"A fantastic action RPG that finally got a US release."
I never thought I would see the day when Ys Origin would be released in English. Origin was released back in December 2006. At the time, Falcom was still a PC developer, and the Japanese PC market was virtually non-existent in the west. Unlike many other Ys titles, Origin never got a PSP port (or any other port, for that matter). With this combination, I thought it was a game that would never see the light of day outside Japan. All that changed with the recent success of JRPGs on Steam, and XSeeD having hopped on board to release PC Ys games. They brought Oath in Felghana to Steam months ago, and now, Origin has arrived. I've waited over five years for this day, and fortunately, the game is a total blast from start to finish.
As the name implies, Origin is a prequel story that takes place 700 years prior to Ys 1 & 2. Ys was once a prosperous land, ruled by the twin goddesses Feena and Reah, along with the six priests who serve as their retainers. The people of Ys have the ability to use magic thanks to a special artifact called the Black Pearl. With this miracle, the people of Ys were living in paradise... until a demon invasion occurred. Ys residents were not able to drive back the demon horde, and were facing annihilation. As a last resort, the people fled to Soloman Shrine, where the goddesses and priests raised the land high up into the air to be out of the demons' reach. In an attempt to thwart the humans' escape, the demons built a tower where the land once stood. They occasionally made an assault on the floating land, but the people of Ys managed to defend themselves. Things seemed to be going well once again until the goddesses mysteriously disappeared from Soloman Shrine. As the game begins, the six priests are putting together a search party of knights and sorcerers to head back down to the surface and find the missing goddesses. Their destination: the demon tower itself.
Since the hero of the series, Adol, is not born until centuries later, there are two protagonists to choose from instead. First is Yunica Tovah, a warrior with no ability to use magic. She wants to become a full fledged holy knight like her late father and joins the investigation to prove herself. The other hero is Hugo Fact, an aloof sorcerer who joins the search team with a secret mission to take down a certain man.
The plot itself is basic, but not bad. It's a standard search and rescue story with some twists here and there to make the situation more complicated. It's compelling enough to make me wonder what's going to happen next. The story is structured such that each character tells an alternate version of the same tale. The core events of the story revolve around them, with some changes in dialogue and which characters appear. Some information is important in one version of the story but barely mentioned in the other. The same applies for characters that have a bigger role and screentime on one side, but barely appear at all in another tale. After beating the game once, a third character is unlocked who gives a unique perspective on the tale and fills in the gaps. There's more meat to the story than other Ys titles, but it's a double-edged sword. Some players may enjoy the extra amount of story, while some may feel it interferes with the action and may not be fond of the verbose chatter.
As for the characters themselves, their quality is mixed. Yunica is a stock character, and she has the least interesting moments and character development in the game. The other leads are more interesting and feature some snappy dialogue and story moments. This especially holds true for Hugo, who has a few interesting scenes. I like the way his character development is handled. The supporting cast is also hit or miss. The allied characters are nice, pleasant fellows, but none of them are particularly interesting. On the other hand, I find the villains entertaining, and they have some amusing dialogue and interactions with the heroes. It's also interesting how human some of them act, instead of being all evil and chaotic just for the sake of it.
Another thing to note about the story portion of Ys Origin is that it makes many references to Ys 1 and 2. Several of them are obvious to those who play those games and are important to the game, such as the goddesses and towers. Most other references are minor, but are neat for those who notice. Some key items are brought back, along with some of the tower's obstacles from the first game. All of the major bosses come from Ys 1 and 2, and even some of the old music is rearranged. None of the references need to be understood to enjoy the game, but they're a bonus for fans of the two games, who get to see how all it all connects together even while serving well as an introductory installment.
Origin is a straightforward action RPG where you hack your way through hundreds of enemies and proceed through a series of dungeons. Throughout the game, you gain additional abilities to help defeat your enemies and get through some of the obstacles. There is also a "boost" mode, where your attacks are temporarily faster and the damage you receive is halved. Each of Origin's three playable characters has a unique fighting style and their own abilities to mix things up. Yunica plays very similarly to Adol, with melee-centric moves, whereas Hugo is a ranged fighter with more situational abilities. There is an upgrade system called "blessings" whereby your character gets improved abilities and strengthened gear. Blessings can be accessed from any save point and require SP, which is earned by defeating enemies. Aside from the combat, Origin has some platforming elements. Surprisingly, the platforming fits well with the dungeon crawling experience, and never feels intrusive enough to break up the heavy action.
It may seem like there is not much to the game, but Origin's gameplay remains exciting due to its tight pacing. The gameplay is fast and furious – enemies can die in seconds, and you can level up in minutes. There is not a moment that drags. The game always keeps you engaged with the action, and it always throws a variety of enemies and obstacles at you. Because the action remains simple, Origin utilizes everything it has very well and to the utmost limit. There are zero features that are useless or half-baked, and the combat does not complicate things with fancy combos, parries, and such. You can only attack, jump, and use a few abilities, but Origin manages to make it fun.
Another aspect of the game I find great is the healing system, which was introduced in Felghana. Instead of carryable healing items, enemies occasionally drop herbs that restore a portion of your health, and you can't hold them if your HP is full. The only other way to heal is through save points, level ups or standing still in an outdoor area. It might seem like an annoying feature, but this approach works in the game's favor. It keeps the challenge solid and makes the player use skill to get through. Besides, the herb drops are generous enough, and as mentioned, you level up quickly. You just can't rush blindly through the stages. Try it, and you will definitely be punished for doing so, especially on higher difficulties.
This feature is best used in the excellent boss fights. The bosses are all interesting and unique, and they throw an epic battle at you every time. With no healing items in your inventory, you need to figure out each boss' skills and patterns to overcome them. Even with good gear and a high enough level, your skill is still what ultimately determines how well you do. What's also cool about the bosses is that on new difficulty levels, their pattern changes up and they get new skills instead of just hitting harder and faster. These fights are quite tough, but they're certainly fair, and defeating the bosses feels immensely satisfying.
The game isn't long, as a single playthrough only lasts about 8-10 hours, so if you play as all three characters, you will get close to 30. Since the game takes place entirely in the tower, divided by six dungeon tiers, there is little in the way of exploration, sidequests or little secrets to find. Progression is straightforward, and most chests are in plain sight. The whole gameplay structure is much more arcade-like than a standard RPG, but it works. Origin gets to the point in its gameplay and remains strong from start to finish with no filler weighing it down.
The only real drawback I find in the game is the playthrough repetition. As mentioned, each character has their own version of the story, and you are encouraged to play with everyone to get the whole picture. Though each of them has their own skills, some different bosses and other minor changes, the core game remains the same. The game is fantastic, but playing through the same dungeons, doing the same things and fighting most of the same enemies can feel tiring as you get on to the third playthrough.
After completing the game, you unlock a time attack mode for the completed character, in which you fight a boss on any difficulty at a fixed level and equipment while trying to aim for the best time. There's also a boss rush option to fight all the bosses in sequence and see how fast you can beat all of them. Another feature is arena mode, where your character fights waves of enemies in a stage. This is the only mode where Adol is playable. The Steam version also includes achievements for players to earn, with some hilarious captions and pictures. Check out the game's Steam page to see for yourself.
Though the game is originally from late 2006, the graphics still hold up relatively well today. The character sprites and artwork are great, and the 3D environments are aged but still decent. The dungeons have some variety in their designs, and it's still easy on the eyes. It's not much of a looker in comparison to modern games, but it's competent. I do find it a crying shame that Falcom ditched the nice sprite work in favor of fairly generic 3D character models in their latest Ys titles.
As always, the Falcom sound team does an excellent job with the music. The primary style of Origin's music shifts between orchestratel and progressive rock styles, sometimes utilizing both at once. The sound team strikes a very good balance between the two styles, making the songs continuously varied and interesting throughout the whole game. As mentioned earlier, a chunk of Origin's music features arranged songs from Ys 1 and 2. These arrangements are nicely done, giving new life to these classic songs while remaining faithful to the original source. The original songs are on par with the rearranged classics, and some of them are simply phenomenal. The opening theme is excellent, the boss themes are great and the dungeon themes are immensely catchy. Even the scene/filler music has strong moments. The only downside is that most of the songs use synthesized tunes whereas they used live instruments in their previous work, Oath in Felghana. It makes some of the songs sound like they have a quality not up to the sound team's usual standard, but I'm nitpicking more than anything. The songs are still fantastic in general.
Control wise, it's simple and very responsive, and the menus are easy to navigate and laid out well. However, I highly recommend playing with a gamepad. Playing on keyboard is doable, but it's a game that is meant to be played with a controller. Using a keyboard for a fast-paced action RPG would just feel awkward, especially on higher difficulties.
Ys Origin does not dethrone Oath in Felghana as my favorite installment and action RPG, but is certainly high up there. It's a fantastic title with excellent gameplay, fantastic music, and has some of the tightest and most responsive controls I've played in an action title (on gamepad). The story and graphics are less amazing, but they are still good. Games like Origin are what make me a fan of the Ys series and Falcom's games in general. It's best to play with a gamepad, but play this anyhow, even if you don't have one. I hope the success of bringing two of the Ys games to Steam paves way for other Falcom PC titles to be brought over. Origin may have taken over five years to finally come out in English, but the wait was certainly worth it. The game is a blast from beginning to end, and I am so glad that it finally managed to get an English release.