Origin builds on the formula with a solid, constructed experience
I love how the PC is allowing people to embrace its gaming history by constantly getting older titles updated to work on newer hardware and operating systems. Places like Steam open up a new world for recent PC gamers to dabble in these relics. Lately, it has also given gamers the opportunity to play previously Japanese only videogames in full English. Ys Origin (released in 2006 in Japan) is one of those titles that never saw the light of day outside of Japan. That is until Xseed got the rights to release the PC version on Steam, and now here we are with this respectable English translation of an action RPG series that sure has its fair share of fans. If you’re one of these fans, you’ll be happy to finally get to play and fully understand Ys Origin in all its splendour, and without any hiccups. Yippee!
Ys Origin, as the title suggest, is an origins story in the Ys universe. It takes place 700 years before the first Ys game and explains much of the history of Ys, such as the Black Pearl, the Goddesses and the Six Priests. What makes Ys Origin a little different is that Adol Christin – the red haired hero of all the Ys games – isn’t the main star of this title. He’s replaced with two (and an unlockable third) new characters that go by the name of Yunica Tovah, a young female knight, and Hugo Fact, a magician. I feel that the story in this game is better than Ys: The Oath in Felghana‘s because each hero interacts with the game’s cast of characters. Adol is a mute in his games, so you never really get a feel for him compared to these new characters that aren’t afraid to show their feelings. It’s still not the greatest of stories, but it pulls you in more with its emotionally driven heroes.
Gameplay remains extremely similar to Ys: The Oath in Felghana when you play as Yunica. In fact, you could say she is a female Adol because she wields a giant axe (and can later get a sword) and is based on close combat fighting. The story behind her is that she can’t use magic, so she trained exceptionally hard in using melee weapons to defeat her foes. Ys Origin still keeps the action fast, hectic and very hack and slash based with simple one button combo attacks. Yunica can also learn wind, fire and earth based skills that are used for different purposes, be it on enemies or using it to solve a puzzle inside the game’s huge tower.
Speed is the focus of the combat as every defeated foe drops pickups that are instantly turned into a temporary stat increase. A bar appears above the character’s profile and will time down unless you pick up more items. Buffs can cover speed, damage and even increase how much experience you gain per kill. Money that you gain from kills is spent at save points, where you can upgrade your current armour and mechanics that affect your character, like boost replenishing speed and stat element lasting time. Loot drops act no differently than in Ys: The Oath in Felghana, and they add sense of haste to the already speedy action as you try to make the most out of the buffs in the limited amount of time. Weapons don’t really change throughout the course of the game; instead, each character has just one weapon equipped that can be upgraded multiple times with ore.
The tower setting makes for an intriguing place to explore. I wasn’t expecting much from the game’s aesthetics, but this title surprised me with its design. As you make your way up the 25 floors of the Darm tower, you’ll come across environments based on deserts, fire and even water, where you have to swim under the surface to carry on exploring. I was surprised with the inclusion of water. I’m not sure if any of the other games have had this before, but it certainly wasn’t in The Oath in Felghana, so coming into this game and experiencing that was a pleasing moment. The level designers should be praised for keeping every floor of the dungeon feeling fresh. This variety makes you appreciate moving between levels as every floor throws something different at you to handicap your progression to the top. Be it the environment and its platforms or enemies and their abilities, there is always something new to discover in every section.
Once again, the bosses are the star of the show. These challenging battles require you to have mastered dodging, while having enough patience to keep a sharp eye on the boss’ sequence, striking when the time is right. During boss fights, you don’t have the ability to go into the items menu, meaning characters cannot heal. Fights with the big guys are all about skill and timing; if you have none of these, then prepare to be decimated. Finally overcoming a boss feels so rewarding, and with me it was especially so. One of the later boss fights cost me 45 minutes of my life trying to defeat it, but it felt good when it happened – revenge is so sweet.
It all sounds familiar, and it is, the foundations of Ys Origin are built on top of The Oath in Felghana (this came out in Japan in 2005), but things begin to change when you pick the other starting character, Hugo. As a magician based character, Hugo plays differently than Yunica because of his long ranged attacks and his Eyes of Fact, two orbs that float by his side. Simply breaking it down, you can look at these two characters as a warrior and a ranger. Both are vastly different in combat, which works well in adding an extra incentive to replay the game again.
Just like with The Oath in Felghana, I feel that Ys Origin works better with a controller rather than the mouse and keyboard. Having all your functions so close together on the controller makes it for an easier time on your hands, but it also works better for a game where you’re constantly tapping buttons to attack. There’s nothing particular wrong with using mouse and keyboard (it’s customizable too), but my preference was the Xbox 360 controller for this game.
Even though Ys Origin is six years old, the game is still nice on the eyes. Playing on the PC allows for higher resolutions that show off the super sharp 3D modelled environments and rich colours. Detail is a little on the plain side when you compare it to titles coming out now, but the game charms with its 2D sprite characters and animations. Ys Origin is not an ugly game, even when compared to today’s standards. Building up on the presentation is the great soundtrack that knows when to get you in the mood for slaughtering, tense emotions or setting a scene for something a little slower and saddening. Top stuff.
Between the two Ys games released on Steam this year, I feel that Ys Origin is just that bit better than Ys: The Oath in Felghana. Both are great titles, but Origin builds on the formula with a solid, constructed experience from start to finish that never gets stale, great pacing, multiple and distinctive characters and a fast, in your face combat system. For £12.99 on Steam, you seriously cannot go wrong with checking out this top action RPG.