Oh Adol with your hair of red, won't you bump into monsters until they're dead?
I think I make a better poet than a game reviewer.
Ys I & II is quaint by action-RPG standards. These games were released in 1987-1988. Despite ports on many platforms and numerous remakes (including this one), the game-design has remained unchanged. This is interesting, considering that Ys III was given a complete re-imagining in 2005 (Oath of Felghana). While I'm sure many people would love a Felghana-level version of Ys 1 & 2, there's something to be said about allowing a classic to stand on its own.
There isn't much to say about Adol Christin. He's the guy fate calls for when evil threatens the world. Every adventure seems to start off with him showing up at just the right time. Either that or he's just prone to shipwrecks. He's not particularly talkative, aside from his knack for explaining the current situation. In Ys 7 and Memories of Celceta he even says a few words during battle. He's not mute, but he's usually surrounded, by extremely talkative NPCs that do the talking for him. Adol prefers to keep quiet, so he can save his strength for the next fight.
Actually, the Ys series doesn't fit the description of "action-rpg" all that well. This is especially apparent in the first game. The level-cap is a mere 10, and you'll be max-level before the first 1/3 of the game is completed. Money will cease to be relevant half-way through Adol's adventure. In fact, the latter half the game takes place in the lovely Darm's tower. The average play-through should run about 5 hours, maybe a bit more due to the freakin' backtracking right before the final boss.
As it has been stated time and time again, Ys 1 has a "bump2win" combat system. There aren't any buttons to swing your sword, you simply run into the enemy. Not directly of course, that would be suicide. This off-center approach represents the entirety of your interactions with monsters. Aside from the bosses, you don't have to worry about projectiles, sword slashes, clawwing attacks, or anything else when facing demons. Combat can get annoying, especially if you choose to leave diagonal-controls turned on. Like I said though, once you max out your level, there isn't any incentive to fight. The boss battles are definitely challenging, since they fill the screen with dangerous crap, and it isn't always apparent when they can be damaged. For the most part however they are fair and entertaining to fight.
Except for Dark Fact of course. He is one truly bull ♥♥♥♥ piece of ♥♥♥♥. Fighting this jerk on normal is what caused me to grow my first white hair. I'm not ready for nightmare-level Fact.
On the bright side, once you defeat him you can move onto the much-improved sequel.
Ys 2 employs numerous changes to the combat system. On the surface it's still "bump2win" but there's a bit more to it. Well, maybe less depending on who you talk to. The off-center approach works just as well as before, but now enemies can be diagonally attacked. This simple move is far more effective. The enemies of Ys have seen changes to somewhat counteract this. Enemies will now fire projectiles, swing weapons, and generally move around just a bit more. The game has still become easier, but it's also become more dynamic, and more fun.
The combat changes include the ability to cast spells. Early on, Adol receives a fire rod. This weapon completely changes almost all of the boss-battles. Now you're not expected to run into the openings, you just have to blow them away. The boss-battles somewhat resemble a 2D shooter, or one of those genre mash-ups like The Guardian Legend.
Unlike the previous game, Adol explores a larger variety of locales. The final dungeon is pretty massive, but it doesn't take up half the game like Ys 1. Instead you get to explore great locations like a fire cavern, some mines, a land filled with snow, sewers...Hey where are you going? Oh...yeah I guess going through the same areas as every other videogame can be really tiring. Keep in mind that this was all really novel for a game made in 1988. Of course, this excuse doesn't fly when Ys 3 (1989!) also features a fire cavern, some mines, a land filled with snow, and sewers.
The entirety of Ys 1 & 2 isn't just running through dungeons and bumping into foes, there are some light adventure elements as well. At a certain point in Ys 1, Adol has to wear a mask to see hidden passages (at the expense of seeing dangerous monsters). There's a staff in Ys 2 that allows Adol to change into a Roo, and actually converse with demons. Some additional scenes can be viewed by fulfilling certain conditions (most of which also award achievements). While they don't affect the game-design, they're a nice touch all the same, especially for fans of the series.
The first entry in the Ys series can be difficult to appreciate. The story isn't anything special, the combat -- while not without its charm -- isn't even a patch on Ys 6 and beyond, and there are some flat-out dull moments. Early on you're practically required to grind for experience and cash. I still believe that it's worth a play-through. If nothing else, you get to embark on an adventure without a lot of fat, and see the humble beginnings of a classic action (with RPG elements) series. I think Ys 2 holds up far better. It's more approachable, still retains its identity, and is generally more fun.