Ys Origin Review
700 Years Before Adol
RPGamers in the west have had to wait a bit to get their hands on certain Nihon Falcom titles. It took Ys Origin six years from its original Japanese PC release in 2006 to arrive on PCs in North America and Europe, courtesy of XSEED Games. Now in 2017, publisher DotEmu has brought the game to PlayStation 4, using XSEED Games’ localisation, with a PlayStation Vita release also coming soon. The opportunity to try out the game on a console was one I found very welcome, and the game certainly manages to stand up strongly thanks to great gameplay and excellent boss battles.
Ys Origin is a distant prequel to the long-running series, with direct ties to Ys I and Ys II, and as such the only game not to feature red-headed mainstay Adol in any way. However, like most titles in the series, it can be readily enjoyed without prior knowledge or experience of other games. Unlike the most recent games, in which players can switch control between different members of the active party, in Ys Origin players have one playable character chosen between Yunica and Hugo. A third character can also be unlocked after completing both Yunica’s and Hugo’s routes.
The series primarily focuses on two things — combat and exploration — though these are often backed up by a decent helping of story. Ys Origin‘s plot sees a small group heading up a tower of evil in order to find two goddesses who have taken off into the tower on their own accord. While it doesn’t provide the deepest narrative, it does a welcome job of both breaking up the journey to the top of the tower and helping to develop the chosen hero, even if the NPCs and enemies remain fairly bland. Each hero takes the exact same route up the tower and fights the same bosses, but all the story conversations are different and help give the routes their own slant. The developers of Ys Origin seem to have multiple playthroughs in mind, keeping things streamlined and avoiding any unnecessary extensions of the play time. Individual routes clock in at under ten hours, meaning that going through the game again is nowhere near the daunting proposition it would be for other titles.
Significant differences in how each character plays further encourage multiple playthroughs. Yunica fights up close and personal with her axe, while Hugo uses his staff and the “Eyes of Fact” to attack from distance. Either way, however, combat is simple, fast, and very addictive. In addition to the regular attacks, players are given access to special abilities, with distinct implementations for each character, which are important for defeating certain enemies as well as getting through certain locations and advancing up the tower. Most enemies are straightforward to defeat, though doing so remains a satisfying experience throughout, with the highlights coming from the boss fights. New players should expect to need multiple attempts on each boss as they learn its attack patterns and what is required to hurt them, even if playing on Easy difficulty, especially with to the lack of healing options. However, managing to take them down is hugely rewarding, with the fights superbly showing the strength of the combat and controls.
If a boss is proving too tough, then there are a few simple methods of character growth and enhancement that can make all the difference. Experience is gained automatically from fallen enemies and characters level up automatically, but defeated foes will also drop money and temporary attribute bonuses that must be gathered by the player. This money can then be spent at the goddess shrines, which also act as save points and teleportation destinations, for armour enhancements and other bonuses. Weapons can also be upgraded back at the base of the tower should players find the Cleria Ore from specific chests further up. Like the rest of the game, the systems are all straightforward and used very effectively.
The regular combat links up well with the exploration. Most sections require players find an item that unlocks a particular door and/or an artefact that will permit them to get through the environmental hazards. The pathfinding puzzles and platforming elements are never too taxing, but require just enough thought to keep players engaged with what they are doing. While a small amount of backtracking might be needed now and then, the general speed of the game means it’s never a great annoyance, and players should be able to keep progressing at a nice clip throughout.
Ys Origin‘s sprite-based visuals make apparent its age, and the graphical style will be familiar to anyone who has played Falcom’s games from the era. Obviously, it doesn’t tax the PlayStation 4’s processors, but it translates well onto the TV screen outside of the border oddities in the very first cutscene. The game speeds along very nicely, and the distinct design in sections of the tower helps keeps things interesting visually, even if the individual area templates may have been seen before many times. It will have to be seen whether its visuals translate as well onto the Vita version, as some difficulties reading smaller UI elements and judging aerial movement already present a slight annoyance on the console and are exacerbated when using Remote Play. Falcom’s Sound Team provides another solid soundtrack in keeping with its high standards, and the various sound effects and enemy cries are effective to complementing the action. There isn’t any voice-acting but it never feels like the game is missing anything for it.
Ys Origin is a great gateway into the Ys series, as well as another high-quality entry for those who are already sold on the series. Its streamlined approach offers a perfect combination of being able to showcase what Ys is all about without demanding too much of time commitment. Those looking for an engaging experience of combat and exploration should check it out.
Highly enjoyable combat
Very streamlined gameplay
Distinct playable character styles
Aerial manoeuvering can be awkward
Lack of healing options