The Ys series has been around since it first debuted on the NEC PC-88 computer system. It was a simple game, where the combat basically consisted of bashing into your enemies rather than swinging a sword or using a magic spell. Also, unlike the peer it's usually associated with, The Legend of Zelda, you gain power by gaining experience. So the series has taken on the shape that has become associated with the Seiken Densetsu series. Musically, the series is associated most commonly with power rock. Though in truth, that didn't come into play until Ryo Yonemitsu released his synthesized rock arrangements that were used for the PC-Engine remakes. Yuzo Koshiro and Mieko Ishikawa craft the soundtrack in a simple but diverse way relying principally on strong melodies.
The music on this album is also unique in that it covers a larger collection than what originally appeared in the game itself. For instance tracks 30-34 are sounds that were used for the MSX version of the game which added entirely new sequences, which were later stitched into the PC remake released in 1998, Eternal Ys. There is also "Theme of Adol", unused at the time track, which was borrowed for the PC-Engine version of the game. And of course, a small gathering of tracks that have never found a home in any of the myriad versions of this game released. All in all, this makes this collection of music a unique collection as it's the original soundtrack as it could have been, rather than the original soundtrack that ended up appearing in the game.
Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished Omen begins with a soft theme for a girl you later meet in your travels who is named Feena. It's a simple theme that starts with a slow cascade of falling tones and eventually, at the 30 second mark, takes on the form of the theme that most people recognize. The simple melodic line is underscored by a simple droning bass line which remains unchanged for the most part. Following that soft and slow moving theme, we get an upbeat theme, "Fountain of Love", which graces the town you start your adventure in, Minea. It's a short theme, but conveys a feeling of a bustling town filled with life. The simple melodic structure is underscored by a nice thumping bass line. It's unfortunate that the theme doesn't get developed beyond a mere 30 seconds.
The classic "Falcom rock" first appears with the general travelling about Esteria theme, "First Step Towards Wars". Though it doesn't show it in its original chip tune status here, it translates into power rock quite well. The theme is catchy and the bass and rhythm section are kept simple. It's an all around exciting theme that underscores the adventure across the wide land.
Then of course come the dungeons in their various forms. The first dungeon that we come across is the Ancient shrine where Feena is being held captive. The upper levels underscored by the simplistic theme "Palace" which consists of the same core melody being repeated over and over with little change. But then suddenly the dungeon springs to life with the lower levels underscored by "Palace of Destruction". The trimmed length and focused and varied melodic line captures your attention quickly. It's a brilliant dungeon theme and executed well. And continuing on the dungeon themes, we move towards "Beat of the Terror". At first you fear that it'll be a retread of "Palace", which was a motif, but underdeveloped. And for the first 30 seconds, it starts to feel that way with the repeated structure. At this point though it starts to develop a melodic idea, which works wonders and sustains the development until 1:25, where it just stops and without transition returns to the original phrase.
Of course the largest dungeon in the game, with 24 floors of fun, is Darm Tower. While ascending it you hear the classic "Tower of the Shadow of Death". This theme makes a re-appearance in Ys IV: Dawn of Ys and Ys Origin, and in those games the piece is given some development and some meat. Here the theme sounds like it's going places; you get this rapid fire opening and a neat melodic structure and a quirky rhythmic pattern and structure. Unfortunately all of this build up doesn't head anywhere as you suddenly reach the end and it just ends abruptly. The top floor of Darm Tower is underscored by "The Last Moment of the Dark", another piece that starts off promising, but doesn't quite close the deal. The opening portion has a sinister sound to it, and this feeling carries through the track right to the end. Unfortunately rather than give a proper climax, it just ends abruptly.
The two battle themes that are found in the original version of the game are "Holders of Power" and "Final Battle". These tracks are basically a series of chords played in fast succession. This style of composition worked better with proper electric guitars in "Mighty Obstacle", but here it just sounds sloppy. "Chase of Shadow" was later added as a boss theme for a particular event boss in the remake of Ys. It too, has the same smashing together of sound to convey a feeling rather than a proper melodic structure. "Over Drive" was actually used as the final boss theme for Ys II Eternal in the remake and later used in Ys Origin. Once again, it's a heavy rock track, except unlike the other boss themes, it attempts to bring out a cohesive melodic intent and a feeling of flow. Unfortunately like the other boss themes, it's under baked.
The ending theme of the original Ys was "The Morning Grow", which though oddly titled, is quite well crafted. It starts off with a simple rhythmic pattern with a drum hammering the beat and a chaotic sounding rhythm track. The theme starts properly at 0:10 and continues through the rest of the track. Since this is four-voice MIDI, the harmonies don't get to be overly intricate, but it works well. I especially like the build up at 1:05, where it starts heading towards what sounds like could be a big finish. The soundtrack then follows with what will be an Ys tradition. No matter how the game ends, the credits are always upbeat and energetic. And "See You Again" starts that tradition off well with an upbeat and simple theme that plays during the staff roll.
What follows though, are tracks which are not in the game itself and some of them never even make it into the remade game. The reason for this is unknown. Some tracks have appeared in later versions of the game. "Dreaming" is the theme used for the mirror room level of Darm Tower in Eternal Ys and later Ys Origin, where you must use these magic mirrors to travel from one end of the floor to the other. Of the unused in the first version of the game, this is probably one of the better developed tracks. "Over Drive" was stolen for Ys II Eternal and Ys Origin and is a competent boss theme.
"Departure" of the unused tracks is surprisingly well developed. Melodically it starts out simple, but branches off into a unique B section at the 0:30 mark. I especially like the rhythmic structure at this point. "Battle Ground" was later used in Ys II Eternal for a dungeon, though it's a bit hard to like this track in this form as it's hard to separate the layers. "Theme of Adol" is not the theme of Adol that we often associate with him ("The Boy's Got Wings" from Ys III), though you can hear some of what would later become the theme for the red haired hero at the 0:17 mark and 0:26-0:38. Apparently this track was used by the PC-Engine version of the game as the intro movie.
And of course there are the tracks composed for the MSX version of the game. They are primarily composed by the second credited composer, Mieko Ishikawa, with "Tension" composed by Koshiro. "Open Your Heart" was used as the title screen instead of Feena, although later taken by Ys II Eternal for its title screen. It's an interesting track on this soundtrack because where Koshiro usually uses a simple structure of solo melodic line and simple rhythmic patterns to hold down the background, this track actually attempts to do some harmonic work which is something that Ishikawa does with the other tracks that follow. Unfortunately it's too top heavy and feels lacking in the bass department. "Devil's Step" is used as a replacement for "Beat of the Terror" and I feel that the original was far superior; this one doesn't have the same kick as Koshiro's original. But "Tension" is an interesting choice of replacement. It replaces the original "Tower of the Shadow of Death" as the background for Darm Tower and much like its later appearance in Ys Origin as a boss theme, it has a bouncy and energetic feel.
"In the Memory" and "Fly With Me" replace "The Morning Grow" as the ending themes for the MSX version of the game. "In the Memory" morphs into something spectacular at 0:20. Unlike Koshiro, Ishikawa at least attempts to work with proper harmonic structure, rather than the rock structuring of the rest of the soundtrack. Depending on your taste, this is an enjoyable track, but I felt that "The Morning Grow was a superior ending track.
And what follows are arrangements of a few themes. They basically take the core ideas from the original tracks and expand upon them with better sound samples. "Feena" sounds much like it always has, though with some minor changes after the track repeats at the 2:00 mark. "First Step Towards Wars" is given a full synthesized rock treatment with a bolder, sharper version of the original. The only downside of this track is that it gets a bit too treble heavy; the needed bass doesn't come through like it should, which makes it sound hollow. "Beat of the Terror" is a misnamed track, as at 1:55 it suddenly morphs into "Palace of Destruction", but what a change a guitar makes. It's a shame that early computer midi couldn't do electric guitar, because it sounds so much better as a rock-styled theme. Make sure you listen to the expanded section at the 3:00 mark onward, as it really works well with the core theme. "Tower of the Shadow of Death" also sounds more appealing with the higher quality sampling, but unfortunately the the feeling that it's a theme that doesn't go anywhere pervades even with the higher quality synth. The arrangement of "See You Again" brings out the ideas from the original and gives them some life. Though rather than do anything interesting in the repeat of the track, it just gives you the same sound over again. This disappointed me greatly.
If you happen to be someone who played Ys Origin or Eternal Ys and wondered where those themes came from, here they are in their original form. While many have heard the later arrangements, these original themes are largely overlooked. If structurally compared to their counterparts on the Eternal Ys album and even the more commonly known PC-Engine arrangements by Ryo Yonemitsu, one wonders how these tunes have survived in any form. But these are early themes, largely composed by Yuzo Koshiro, that represent all that which made the Ys soundtracks appealing: A simple and catchy core melody with an uncomplicated harmonic structure. Finding this soundtrack can be a challenge, but well worth the effort. And as an added bonus, you get some solid arrangements of the stronger tracks on the album for no extra cost.