The Ys games date all the way back to the late 80s and have spanned roughly eight sequels. Ys Origin is the first game in the series not to star protagonist Adol Christin and is a prequel, taking place 700 years before Ys I – a nice chance for new players to pick up and play without the requirement of previous series experience.
In a prosperous land called Ys, the people enjoyed many luxuries bestowed to them by an object known as the Black Pearl, which gave them gifts such as magic. The pearl was watched over by six great priests and twin Goddesses, who looked after the people of Ys. Some bad things went down, so the people packed up and floated a chunk of land up to the sky, where they would live away from the trouble below.
After the Goddesses decide to mysteriously split, taking the Black Pearl with them, the six priests decide to send down a party to bring them back. Once on the surface, the group discovers that the Goddesses went into an ominous tower surrounded by erupting lava fields that just screams “bad guy’s lair.” This is where the story begins.
There are two main characters, a melee fighter named Yunica Tovah and a long ranged magician named Hugo Fact — choosing either character will affect both the play style and the story. The two narratives occasionally intertwine, filling in gaps, and both characters will occasionally help each other progress, sometimes inadvertently.
The story itself, filled with typical anime archetypes, is fairly straightforward, though a tad unambitious. The antagonists aren’t especially memorable, but the main characters and their companions have just enough personality to make up for it. Dialogue is well written, but many of the story’s revelations are predictable and its structure is very “by the numbers.” Still, the story is entertaining enough to hold attention.
Gameplay is Ys Origin’s real strength. Each character plays differently in terms of basic attacks, such as melee vs. long-range, and in how they use the special skills at their disposal. The game provides a fast-paced, action-oriented experience that is consistently exciting. Additionally, each character’s skill set is unique, adding incentive to play both.
Aside from knocking enemy heads, special skills are used to help traverse terrain and open new paths. Items picked up after destroying monsters can increase attributes or experience gained, which helps speed up grinding sessions and allows players to grow at a faster pace. Other collectible items allow entry into new areas and grant special abilities, such as breathing underwater, and armor can be found throughout the game. While Ys isn’t filled with puzzles, players will have to use their noggins more than a few times to progress.
One of the best parts in Ys Origin is the number of upgrades it makes available to players. Weapon upgrades come in the form of ore collected throughout the game — a process that can be taxing. It’s much simpler to allocate SP, which can be gained by killing enemies and collecting the crystals they drop, to upgrade attributes. At save statues, players can ask for blessings that allow them to upgrade everything from walking speeds to status resistance to armor strength. Using SP wisely can drastically change the tide of battle.
Players will need all the help they can get, too. While difficulty can be adjusted at the title screen (from “Very Easy” to “Nightmare”), even “Normal” will provide a sufficient challenge. The tower, where the entire game takes place, increases in difficulty as players ascend, and sometimes the difference between one level and the next is dramatic enough to require some backtracking, grinding and preparation. Luckily, it doesn’t ever feel like work — the game’s enthralling fighting system and item drops work in unison to make strengthening characters simple and fun.
The controls, however, take a lot of getting used to. Using a mouse to guide characters is best left to games that don’t move as fast as Ys. Moving while jumping and avoiding hazards both require practice and patience, but if the time is put in, players will find themselves hopping all over and easily traversing the world with only a few hassles in especially difficult areas. Challenge makes the game fun, through your wrists may be barking in pain after extended sessions.
As mentioned before, the game is set entirely in one large tower, which can feel cramped at times. However, there is a lot of variety that keeps things fresh. The floors of the tower are separated into different “worlds” that are quite distinguishable from one another, and each can take up several floors. Granted, these are garden-variety game worlds (Water World, Desert World, Fire World), but in this type of game it’s an excusable cliché. The worlds themselves are well designed, though linear, and provide just enough deviations to keep things interesting as well as rewarding, thanks to hidden special items.
The absence of puzzles in Ys Origin makes way for countless environmental hazards that provide plenty of challenge, and quite a few headaches. The tower is huge and there are many instances where players will find themselves at the bottom of it, either for upgrades or because the story demands it. Since there are no fast travel options, players are forced to travel the same areas several times and, especially later in the game, this can be an incredible pain.
Players won’t be rushing to buy the game’s soundtrack, but the music does its job. The biggest gripe is a lack of variety. Each world has its own theme, typically upbeat and filled with faux guitar riffs. Story scenes have tracks designed to convey the appropriate emotions, but there aren’t a lot of character themes or anything else that jumps out and demands attention. Outside of the main soundtrack, musical cues, like those that play when collecting a new item, have remained relatively the same as in prior Ys games, adding a touch of nostalgia for longtime fans.
Extras are always a bonus in our eyes, and Ys Origin does provide some good things in this arena. Aside from the ability to play through the game twice with story and gameplay differences, finishing Ys Origin unlocks a third playable character whose story (upon completion) reveals what some might consider the “true” ending. Without giving anything away, the third character provides an entirely new perspective on the story and plays differently from the other two heroes, adding another good twenty or more hours of game time. This, plus a Time Attack mode, is a win in our book.
Ys Origin is hard to recommended rushing out to play, but for a six-year-old game — and for the price — it fares better than a lot of console role-playing games. Its decent, but predictable, storyline might not feel like an epic RPG experience, but the gameplay is so strong that it balances everything out. An excellent addition to the acclaimed franchise, Ys Origin gets an emphatic Yes.
Ys Origin is available now on PC through Steam.
Follow me on Twitter @8BitBomb.