Perhaps the single most impressive thing about Ys Origin is not its characters, its combat, or even the impressive world-building that is structured as a backdrop to the story, but how well the game has aged in the years since its original release.
Recently Richard had a chance to review this title on the PlayStation Vita, and he came away hugely impressed. He scored the game a 9.75 and in an email conversation told me that this may well have slipped into his top five games ever. While I might not be willing to commit that level of love towards the game, I do have to say that the hours spent with it helped to remind me that while there are constantly new games vying for our attention, with newer systems and shinier graphics, sometimes a game is simply too good to ignore even if it is an older title.
For those already familiar with the Ys games, the storyline here sets you 700 years prior to the events of the first two Ys games. However, if you are new to the series, Ys Origin is a fantastic entry point into the world. The setting is a somewhat familiar one to most fantasy RPGs as terrible demons have begun to overrun the kingdom. The people of Ys have found refuge in a temple high upon mountains. However, when this vantage proved not to be completely safe either, the Twin Goddesses Feena and Reah lifted the temple to the heavens. One would think this would be suitable enough means of escape, but demons are nothing if not persistent, so they began to construct a massive, terrible tower that would span into the heavens themselves where war then broke out. The aforementioned Goddesses mysteriously vanished, leaving people to fend for themselves.
Now a party has been formed, and this party of characters must ascend the tower and solve the mystery of the missing Goddesses. This here would have been story enough for many games, but in fact is just how events kick off in Ys Origin. You assume the role of one of two different members of the three tasked with ascending the tower (the third can be unlocked once you have beaten the game). Instead of relying on choice as the primary replay mechanism found in games by companies like Bioware, Ys Origin offers replay value in the different perspectives of the three characters. While not the first game to do something like this, it is all handled very well here. Whether you find yourself favoring melee focused Yunica or the ranged Hugo, each character has a very different style of play and looks at the unfolding story in ways that are subtly different. This does not change the overarching narrative, but it certainly lends new facets to it when compared to the other options. Oh, and if you’re looking for even more reason to pick the game up and play again, you can unlock some additional modes that are not as meaty as the proper campaign, but still serve as satisfying diversions.
Visually Ys Origin looks its age. At the time I have no doubt it was considered a beautiful game, but now it can look a little rough around the edges, though there is plenty of charm to the characters and many of the environments are both varied and exciting to behold. Even better is the music – always a Ys staple of excellence. Ys Origin is perhaps not quite as memorable across the board as some of the other titles in the series, but there were still plenty of tunes here that managed to lodge themselves into my mind even after turning off the television.
While an RPG at heart, there is some strong action and platforming elements to the actual combat. The system itself is actually pretty simple, which makes it easy to pick up and learn – but it is fast and you will be tested. Of course, like most RPGs, while the action is fast and furious, there is still some number crunching that takes place in the engine behind the scenes. You gain experience that leads to leveling. You can find items that grant temporary bonuses. It helps that each character has their own combat style as well as personality. Hugo makes the experience more akin to a shooter with his ranged magic, while Yunica is more of a hack-and-slash style of play. Additionally, there are some elements of exploration similar to Metroid where you can open up previously inaccessible areas.
And while all of that is well and good, man the bosses are insane here. They’re screen-sized monsters that really will push your limits. They do adhere to certain AI patterns over time, and once you understand them it is all about finding the perfect moment to take advantage of them. Some of these encounters are truly memorable and serve to put a nice cap to the level exploration.