I’ve not played a Ys game. It’s something I’m a little ashamed of being an RPG fan, but seeing that I missed the first six entries in the series (the seventh game only released last year) and it follows a canon story, I felt like I was too far behind to really enjoy it.
Ys Origin appealed to me though, mostly because it’s a prequel that takes place seven-hundred years before the original game. It didn’t matter if I didn’t know the characters, the story, or what how it played – it was a fresh tale that could be played as a stand-alone experience.
Now, more than eleven years after its initial Japanese release on PC, it’s finally available in a localised format on consoles. It’s already been out on PlayStation consoles for a short while, but I’ve now had a chance to play through the action-RPG title on the more recently released Xbox One edition of the game. Good news: I really like it.
Ys Origin tells the stories of Hugo and Yunica: a pair of warriors who’re sent to rescue two Goddesses who have gone missing following an attack on their temple by deadly demons. These Goddesses are vital to bringing peace to the world and ensuring its people’s safety, so their well-being is a pretty big deal – the only place they could’ve gone to though is the demons’ dangerous Devil’s Tower. You’ve got to climb the tower, wipe out it’s evil inhabitants, and bring the Goddesses back to safety.
One of the neat things that Ys Origin does is give you multiple characters to play as. Whilst you can initially choose between playing as Hugo or Yunica, you’ll also eventually unlock a third character to play as too. Each character plays differently in battle, with Hugo focusing on using his magic to take down enemies from afar and Yunica fighting up-close with her melee abilities.
Each have the same goal though: climbing the Devil’s Tower to rescue the Goddesses. Whilst the goal is the same, each character’s tale plays out differently and you won’t see the full story unless you complete it as them all. It adds an extra sense of longevity to the game but also never feels overwhelming thanks to the fact that each story can easily be completed in under ten hours each.
Most of your time in Ys Origin is spent battling monsters in a fluid and quick-paced action battle system. As mentioned, I haven’t played the previous titles in the series so I can’t compare it to the mainline entries, but it always feels satisfying to take down each enemy.
The action-focus almost makes Ys Origin feel more like a hack-and-slash ‘em up more than anything else at times, though there are plenty of RPG elements to be found too. Whilst you’ve got simple things like the HP counter that pops above enemies as you beat them down, you’ve also got traditional RPG hallmarks such as also the experience points earned by defeating them (which you use to level up), the focus on utilising tactics to take down enemy mobs, as well as the wide range of skills each character has. It might feel like it’s more action-focused that anything else, but there’s no denying that Ys Origin is definitely an action-RPG.
Battling is fun throughout and quickly demolishing groups of enemies certainly adds a sense of empowerment upon your character. Of course, there’ll be plenty of moments where things will slip up too – some enemies are tough and will quickly smash you down, whilst the overwhelming enemy count can also see you suffering a few unwelcome ‘game overs’. Ys Origin never feels unfair though nor did I ever feel like I wasn’t in full control of my actions – each death you suffer in the game is your own fault, whether it be from your lacking skills or simply heading into the wrong place at the wrong time.
One of my favourite aspects of battling was the boss battles, with Ys Origin featuring plenty of huge enemies to take down throughout the game that often demand you think outside of the box. They won’t go down through sheer force alone and demand the player figure out their weak spots, their attack patterns, or essentially solve a puzzle to work out how to inflict their demise upon them. They’re fun little encounters that always push your skills, but are cleverly designed enough that it’s hard not to be entertained by them.
Outside of battling, there are also plenty of instances of basic platforming and puzzle-solving to be found throughout the tower. Now it’s never anything too challenging (it’s mostly made up of simple jumps), but it at least adds a refreshing twist to the action-RPG formula.
That being said, it could be argued that Ys Origin plays it a little too safe at times. Levelling up is simple, finding treasures is easy enough, whilst the level design itself does nothing out of the ordinary. Ys Origin has a few neat little ideas of its own and the battling itself is surprisingly free-flowing and fast, but all of the hallmarks of an old-school RPG are there. It did come out in 2006 originally mind, so it’s not really something you can hold against the game too much.
One thing I did hold against it though was a lack of an auto-save function. Now I’ve played plenty of older RPGs and totally accept that there was a time where you had to depend on specific save points – believe me, I get it. I’ve just been so spoilt by modern RPGs and the checkpoints that they offer with their auto-save function that I’ve almost grown a little complacent. I really missed it here, especially since deaths can occur quite often.
The save points in Ys Origin can be few and far between too, so one slip up in-game can lead to a fair bit of lost progress. It isn’t the end of the world and yeah, maybe it’s something that’s become more of a player preference, but I do think that most modern RPGs should come with an auto-save function as standard these days. Ys Origin doesn’t, and it’s noticeable.
I’d be remiss not to mention Ys Origin’s visual style, which I was a massive fan of. I’ve always liked seeing 2D sprites on 3D backgrounds, and it’s something that looks great throughout the entirety of the game. The environments themselves could be a bit guilty of feeling a little bland at times, but battling enemies and the huge bosses (who still managed to look good despite being 3D models) never failed to impress.
I should also mention that the Xbox One edition of the game not only comes with an exclusive Speedrun mode, but also features blood and gore. Neither is a big game-changer as far as the gameplay is concerned, but it does make the Xbox One edition the most feature-packed version of the game to buy – it could be a deal-breaker for some…
Ys Origin embraces the old-school style of RPGs and mixes it up with quick-paced action-packed battling, and it makes for a surprisingly intuitive and very enjoyable experience. I had a lot of fun fighting my way through Devil’s Tower as all three characters and each adventure managed to feel unique in its own little way.
The only real problem with the game is that it takes the ‘old-school’ approach too literally at times, with some features of the game a little too simplified and the saving system a little unforgiving. The game shows its age at times visually too, especially with some of the bland environments you explore.
Still, none of these flaws stop Ys Origin from being a great action-RPG experience and one that fans of the genre will want to check out – regardless of whether or not it’s their first time with the Ys series.
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC