War and Ys
While those who cut their teeth on the PC Engine during the 8 and 16-bit era may fondly remember developer Nihon Falcom, up until recently the developer remained pretty elusive to all but the most hardcore RPG fans in the west. However, with the recent release of such hits as the Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel games and the upcoming Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, it seems the Tachikawa, Tokyo-based studio is more relevant than ever these days.
Ys: Origin is the latest title in the long-running action-RPG series to make its way to PlayStation platforms. Having originally released on PCs in Japan in 2006, followed by a release on Steam in 2012, the game has finally found its way to consoles via the PS4 courtesy of DotEmu. And if you’re a fan of classic dungeon-crawlers then you’re in for a treat, because Ys: Origin is a wild ride that’s sure to satisfy fans of good, old fashioned dungeon crawling, regardless of their history with the franchise.
Ys: Origin serves as a prequel to the series. The story takes place 700 years before the fiery haired Adol Christin first set off on his quest to save the land of titular land of Ys. Things aren’t looking good for the earth dwellers, as monsters have begun popping up, leaving only death and destruction in their wake. To combat the invasions, the twin goddesses Reah and Feena use the power of an obscure artifact known as the Black Pearl to tear the land of Ys from the earth and into the sky to keep the land’s people safe from the hordes of demons. However, one day Reah and Feena leave the shelter of their shrine and venture to the ruined world, and an elite group of knights and sorcerers descend to their former home and venture into a mysterious tower to find and rescue the goddesses and uncover the mysteries of the tower itself.
While other games in the series have players exploring a vast overworld, the entire story of Ys: Origin is set within this tower, with each set of floors following a particular theme. You’ll explore a foundry-like setting complete with bubbling lava and massive iron machinations, dusty tomb-like ruins full of mummified baddies, and other vibrant and dangerous locales as you search for the goddesses. This variety does a good job of keeping things fresh and interesting despite the game’s singular setting, and the action moves at a breakneck pace as you climb the tower and take on hordes of towering boss monsters.
One of the things that sets Ys: Origin apart from other games in the series is the ability to play as two unique protagonists. Yunica Tovah is a young lady from a prestigious family who, despite lacking any magical ability, is a formidable force with a sword and an axe. The other playable character, Hugo Fact, lacks the physical prowess of Yunica, but can make short work of enemies with an array of powerful ranged magical abilities. Both characters offer their own unique play-style, and their two stories intersect over the course of the adventure. This dual-hero feature adds plenty of replay value to Ys: Origin, and you’ll truly want to experience both characters to see how their stories differ from one another.
No matter who you choose to play as, you’re going to be spending most of your time in Ys: Origin battling monsters and solving puzzles. There’s a wide variety of enemies to square off against that come from the pages of your typical RPG bestiary. At first you’ll trade blows with sentient blob-things and other feeble enemies that go down without much of a fight. However, before long you’ll be battling armored knights who can only be struck from the rear, flying fire creatures that can rain down embers that spawn new and more menacing monsters, and other formidable foes that require special talismans or techniques to dispatch for good.
Thankfully, you’ll learn a wide variety of elemental attacks over the course of your journey, and each of these greatly expands your repertoire of attacks and provide a real sense of growth for each character. Also, much like Metroid, various items you collect with offer you new ways to traverse the environment, giving you access to previously unreachable areas of the tower.
While combat is generally very enjoyable in Ys: Origin, the boss battles can sometimes feel a bit too chaotic for their own good. This is especially problematic when you’re faced with an enemy you need to climb to damage a special weak spot, as sometimes things can become so cluttered that climbing the enemy becomes impossible, causing you to miss your chance to strike and ultimately costing you the battle. Still, when these battles are done right they truly shine, and become engaging and thrilling bouts that require keen pattern recognition and quick reflexes to overcome. And when all else fails, you can always grind to give your hero a bit of extra muscle to tip the odds in your favor.
Despite being over a decade old, Ys: Origin looks great on the PlayStation 4. Sure, the environments are basic and the rendered character models look like they’d be at home on the Sega Saturn, but everything is vibrant and colorful, and the game is simply oozing with old school charm. As you’d expect, the character portraits and storyboard sequences also look fantastic, and rival some of the best games in the long-running series. The game also runs silky smooth, even when there are dozens of enemies and particle effects on-screen, with the exception of some odd choppiness that strangely only appears during the opening moments of the game.
As you’d expect from previous games in the series, Ys: Origin has a fantastic soundtrack that fits the action like a well-worn glove. From pumping rock tracks to haunting melodies, each area has a distinct theme, and you’ll even hear a few classic tunes from the series thrown into the mix, albeit with slight alterations to their arrangements.
I did notice one issue with the audio that bothered me, though. Several of the boss encounters are missing sound effects, which can be a bit jarring at times. Seeing bolts of lightning appear and silently strike next to the player feels weird, and can make some of the more visually spectacular attacks seem a bit weightless, and that’s a shame. Still, this is nothing game breaking, but it’s disappointing nonetheless, as it can really pull you out of the experience.
Minor gripes aside, Ys: Origin is a wonderful action-RPG that’s certain to please fans of the genre. The game delivers an entertaining blend of fast-paced combat and puzzle solving that’s highly addictive. And the two playable characters offer plenty of incentive to dive in for a second helping of adventure. That said, Ys: Origin will serve as a great title to get newcomers acquainted with the series before Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana rolls out later this year. If you’re looking for a fast-paced and nostalgic adventure to get your blood pumping, look no further.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed); Publisher: DotEmu ; Developer: Nihon Falcom; Players: 1 ; Released: February 21, 2017 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $19.99
“Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Ys: Origin given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.