I am not a veteran when it comes to the Ys franchise. I played a bit of Ys: Memories of Celceta for the Playstation Vita and enjoyed the time I spent with it, however, Ys Origin feels like a completely different beast. Originally released almost 12 years ago in Japan, I was interested in how a niche series like Ys would hold up over the years, and it did not disappoint.
At the outset, Ys Origin gives players the choice between two characters: Yunica or Hugo. Both characters have different mechanics and playstyles. Yunica (my character of choice) wields a large axe that she uses to punish enemies, while Hugo is a mage who attacks from range with a staff. The story follows these two on a journey to rescue two goddesses who have gone missing. It is assumed that they entered the Devil’s Tower, a large construct created by demons to wage war on a holy temple that has been torn from the ground to escape the destruction wrought upon the land of Ys by these demons. Yunica and Hugo must climb the many floors of the tower in an attempt to save them.
Since I haven’t followed the series canonically over the years, having Ys Origin work as a prequel taking place 700 years before the start of Ys I works in the favor of JRPG fans like me. Since I haven’t invested in the story before now, anyone who enjoys Ys Origin has more of a reason to go back and sink some time into the titles that released previously. The games won’t be the same, but I’m much more likely to start at the beginning of the franchise after playing through this entry knowing more about these people and their motivations.
The action RPG genre fits really well with the visuals and gameplay cycle as well. Each floor generally possesses new challenges for our characters, and tons of enemies are thrown at you in each area. The variety is pretty astounding for a 12 year old game, and players must prioritize some enemies before moving onto others. Since players have to pick between two characters at the beginning of the game, the solid action combat also gives players a reason to come back a second time. Not just for the varying character mechanics, but the different character stories and style of gameplay. Hugo has different motivations than Yunica, which is just an extra incentive to burn through the floors of the tower a second time.
Ys Origin flows really well from floor to floor too. Some floors have puzzles on them that require the use of certain items, while others will have bits of platforming on them. Combine those with tons of enemies to defeat and players will find varying degrees of difficulty between floors. Ys Origin does have a rather nasty difficulty spike though, which comes more into play later on. Normally I wouldn’t complain, but a lack of a checkpoint system means death takes players back to the last save. Most times this isn’t an issue as enemies drop plenty of health orbs and other items, but even the slightest distraction can cause a lot of lost time.
The puzzles here aren’t too difficult, but instead utilize different floors of the tower to obtain specific items and force players to explore more of their surroundings. This made backtracking to previous floors less of a chore, even if every enemy respawns each time players return traverse between floors. Luckily, Ys Origins has fast and fluid combat. There are skills to learn that help players in battle or platforming, and are awarded to players at a decent pace, and combat moves at a brisk pace since each floor is flooded with enemies. 60 frames per second help the 2D art style feel new, while still maintaining the retro aesthetic. Since this is an older title, environments could obviously use some work to match what we are used to now, but for its time Ys Origin is a beautiful fluid title.
Despite all the positives, Ys Origin does get stale eventually. Most of the floors of the tower look similar, and there is only so much to do. Each story takes around 9 or 10 hours to complete, but there is a third character that unlocks after finishing the story with both characters. I’ll probably end up giving that a shot after I finish my Hugo playthrough, but I don’t know if I’ll end up finishing Ys Origin a third time.
Ys Origin feels like it borrowed heavily from the RPG’s and adventure games that inspired it, but with fluid combat and tight controls, it doesn’t matter. This prequel journey is a great jumping off point for anyone looking to get into the series or diehard fans. For the $19.99 price tag, there is plenty of content with more to come after finishing the initial offering. Ys Origin might look like an older title, because it is, but the depth of combat and variety of gameplay floor to floor make this an enticing package. This is the first time a Ys title has made it to the Xbox family of consoles, and hopefully it isn’t the last.
Ys Origin is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Vita. This review is based on an Xbox One copy provided by the publisher for that purpose.