Ys Origin Review
The Ys action JRPG series is old, almost as old as it gets in the gaming industry, only a few years short of being as old as a certain plumber. Crossing decades and multiple styles, Ys Origin is the third entry in the The Ark of Napishtim engine, a departure from the series then 2D style. It is also the trilogy’s best title, a focused dungeon crawler with multiple storylines and memorable boss fights, and a fantastic entry point for anyone looking to get into the series.
For those familiar with the Ys games, Origin’s greatest departure is the fact you don’t play as Adol Christin. Instead, you’re given the choice between Hugo Fact, a brooding, talented young mage; and Yunica Tovah, an apprentice knight that is unable to use magic. A third character is unlocked once you beat the game with these two. Falcom’s gamble paid off: each character offers an interesting storyline, filled with their personal motivations, ambitions, and secrets. Seeing their development as I ascended the tower, in particular Yunica’s, was a highlight I did not expect in an action game. With each successive playthrough you learn more of the world and its characters, culminating in the ‘true ending’ achieved once you finish the game with the third character.
The gameplay itself is your standard action RPG fare. Your set of actions and abilities is small and restricted, and this works to the game’s favor. It’s one of those games that’s easy to pick up, but very difficult to master. The many boss fights will test how well you’ve mastered the game’s systems: many of them are hard (incredibly so at the higher difficulties), but all have consistent movesets and ‘play by the rules’, so to speak. Beating them without taking damage is perfectly feasible, and getting to that skill level is a necessity for anyone wishing to play the game’s harder difficulties. They’re also the game’s combat at its best, ranging from personal duels with characters your size, to monsters that cover most of your screen. Those having a hard time can choose to grind (though it’s never a necessity), and the game rewards you thoroughly for it: slain enemies explode into a shower of goodies that increase your damage, defense, and MP regeneration, as well as the game’s currency. Origin also rewards skilled grinding, giving you an increasing XP multiplier that requires you to attack enemies with almost no pause.
What makes Origin such a standout action game is its pacing: the stakes are high from the moment you start, and the game never loses that sense of urgency. Each level you complete of the tower rewards you with relevant developments in the story and new abilities, and there’s never a dull moment whether you’re Hugo, Yunica, or the 3rd. The momentum isn’t lost even as you go through many of the same environments a second and third time, bringing each of the characters to a new conclusion. It helps that they all play very differently: Yunica’s weighty axe swings are nothing like Hugo’s magic missiles and spells. After you’ve played through the story once or thrice, you can tackle one of the three extra modes (arena, time attack, and speedrun), adding some replay value to the already sizeable 25 hours it’ll take you to complete the story campaigns.
As this is a review of the Switch version, it’s worth mentioning that the port itself is flawless. Ys Origin targets 60 FPS and hits it consistently, whether you’re playing docked or handheld. While the 3D art and sprites might have aged a bit, they have done so with grace, and get a helping hand from the smaller screen when played handheld. If the visuals mostly just do their job, the audio – the soundtrack, to be precise – has the signature Ys quality. Fans of the series will recognize several of its recurring motifs, as well as a wide arrangement of heavy metal guitar riffs and classical tunes. Seriously, check it out.
The Ys series is often neglected in the west, and we do that at our loss. Although the more modern Ys titles are great in their own right (particularly Ys VIII), Ys Origin offers a nice entry-point to the series, with its hallmark excellent gameplay and soundtrack, all at a very agreeable price point.