Ys Origin was originally released for PC in 2012, and has finally received a PS4/PSVita port this year. Created as a prequel to the other Ys games, Ys Origin takes place roughly 700 years before the events of Ys I and provides backstory of the world. With a story that will draw in new and veteran players alike, with a simple yet effective combat system and a stellar soundtrack, Ys Origin definitely demonstrates a quality product.
Now, I have a bit of an embarrassing confession to make: Ys Origin is actually the first Ys game I’ve ever played, much to the chagrin of Pierre-Yves who I managed to slide by to snag this review. I can honestly say that if the rest of the series is even remotely similar to Ys Origin, I can see why he was so bitter. Ys Origin is a prequel to the series, having you initially take control of either Hugo Fact, the current young head of the Fact family, or Yunica Tovah, an aspiring Holy Knight with “no magical talent”, in order to find the twin goddesses that have run away to a tower controlled by demon controlling humans who want to destroy your homeland, or something to that effect. Honestly, I feel as if it might have made a little more sense to me had I played any of the other games in the series.
There’s also a third unlockable character if you complete the game with both Hugo and Yunica. Each character has their own personality, story, and battle style, that I personally found made a huge difference how I perceived the game. For instance, Hugo is what I would call a “pompous douche” who has come to look for the goddesses with a couple of personal motives attached. Hugo fights with these two floating “eyes” that shoot magic beams when you attack, and is a long range fighter and is what most people apparently consider the “tutorial” character before you play the other two. Yunica wields an axe in battle, and is primarily a close range fighter, at least until you get her third skill, in which case she can basically be whatever you want. Yunica’s motives are more pure, as she has come to look for the goddesses because she truly wishes to protect and care for them and, albeit a little naïve, has a very straightforward and hardworking personality.
Your goal in Ys Origin is to make it to the top of the tower, stop the evil sorcerer, and recover the goddesses. As you make your way up the tower you will be accosted by demons, traps, the “demonic humans” inhabiting the tower, as well as powerful colossi. Original I was under the impression that the Ys series was turn based combat, and boy was I pleasantly mistaken. Combat with enemies is real time hack-and-slash (or shoot and run, in Hugo’s case), where you have a standard weapon combo, three skills you earn through the course of the game, a burst mode that increases damage dealt and decreases damage taken, as well as a “stopping” attack that I couldn’t figure out how to use for the life of me. The skills you earn through the game aren’t just useful in combat, they also help solving the numerous puzzles throughout the tower. As you beat monsters, they can drop helpful potions or herbs, that will temporarily boost your stats, and an exp multiplier that is based on number of hits on enemies, which I found to be a really neat system.
I found my play-throughs as Yunica and Hugo to be roughly a 50/50 split between solving some sort of puzzle and beating things up. Which is a really good happy medium for Ys Origin, as just around the time the enemies started to get on my nerves, there was a puzzle segment interlude, where I would get angry at a puzzle, solve, and then feel self content enough to jump back into a monster murder frenzy. Speaking of the puzzles, they range from really simple (light candles with your new fire move) to downright absurd (Devil’s corridor Hugo hammer, I’m looking at you). Thankfully nothing isn’t solvable after chatting with either someone back at your base camp or Eolia through a telephone-like conch shell. Of special note are certain “hidden floors” that I never realized were a thing until I accidentally equipped the item that made them visible during my second run with Hugo.
As Yunica I actually cleared the gaps using her skills instead of the equipment I was supposed to. Hugo can’t. Cue me being insanely frustrated until I felt very, very dumb. The stages aren’t the only puzzle segments though, as most of the larger bosses have what I’m forced to call a “gimmick”, although that gives it a bit of a negative connotation. Each large boss has a certain requirement to either damage or kill it, and while they may be, in a sense, “gimmicky”, not only does it actually not take away from the fight, I found it added a lot of fun to the fights. None of the bosses are purely puzzle bosses and there are no damage sponges, so the fights felt very well done.
I would be very disappointed with myself if I didn’t mention the soundtrack for Ys Origin. Ys Origin’s soundtrack easily makes it into my list on top ten video game soundtracks hands down. The tower is divided up into themed zones, and each zone has its own theme song, boss themes differ depending on type of boss and importance, and all of them are amazing. One of the biggest reasons I may put down a game and not pick it up again (whether by choice or I forgot about it) is that I either get lost or am too under-leveled, so I spend a lot of time roaming through the same areas over and over again. What makes me drop a game isn’t the grind or the frustration of being lost, it’s that the music starts getting really annoying really fast, and then I can’t deal with it. I’m happy to say Ys Origin does not have this problem.
While not without flaws, most of the complaints I had weren’t inherent to the game itself, more of a personal preference case. For instance: there is no map, so if you forget where you’re going or how to get somewhere, have fun re-exploring the whole dang tower. My other personal preference complaint was that I didn’t like Hugo. Also, whoever decided the exp scaling end-game is rather sadistic. I finished the game at about level 50. There was a trophy for hitting the level cap of 60. To get from 53 to 54 took me an hour and a half of farming end game enemies with very little down time. While the last boss is probably a pushover at 52, much less 54, the severe exp reduction is still a little painful to see happening, if for no other people than those looking to platinum. I did find the occasional slow down and framerate loss during boss fights with a mass of projectiles or a large breath attack, and some loading skips before a cutscene started playing, but no other major internal problems. The only other real concern is that the SP bonus stores, which you can access at the goddess statue check/warp points, doesn’t actually show you your SP while in the shop menu, which while rather frustrating, isn’t strictly speaking impossible to deal with, as your SP is constantly shown just above your health when not in the SP shop menu.