The combat style is similar to other 2D action RPGs, like Zelda or Illusion of Gaia. But Ys I and II boast “buttonless combat.” Essentially, there is no attack button, rather, you run into enemies to damage them. Of course, enemies can also damage you if you run into them head-on. The speed of both your character and the enemies is far too fast to allow you to target your enemies from the back or side with any precision. There's only one tactic that works consistently — running into your enemies slightly off-centre.
Once you know what you're actually doing, the game is quite short, and by the time I started using the step-by-step guide in the instruction manual, it was only a few hours before I made it to the final boss battle, which was itself a frustrating slog. I asked myself why I was playing this game — the combat is unrewarding, the story is minimal, and gameplay consists of following the guide verbatim. Only the briefness of the game made me willing to push through and finish it.
On the other hand, Ys II fixes many of the original game's problems. It can still be obtuse, and my patience was so exhausted from the first game I didn't trust the game to be reasonably solvable without using an online guide (the manual only includes a walkthrough for the first, more confusing game). But there's more of a narrative thread, and more of an explanation as to what tasks will advance the story. The combat is also slightly better. Now instead of running into enemies off-centre, you have the ability to run at enemies diagonally. But more importantly, you gain some magic abilities, allowing long-range (button-using!) attacks.
I guess the question is whether you can get through Ys I with enough of your patience intact to even want to bother with the much improved Ys II. Since the two games are really part of a single story (though Ys II is more fleshed out), it's hard to skip one for the other. But it's a hard sell to go through one frustrating, pointless game in order to play a sequel that is just okay.