perfect but I'll do my best.
What's so great about Falcom anyway?
Falcom games are a contrast of complexity and simplicity. They create detailed worlds with well thought out characters and storylines. They pay attention to every detail of the landscape making the environment seem alive. They layer a rich soundtrack on top of it all. Every location sports a distinct and often lively tune.
They pair these advanced worlds with minimalist play mechanics. The majority of their games only use 2-4 buttons even on systems with more available. Considering most of the their games begin as a PC title this shows commitment on their part to keeping things simple. Regardless of experience level, any gamer can instantly master the controls of a Falcom title and start exploring at their own pace.
They also seem to be completely opposed to conventional wisdom. In the 16-bit era they created masterpieces for the TurboGrafx-16 CD before touching the Genesis or Super Nintendo. In 1999 they released a collection of their best games, on the Sega Saturn. The PlayStation 2 and Nintendo DS are the two highest selling game consoles ever, they released a total of three games across both The PSP has seen a dozen Falcom releases now though. The PSP is the highest selling portable system not made by Nintendo but by choosing it over the PS2 and DS they passed on a lot of sales. It's as though they'd rather do things their way than make insane amounts of money. I can respect that attitude.
Let's kick things off with Falcom's most recognized series - Ys. The series follows the journeys of Adol Christin across a European-like continent. The games are continuous but the plot of each is self-contained so they can be played independently. The only exception would be Ys II which is heavily tied to the first Ys game. In the United States Ys II has typically been packaged with the original Ys so it's not problem for American gamers.
The first game in the series came to the United States in the form of Ys: The Vanished Omens for the Sega Master System and Ancient Land of Ys for DOS. Despite the name differences these are the same story. OK the key word there is "story" because the dungeon layouts aren't completely identical, the graphics vary a bit, and the sound quality on the PC version is rough compared to the Master System. Presentation differences aside, these are both ports of the original Japanese PC-8801 game.
Of the two, the Sega Master System version is easier to obtain. It frequently sells for under $10 on ebay, even less if you buy it as part of a bundle of Master System games. The PC version will take some effort to collect, it apparently didn't sell well and rarely appears for sale. That's alright though because the Master System version is the better of the two.
As noted a second ago, Ys II was not available as a standalone game. There are three different Ys I&II collections that were released over three decades. The first was Ys Book I&II for the TurboGrafx-16 CD. This is my sentimental favorite of the entire series. The soundtrack still blows away nearly every game made after it. It is also the only version to feature voice acting. Not cheesy early CD game voice acting either, good quality voice acting. This was also released for the Wii Virtual Console. The emulation isn't perfect, the voice playback cuts off abruptly for example, but it's perfectly passable.
In the TurboGrafx-16 CD version they combined Ys and Ys II into one giant game. The experience points and levels gained from Ys carry right over into Ys II. This lets patient gamers grind to an absurdly high level in the first Ys.
Twenty years later, yes twenty, Legacy of Ys: Books I&II was released for the Nintendo DS by Atlus. This was a port of the Ys Eternal games released in Japan in the late 90s. This one has a few differences from the previous releases.
Unlike the TurboGrafx-16 CD version, Legacy of Ys treats Ys and Ys II as separate games. You are able to plays Ys II without ever playing Ys and nothing you earn in Ys carries over. In the Japanese version of Ys Eternal a new town called Barbado was added at the beginning of Ys which is also present in Legacy of Ys. The play mechanics were modified to offer a more Zelda-like experience. They also added a play mode called "time attack" which is unlocked after winning either game. This version also features multiple difficulty levels and a multiplayer mode.
In 2011 XSEED released Ys I&II Chronicles for the PSP. This contains the changes found in Legacy of Ys and offers a bit more. One fun addition is the ability to toggle the soundtrack between the original PC-8801 version, the 1999 Ys Eternal version, and the new Ys Chronicles mix which is the best since the TurboGrafx-16 CD. The graphics on the PSP look considerably better than the DS so between that and the new soundtrack this is the best version for most.
Since then, Ys I&II Chronicles has also been released on Steam and Android & iOS. The mobile phone releases are split into two separate games.
The first two Ys games take place in the same world. Ys III: Wanderers from Ys follows Adol and Dogi (introduced in Ys) as they travel to Dogi's hometown. In Ys III the series went in a different direction by changing from an overhead game to a side-scrolling game. It was originally released in the United States for all three 16-bit systems but by three different publishers - Hudson->TurboGrafx-16 CD, Renovation->Genesis, and American Sammy->Super Nintendo.
The TurboGrafx-16 CD version is my favorite because of the explosive soundtrack and not-completely-corny voice acting. The Genesis and Super Nintendo versions have the same pros and cons as any other game released on both. The Genesis version sounds a little better but the Super Nintendo version looks a little better and so on. Since Ys I&II was not released on the Genesis or Super Nintendo it's often simply called Wanderers from Ys on those consoles.
Ys III was remade under the title Ys: The Oath in Felghana. It was again ported by XSEED for the PlayStation Portable in 2011 and Steam in 2012. Oath in Felghana is a remake of Ys III but marketed as a standalone game to make it more accessible to new players. It follows the same story as Ys III but the style is similar to Ys VI and VII. It also features a new soundtrack mix that is very well done. Like Ys Chronicles, unless you're looking to recreate the retro experience, this is the way to go for most.
In 1993 two different versions of Ys IV were produced but neither have been released outside of Japan. Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys was developed by Hudson for the PC Engine CD while Ys IV: Mask of the Sun was developed by Tonkin House for the Super Famicom. The Super Famicom version was remade for the PlayStation 2 in 2005, it was another Japan exclusive. The soundtrack for each version of Ys IV is derived from the same source but the storylines are a little different. Hudson took more liberties with the plot and characters which I think resulted in a better game. I've read that technically the Super Nintendo version is considered "canon". There are unofficial translations available for both.
Ys IV was remade in 2012 this time under the title Ys: Memories of Celceta and originally released on the PlayStation Vita. A year later the folks at XSEED brought it to the United States. It was built off the Ys Seven engine but with visual upgrades to take advantage of Sony's latest portable hardware. The soundtrack is based off the original version with a bit of a rock remix to it. The player has multiple characters they can use with different abilities that come in handy in specific situations. There are tons of weapon and skill upgrades for each character which reward grinding up multiple team members. It also features a New Game+ mode where you carryover all your levels and items into a new game (which makes it very easy). No prior experience with the series is needed to enjoy this one so it's recommended for newcomers.
Ys V: Kefin, The Lost City of Sand was another Super Famicom game that was later remade for the PlayStation 2. Neither of those have been released in the United States. Maybe we'll get lucky and score a remake one day.
Konami brought Ys VI to the United States under the title Ys: The Ark of Napishtim in 2005 on the PlayStation 2. Fans of the series might not like the "VI" being dropped but since it's an independent story it probably appealed to gamers who never heard of the series. It had been more than 10 years since an Ys game was released in the United States and that was the third installment. Starting a series at part 6, or jumping ahead 3 chapters, probably intimidates some. A year later the PSP version was released. They are both ported from the Japanese PC version. The PlayStation 2 version features some enhancements not found in the PSP one.
The Ark of Napishtim continues to follow Adol and Dogi on their travels, this time to the lushly decorated Canaan islands. This is the a very scenic game and you can easily get lost staring at the backgrounds as you journey across the islands. As expected the soundtrack is amazing, worth listening to on its own.
Released in 2010, Ys Seven is the last chapter for the series on PSP. It was the first Ys game ported by XSEED who have become unofficial stewards of the Falcom library since then. Rather than subtitle it they kept the original Ys Seven title.
Adol and Dogi take their adventures to the land of Altago which is facing impending doom. Before learning that though you engage on a couple of smaller, seemingly insignificant, quests and meet a tomboy princess named Aisha. It may sound a little cliche but is done well. Along the way you meet a huge cast of characters including several who join your party.
Eight different characters team up with Adol at one time or another, each with their own unique abilities and equipable items. I won't spoil anything only to say that Ys has one of my absolute favorite last boss fights that involves the entire party.
Fans of the Zelda series will find similarities in the form of elemental dungeons. You've got a fire dungeon, forest dungeon, wind dungeon, water dungeon, and so on. Of all the Ys games, number seven is the one that new players will likely enjoy the most.
With Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, released in the US in 2017, the series made its debut on the PlayStation 4. This originally started as a PlayStation Vita game and both versions launched at the same time in the US. In Japan the Vita version pre-dated the PlayStation 4 version by nearly a year.
The game engine is an evolution of the one used in Memories of Celceta. Again there are six playable characters with up to three in your party at a time. Mechanically they're very similar games and that's alright.
The new element to the game is a town building mode. Adol & Dogi start on a voyage to the land where Ys Seven takes place (yes, this is prequel). After being shipwrecked they have to build a castaway village while searching for other survivors. Every person they find brings some new trade to the town and side-quests enhance their offerings. Along the way they discover ruins of a lost civilization and a larger plot unfolds.
There was some controversy around Ys VIII in the US. This time around NIS America acquired the rights to publish the game and released what was considered to be a terrible translation. It was bad enough that they issued a complete re-translation patch. The later Steam and Nintendo Switch releases came with the revised translation.
Oh right, the Switch. In the US, it had been over 25 years since a new Ys game appeared on a Nintendo console. Remember that Ys IV and V were Japan exclusives and Legacy of Ys: Books I&II was a remake. I don't know what Falcom's aversion to Nintendo is but glad to see it's at least partially resolved for now.
In 2006 Falcom created a prequel to the entire Ys series called Ys Origin based on the engine from Oath in Felghana.. Nearly six years later it was released in the US on Steam. I'm not a fan of retro-active prequels because usually the story feels forced. No one at Falcom presumably had this story in mind before developing Ys and it shows. The game reinvents the final dungeon of Ys I into something much larger and more complicated.
I was left feeling letdown by this installment. As usual the soundtrack was amazing but it's a relatively shallow dungeon crawler otherwise. It would have been best to leave the backstory of Ys unexplained.
One plus of this game is there are two storylines based on which character the player chooses.
Ys Origin was later released as a download game on the PlayStation 4. The folks at Limited Run games did a limited (obviously) physical printing of the game. They went even further and released a physical copy of the previously unseen Vita version.
I'd recommend trying the authentic experience:
1) Ys Book I&II - go with the Virtual Console edition unless you want to spend a bunch tracking down an original copy on the TurboGrafx-16 CD... and even more if you need to buy a TurboGrafx-16 CD system.
2) Ys III: Wanderers from Ys - similar disclaimer to the last, get the Genesis or Super Nintendo version unless you want to spend more getting the TurboGrafx-16 CD one.
3) Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys (fan translation) - importing a copy of PC Engine CD version is surpringly cheap. Ripping it and applying patches doesn't require any specicial technical skills.
4) Ys: The Ark of Napishtim - let's keep things on the big screen and go with the PlayStation 2 version.
5) Ys VI - with the unofficial TurboGrafx-16 CD translation.
6) Ys Seven
7) Ys VIII - the PlayStation 4 version offers more content than the Vita version so I'd recommend that one.
If you go this route you need to be aware of some continuity errors. In Ys you meet a character named Colin who is Dogi in the other games. You also meet someone named Rasta in Ys who reappears in Ys: The Ark of Napishtim under the moniker Raba.
Or go the Sony route for the easier to acquire experience:
1) Ys I&II Chronicles (PSP)
2) Ys: The Oath in Felghana (PSP)
3) Ys: Memories of Celceta (Vita)
4) Ys: The Ark of Napishtim (PSP)
5) Ys Seven (PSP)
6) Ys VIII (PlayStation 4)
Since ~3/4 of these were localized by XSEED within a short period of time they lack continuity errors.
Ys Origin can be played anywhere in either of these routes. Playing it before Ys I&II isn't a great idea because like most prequel games knowledge of the original game is required.
Most of the Ys games released this century are also available on Steam.
As of the last update to this article, Falcom announced Ys IX for the PlayStation 4 which will launch in 2019. No word on a US release date, my money is on 2020 at the earliest. The latest news says it is set immediately after the events of Ys VIII. This makes the official chronological order of games:
1) Ys Origin
3) Ys II
4) Ys IV / Memories of Celceta
5) Ys III / Oath in Felghana
6) Ys V
7) Ys VIII
8) Ys IX
9) Ys VI
10) Ys Seven
I wouldn't recommend playing them in this order though.
Legend of Heroes Series
The first Legend of Heroes game carried the Dragon Slayer brand but it was dropped after the second installment. All the games in the series are traditional JRPGs and are not directly connected to each other. This a tough series to follow in the United States because not all games were ported and those that were didn't come out in the right order. Rather than go at these in release order, I'll take them in the series order.
The first game in the series is The Legend of Heroes: Dragon Slayer which was released for the TurboGrafx-16 CD. Like their other CD games the soundtrack is amazing. The voice acting has drawn some criticism but I don't think it's all that bad. This is one of my favorite games on the system, something I haven't played in far too long. Unfortunately this is a tough game to acquire. It was released on the Virtual Console in Japan but not in the United States. Your only option is ebay and it's not cheap.
Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes II was never released in the United States. I would consider it highly unlikely that it ever will be.
In the mid to late 90s Falcom released the Gagharv Trilogy, three Legend of Heroes games that take place in the same world but are independent stories. There are some plot points that somewhat intersect but a new gamer can play any one of these out of order and not be confused.
That's good because in the United States we didn't get them in the correct order. Falcom ported all three games in the series to the PSP in the mid zeros. Namco Bandai translated all three of the PSP versions but had a little fun with the release order. I won't complain because I'm just happy to get them at all.
The original release order was:
1) Legend of Heroes III: The White Witch
2) Legend of Heroes IV: A Tear of Vermillion
3) Legend of Heroes V: Cagesong of the Ocean
And in the United States we got:
1) Legend of Heroes: A Tear of Vermillion
2) Legend of Heroes II: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch
3) Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean
So if you want to play them in the original order in the United States you need to play them out of the numerical order we actually got.
I would describe the Gagharv Trilogy as being "lite RPGs". They have all the structure of an RPG but are relatively easy and don't require any level grinding. There are no random battles in these games, enemies can be seen in the overworld and easily avoided. They're focused more on story than on battling enemies and gaining levels. Each game features a wide cast of playable and non-playable characters.
Like the Gagharv Trilogy, battles can be avoided and you have an assortment of characters to choose from. The characters all have their own personalities and abilities. Some are close-range combat experts while others are proficient with long-range weapons or magic. The magic system gives you a number of ways to enhance characters and ensure you always have some support healers in your group. The soundtrack is downright delightful and makes traveling the world fun.
Without giving away any specific spoilers, I'll just say that the ending of Trails in the Sky will have you rushing to start the sequel.
The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky SC (Second Chapter) picks-up immediately after the ending of the previous game. Do not try to play this as a standalone game, it won't make sense. It's almost completely identical to the first game from a play standpoint. I have to believe they started as one absurdly long game. There is even more dialog than the first so be prepared for a lot of reading.
I thoroughly enjoyed Trails in the Sky SC but felt it dragged a bit at times because the player is revisiting all the locations from the first game. There are only a couple new pieces of scenery.
Trails in the Sky SC can only be purchased virtually in the US. It was released as a download game for the PSP and also works on the Vita. The entire Trails in the Sky series is available on Steam as well.
I unfortunately haven't been able to play Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd because in the US it is a Windows (via Steam) exclusive. Again, trying to avoid spoilers I'll say that Trails in the Sky SC wraps-up the main storyline at the end. This means Trails in the Sky the 3rd is more of an epilogue or side story. There are two new lead characters, one who is also in SC with the other being completely new.
It's kind of bugging me a bit to not play this one because I enjoyed the story of the first two. Here's to hoping it becomes available on some other platform in the future. With companies like Limited Run games in existence I just can't rule out a surprise physical release of Trails in the Sky the 3rd.
Set in the same universe, but in a different kingdom, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel is the first installment of the next series in the franchise. In the US we lucked out this time around and received ports of every version released in Japan. The original PlayStation 3, PC, and Vita versions are all available - albeit several years after their original release. As of the time this was written, the enhanced PlayStation 4 version is available for preorder. It took decades but it might finally be a good time to be a Falcom fan in America. Between these and Ys VIII I've never felt more optimistic about seeing future games ported to English.
The sequel, Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II was also released in the US for all the same systems as the first. In Japan, parts III and IV are available with no known plans for US releases. I know I shouldn't get my hopes up when it comes to Falcom games but I think we'll at least get a limited release here.
There are three other PSP games connected to the Trails in the Sky / Trails of Cold Steel universe: Zero no Kiseki, Ao no Kiseki, and Nayuta no Kiseki. None received a US release and as time passes it seems increasingly unlikely they will. Same for the crossover Ys vs. Sora no Kiseki: Alternative Saga. I guess the PSP just wasn't popular enough in the US to justify large translation projects for these. Akatsuki no Kiseki is a loosely connected game released online only but not in the US.
Dragon Slayer Series
The Dragon Slayer series is immediately confusing because it's not really a series. "Dragon Slayer" is used as a brand by Falcom but the games have no connection to each other. A comparison could be made to the Final Fantasy series except the Dragon Slayer games typically don't even share common gameplay elements. The series is a mix of traditional RPGs, action/adventure games, and even strategy games.
Legacy of the Wizard was another 1989 NES release, this time by Broderbund. The original title in Japan was Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family, smart move to change it. This is a side-scrolling game with a hint of RPG flavor. You control the seven members of a family, including their pet dog, as they battle their way through a complex dungeon. It's an odd game that I'm not sure is right for many.
The fifth installment of the Dragon Slayer series is Socerian for DOS which was released in the United States in 1990 by Sierra. It's rare to see this pop-up on ebay, I'll eventually track down a copy.
Now if you want to be thoroughly confused consider that the Dragon Slayer series is the parent of both the Legend of Heroes and Xanadu brands. See back in 1984 Falcom made a game called Dragon Slayer. That spawned a sequel called Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu which lead to several Xanadu-branded games that dropped the "Dragon Slayer" name. Years later they released Dragon Slayer: The Legend of Heroes, as you now know that name was flipped in the US and "Dragon Slayer" was dropped from the future installments.
Faxanadu for the NES was released in 1989. It was published by Hudson Soft in Japan but by Nintendo in the United States. It's a spin-off of Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu which was only released in Japan. I guess if it was released now they would have called it Xanadu Gaiden. Anyway, it's a side-scrolling action game with some RPG elements. It's not a stretch to compare it to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The game takes place inside a giant tree that houses many towns and dungeons. It sounds weird but I enjoyed the setting. Faxanadu is available on the Wii Virtual Console.
In 2005 Xanadu Next was released for the N-Gage. Like Faxanadu it's a it's a spin-off of Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu. I'll probably never buy an N-Gage so I'll miss out on trying it.
On the PlayStation Vita there's Tokyo Xanadu which Americans had to wait nearly two years for. That's not bad by Falcom standards. It's an action RPG that I feel plays a lot like Ys VIII. I suspect they're using a good portion of shared code. I can't really say how it's connected to the other Xanadu games if at all. It's certainly nothing like Faxandu which is the most recent installment in the series for me. I suppose games made 30 years apart by completely different development teams won't have much in common.
Tokyo Xanadu takes place in a modern (2015) setting where a team of high school students have to balance the challenges of teen drama and fighting demons in a parallel world. That bad review doesn't really do it justice, I'll just say that if you enjoy Ys games you'll probably like this too. It's really not very different than Ys VIII except for scenery. There's also a ton of fan service content like references to other Falcom games.
Tokyo Xanadu received an upgrade in the form of Tokyo Xanadu eX+ on the PlayStation 4. Similar to Ys VIII, the jump from Vita to PlayStation 4 featured higher definition graphics and additional content. This was released in the US a little more than a year after the Japanese version.
Falcom has created many games outside of their major franchises, only four have made it across the ocean.
The first was Tombs & Treasure for the NES which was published by Infocom. Of all the various companies that have published Falcom games in America, this is the most out of place. Infocom was legendary for their text adventures but this was their only venture into the NES marketplace. This is a point and click adventure along the lines of Shadowgate but with an overworld to explore. I enjoyed this game enough to write a walkthrough for it. Unfortunately it's not a common cartridge and hasn't been re-released in download form.
The Brandish series saw a four releases in Japan but only the original for the Super Nintendo was released in the United States. Koei published it which is something like the 400th different company we've talked about here. It hit the shelves the same time as the PlayStation and Saturn which probably didn't help it out that much. Brandish is a dungeon crawling game somewhat along the lines of their earlier Xanadu release.
A remake of the original Brandish, titled Brandish: The Dark Revenant was released for the PSP in Japan in 2009. Six years later XSEED brought it overseas as a downloadable title making it one of the last PSP released. It is compatible with the PlayStation Vita which is likely the system they were really targeting.
Popful Mail: Magical Fantasy Adventure for the Sega CD was ported by Working Designs. This game is like a marriage of Ys III and Legacy of the Wizard. Based on the cover art one would expect an RPG but it's really an action game filled with cinematic cut-scenes.
In 2004 Falcom relased Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure for the PSP in Japan. Three years later Mastiff Games brought it over to the United States. Although there's not any uniformity to Falcom games this one has the least in common with the rest if that makes sense. This is essentially a 3D fighting game filled with exceedingly cartoony characters.
So I guess that's it until new titles are released. I'll update this page whenever appropriate but expect me to fall behind from time to time. If these aren't enough Falcom games for you, I've read that it's possible to import games from their mailorder page. I personally haven't been brave enough to try but if anyone reading this has I'd be glad to post your tips. Importing older games from Japan is a surprisingly cheap thing to do too. Outside of a couple rarities, most Falcom games for under $20 on ebay for example. Now of course the limiting factor will be your ability to read Japanese or find unofficial English patches.