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Ys Origin is a game I would have never gone out of my way for had I not seen the gameplay in action first. Jeremy got into the series a few years ago and when I saw him playing Origin, I was immediately interested. It looked like a fun and fast-paced action RPG. It wasn’t until he showed me Ys VIII recently that I decided to give the series a shot. I do enjoy some games in the JRPG genre but I never could get into the whole anime thing. The only anime content I ever got into was Pokemon back in the late nineties. The Pokemon TV show is the only anime show I ever made an effort to watch and that’s because I was into the games. I’ve heard of and am well aware of many JRPGs but somehow the Ys series eluded me for the longest time even though it’s been around since 1987. Developed and published by Nihon Falcom in Japan and published by Xseed Games everywhere else, Ys Origin was released for PC in Japan in December, 2006 and the rest of the world in May, 2012. It was released for the PlayStation 4 and Vita in 2017 and Xbox One in April of 2018 and these versions were published by DotEmu. For this review I played the PC version. This is not the first game in the series but I believe it is the first game chronologically so I figured that would be a good place to start. In an effort to avoid spoiling too much, I will avoid talking about certain story elements but the review will include clips of gameplay, including gameplay related to unlockable content. If you feel that will spoil too much, I advise you to stop reading now. You have been warned.
The entire game is set in the Darm Tower which was built by an army of demons to take down Ys, a land ruled by the twin Goddesses Reah and Feena. You can play through the story mode as one of three characters, one of which needs to be unlocked, and they each have their own backstory. For the most part, progression through the tower is the same for all three but you will encounter some different bosses and the interactions with NPCs will also be different. You should play through the game with all three protagonists if you want to get the most out of the plot. I started with Yunica, the granddaughter of one of the Six Priests of Ys. She wants to become a Holy Knight and has developed a strong bond with the Goddesses. After Feena and Reah disappeared, the Six Priests organized a search-and-rescue operation consisting of knights and mages. Yunica goes off on her own to find them. Hugo Fact is another playable character and son of one of the Six Priests. Hugo has training in the art of magic and is considered a magical prodigy. He’s also very power hungry. He joins the search party in hopes of finding the two Goddesses. I’m not going to spoil much about the third and unlockable playable character. I will not reveal the character’s name because that may actually be a significant spoiler for some people but I will refer to him as “The Claw” since he does use two claws as weapons. There are a few movie cut scenes, no voice acting, and interactions with NPCs are presented with text boxes and character portraits. The stories for each character are okay but I can’t say I got immersed. Sometimes characters don’t shut the hell up and some of the dialogue is a bit cheesy but the protagonists and many of the supporting characters are well developed.
All characters start at the base of the tower and must work their way up to the top. Yunica and The Claw are basically melee fighters so they can get up close and personal with enemies. Hugo is a ranged character and playing as him makes the game kind of feel like a shooter. Eventually the characters acquire the abilities to dash and double-jump. Double-jump should be obvious and dashing just means you can move faster. There are multiple difficulty modes to select from and on Normal, the game can actually be quite easy once you understand how to approach boss battles because I would say they make up the hardest parts of the game. Basic attacks boil down to just pressing the attack button repeatedly but you can perform a few others moves like jump attacks, down-thrusts, some attacks will stun enemies, The Claw can perform a slide attack, and these can be performed with a combination of character movements and button presses at the right times so there is a little bit of depth to the combat and I imagine mastery of the moves is more important on the higher difficulties. That and farming for experience. Killing enemies rewards you with experience and when you earn enough experience, you level up. Leveling up increases your stats and one level could be the difference between life and death, especially when it comes to bosses. I’m not kidding. You can go from doing little damage to doing massive damage with just one level increase. You will acquire new armor items which increase your defense and if you acquire Cleria Ore, it can be used to strengthen your primary weapon. You will find artifacts throughout the tower that grant your characters special skills. Each character can unleash wind, electric, and fire skills or attacks that do major damage to enemies and the wind skill can be used to access hard-to-reach places. Using skills drains MP indicated by the skill gauge but it does refill over time. Some enemies are invulnerable or have a high resistance to your basic attacks but are weak to certain skill attacks. The power of your skills can be increased by acquiring various jewels and if powered up at least once, you can then charge up the skill before unleashing. As you kill enemies, your Boost Gauge fills up and once full, you can enter boost mode where your attacks do more damage and you take less damage from enemy attacks but only for a limited time. Eventually you will obtain the ability to activate the Burst move which will quickly deplete the boost meter but you will unleash a devastating attack.
Fallen enemies will drop temporary stat buffs, health, MP, and Spiritual Power abbreviated as SP. SP is important because it’s essentially currency. Throughout the tower are statues that can be activated. Once activated, your health is immediately restored and they act as save and fast travel points. Health items are not lying around the tower so if you’re having a tough time and the health items dropped by enemies aren’t cutting it, you can always warp to a statue where your health will be fully restored. If you die, you will respawn at the last statue. Save and save often because dying can result in a loss of progress unless you’re up against a boss where if you die, you can retry the battle or return to the title screen. Returning to the title screen is kind of annoying because you’re forced to load your game and spawn where you last saved which may also mean you have to sit through lengthy dialogue again before the boss battle. But luckily there are statues before every boss door so as long as you save before the battle, you shouldn’t lose any progress if you die. You can use statues to spend SP on character upgrades. You can improve each piece of armor you acquire, increase your skill recovery, increase the effects of buffs, and reduce the length of negative status effects, among others. After my first playthrough, I would stick to only upgrading armor items until I had enough SP to purchase the Increase SP Gain upgrade then I would focus on purchasing the rest. On higher difficulties, you may want to focus on specific upgrades that are beneficial for combat. With that said, much like leveling up, acquiring new armor, improving your armor, and using Cleria Ore to increase your weapon strength can make a huge difference.
Ys Origin kind of has this whole Metroidvania thing going on. You will have to backtrack every now and then but since you can easily warp to statues, it never really becomes a problem. You will obtain and have to use specific items or accessories to progress through the tower. For example, the Mask of Eyes lets you see hidden things in the environments. Dragon’s Scales let you hold your breath longer under water. And Silver Chimes let you kill specific enemies. Chests can be found in various spots and can contain one of many items including armor, jewels, SP, a potion which will increase your maximum HP, or maybe Roda Fruits. Roda Fruits can be given to the Roos throughout the tower and as a result, they will reward you with useful items or abilities. Keys and medallions can also be found in chests or provided to you by NPCs and these are used to unlock doors. There’s actually not a ton of items to collect. Everything you acquire is useful and serves a purpose. You’ll never have to worry about filling up your inventory with junk. Your inventory is specifically designed to hold onto all items you can acquire. There are a few spots throughout the game that require you to do something specific and because most of this game is pretty straightforward, these objectives threw me off a bit because it wasn’t always clear what you need to do. Plus, when you get to the same spot with another character, your objective may be slightly different. However, you can use an item to remotely speak to an NPC if you get stuck and I found that to be pretty helpful.
The tower consists of numerous floors and as you work your way up to the top, you’ll notice different themes for each set of floors. Bosses are encountered after every few or so floors and they can be quite challenging if you’re not properly prepared. In my experience, if a boss killed me, I only needed to level up at least once or maybe improve something to notice a major difference. But the bosses can still pose a challenge and memorizing their attack patterns is crucial. After losing a certain amount of health, bosses will change up their attacks so you may have to repeat a battle a few times before you get their attacks down. The only thing I really don’t like about the boss battles is that you can’t pause the game. I get that it’s a gameplay mechanic but I’m really not a fan of this. It’s not a huge deal, just a minor inconvenience. However, I discovered that if you “alt+tab” out of the game, it seems to pause the gameplay. Each floor will often have branching paths and obstacles and hazards to overcome in addition to all of the enemies that populate the areas. I guess I would say this game is linear because the branching paths always lead to dead ends but dead ends with items that you either need to progress or that simply benefit you. With that said, no area ever feels like “filler”. Sometimes you’ll have to push buttons and activate things to progress. Some areas contain hazards like spikes, blades, lava or toxic liquid, quicksand, and some paths and platforms later in the game have no guardrails so you can easily fall off if you’re not careful. However, many platforms and paths do have guardrails which is actually good considering how fast-paced the combat can be. The guardrails prevent you from falling off even if you jump. Although, that can be annoying if you’re just trying to navigate areas because you can’t actually jump over them so you’re always forced to take the actual path.
Enemies or demons are everywhere. Every floor will contain numerous enemies and they do respawn once you leave an area or room. Since the combat is pretty fast-paced and fun, I don’t mind it and it does allow you to farm for experience. Some enemies can inflict temporary negative status effects on you with their attacks like poison or confusion which is easily the most annoying since it reverses your movement controls. Some enemies will spit or fire this green shit on the ground that can cause you to slide. Enemies can knock you down, others carry shields that can block your attacks, some can teleport around areas, some can fly, some can fire projectiles, some will throw bombs, and there’s a good variety of different enemy types. There are some spots where a door, area, or chest is blocked by a barrier that can be broken by killing specific enemies and sometimes you need to kill specific enemies to reveal something. As mentioned before, some enemies won’t take much damage from your primary attacks but are weak against certain skills. This does encourage you to try different combinations of attacks and skills. Most enemy attacks can be dodged easily by simply moving or jumping out of the way and I would say the biggest advantage they have is that they always outnumber you.
Ys Origin contains a decent amount of unlockable content which may keep you coming back for a while. After beating the game once, you unlock not only The Claw as a playable character but also the Time Attack mode. In this mode, you choose your character, difficulty, and then you can attempt to defeat any boss of your choosing and the goal is to beat them as fast as you can. You can also select the boss rush option to defeat one after another. You are provided the skills and basic equipment you would normally have by the time you reach that boss in the story so you may feel underpowered, making knowledge of the boss attack patters that much more important. After beating the game with all three characters, you are granted SP bonuses for use in the story mode and you unlock the Arena Mode where you fight waves of monsters and earn SP. The SP can be spent in the Bonus Shop on bonuses like more arena stages. You can purchase Adol, the protagonist in other Ys games, but he can only be used in the Arena mode. You can also purchase Extra versions of the three protagonists which can be used in the story mode. The Extra version characters have more powerful skills and will possibly make playing through the story mode on higher difficulties easier.
Visually, Ys Origin looks okay. I like the visual style. The action is viewed from the isometric perspective and the characters are small and adorable. There’s a chunkiness to the characters and combat which I feel helps to make the combat as fun as it is. The combat is fast and fluid and landing hits feels satisfying and enemies basically explode into chunks when killed, leaving behind blood splatter. The outdoor backgrounds look pretty good and the texture work is decent. Some of the environments can appear bland at times but because the theme will change every few floors or so, the visual presentation manages to stay interesting. By the time you’ve grown tired of seeing the same old backgrounds and textures, you’re probably not too far from a change in scenery. The actual movie cut scenes are definitely blurry, at least when playing this at 1080p. Now the sound effects are okay. I can’t say anything about them really stood out to me. However, the music is phenomenal. The soundtrack is full of great tunes that stuck with me. There’s different tunes for different events like bosses, interactions, general navigation, etc. and all of them are pretty catchy. I would say the music is one of the game’s best aspects. On the technical side, the game did run smooth overall. I did notice the frame rate dip here and there but it was rare and I encountered no significant bugs. Ys Origin does include controller support and you can remap the buttons through the configuration tool before launching the game. I couldn’t get the game to recognize my Xbox One controller but it did recognize my wired 360 controller and I just stuck with that.
Now I played through the story with all three characters on Normal and it was a fun but not particularly challenging experience, minus a few encounters on my first run since I was still figuring things out. However, the game does offer multiple difficulty modes. I would say Ys Origin is a very accessible action RPG. It doesn’t overwhelm you with mechanics, it can be easy or hard depending on the difficulty, and the gameplay is pretty straightforward. Navigate the floors and kill all the enemies. Attacking really boils down to mashing only one button. But you’ll want to master your move set and know what skills to use and when to overcome more difficult encounters. To master the combat you’ll need to learn enemy attack patterns, move and jump at the right times to dodge attacks, and know what the enemy weaknesses are. This isn’t an action RPG like Diablo, Path of Exile, or anything along those lines. Ys Origin is an action RPG with a strong focus on fast-paced action and combat. There is no character building or skill trees. Each character is already defined and you just need to learn how they operate. I had a great time with Ys Origin and if this is the kind of gameplay I can expect from the rest of the series, then I’m very eager to try the other games. The only major disappointment I have with this is that there’s no co-op. I guess it wouldn’t make sense story-wise but it would be cool to team up with a buddy and tackle at least one of the modes cooperatively or something. I should mention that if you only complete the story with one character, the game may feel rather short. I beat it with Yunica in about eight hours and less with the other characters. Not only will you understand the plot a bit more by playing through the story with all three, you also unlock more content. Playing through the story multiple times may become repetitive gameplay-wise, mainly because you’re progressing through the same environments with each character but even so, the combat is so much fun it just hooks you in.
Ys Origin is a fantastic game and I would recommend it to fans of action games and action RPGs. Even if you don’t normally play isometric action RPGs or are just not a fan of JRPGs in general, I would still recommend this only because of how much fun it is. If you’re like me and the whole anime thing keeps you away from games like this, I completely understand but trust me when I say this game is a lot of fun. But I’m always willing to give games a shot. For me, it’s all about the gameplay. The gameplay is what attracted me to Ys Origin in the first place and it’s what kept me playing. The story isn’t terrible and even though it’s kind of shoved in your face, you really don’t need to pay attention to it to enjoy the gameplay. Definitely check this out.