"This is the perfect time to get into Ys ... You'd be doing yourself a disservice passing up this solid series."
I'll start this review tentatively — before taking on this project, I'd never played an Ys game. Perhaps even worse, I'd never even played a Falcom game. My RPGFan colleagues had long been gently berating me for this, so I was the likely candidate to take on Ys Origin. Released in Japan back in 2006, Ys Origin finally made its way onto Western PCs in 2012. Five years later, we finally get a home console release.
As the title suggests, Ys Origin is set years before the rest of the series and focuses on the plight of the apprentice knight Yunica, the magic wielder Hugo, and a third hidden character. These characters are tasked with climbing Darm Tower to chase after the missing Goddesses of Ys, along with the Black Pearl, an ancient relic they have been tasked with protecting. It serves as the backbone for the rest of the series but also a wonderful starting point for newcomers; long time fans will be able to spot all of the references and links, whereas newcomers will be enticed to continue exploring the world beyond this game.
The game looks exactly as it did back in 2006, save a bit of polishing for its HD re-release. While it definitely shows its age, I can't help but look at Ys Origin with a smile on my face. The character models are all endearing and cute, and the animations are smooth. The prerendered backgrounds show a bit of wear where they've been compressed to fit the screen, and the walls of the tower can sometimes look grainy. During some cutscenes, I noticed the game had difficulty loading some of the backgrounds, and as the camera panned out, the ground would render much slower than the rest of the environment. With a little bit more polish, this might've been avoided, but it's easy to forget this is a port of a 10-year-old game.
The story is pretty much what you'd expect of a traditional RPG. It's a journey to thwart evil and save the Goddesses who've gone missing, as well as uncover the truths of the world. A lot of the time, the narrative gets in the way of the stellar gameplay, and the cutscenes can take you out of the action, but they add a bit of depth to the world and provide you with snippets of things to come in the rest of the series. Each of the main characters are likeable, but they have fairly stereotypical roles within the game. Interestingly, unlike the PC version, to play as the third character, you'll have to beat the game with both Yunica and Hugo, not just one of them. This does take a bit of extra effort, but the payoff is worth it in the end.
Each character's path is around 8 hours long, depending on which difficulty setting you've chosen or how much exploring you're planning to do. The tower is a largely linear dungeon, and what makes it worse is you have to walk through the entire dungeon again with another two characters if you want to see everything Ys Origin has to offer. If the dungeon was less linear, I'd be more inclined to do this, but when you're solving the same puzzles and jumping over the same death traps three times, it does become a little wearisome.
While plot differences are minor between the characters, each one of the three plays differently. Yunica focuses on rapid axe attacks and plays closest to your traditional Adol Ys entries, whereas Hugo is slightly slower and focuses on ranged magic attacks. You also pick up a few ancient artefacts which grant each character a skill based on wind, fire or thunder. These are different depending on who you're playing as, and add an extra bit of variety to the gameplay. There are almost endless ways you can take down your enemies — hacksaw them to death, blast them with magic, raise a protective shield that damages enemies. It's all so satisfying.
Perhaps Ys Origin's most rewarding and exciting aspect is its boss fights. These are all creative, fun, and at times, challenging. They involve memorising patterns, bullet hell, finding the hidden doppelgängers and so much more. Each time you enter a boss room and feel one of the demons towering above your character, you feel every bit determined to take them down and even more elated when you've succeeded. More games would do well to take a cue from Ys's fantastic boss designs.
Also worthy of high praise is the game's excellent soundtrack. The team does a great job of setting the mood for the game. As you progress through the game, the music gets more intense as you get closer to your goal. Each track fits the theme of its respective floor, such as the slightly mystical and ancient track while you're on the desert floor, compared to the calming theme for the initial stages. Then there's the heart-thumping battle music, complete with thundering electric guitars which demand you keep up with the rhythm.
Ys Origin is a great place to start if you're new to the series like I am. It offers some replayability and the chance to explore the world of Ys, tempting you to delve into the rest of the series. If you already own the PC version, there's not really any reason to pick up this port, as there are hardly any changes. However, I can safely say this is the perfect time to get into Ys; with Ys VIII releasing sometime this year, and the easy accessibility of the rest of the series both on Steam and PSN, you'd be doing yourself a disservice passing up this solid series.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.