Coming into a long and storied franchise like Ys can be quite the daunting task. Thankfully though, developer Nihon Falcom brought Ys Origin worldwide in 2012, and publisher Dotemu has now brought it to Nintendo Switch. As the name suggests, Ys Origin takes place before the rest of the action role-playing series, serving to provide background on important elements of the games later in the timeline. It seems natural then that this would serve as a good starting place for the franchise, but is it worth the time? Ys. Ys it is.
In brief, before the events of Ys Origin, demons attacked the land of Ys, forcing the two goddesses Reah and Feena to save their people by lifting the temple in which they were taking shelter into the sky. In response, the demons constructed a giant tower by which they could continue to attack. During the ensuing chaos, the goddesses stole the Black Pearl, a holy artifact that serves as the source of magic for the people of Ys, and returned to the surface for some unknown reason. You play as either Yunica Tovah or Hugo Fact, members of the search party sent to secure the goddesses and the Black Pearl. But as you soon find out, your group isn’t the only one searching for them.
Ys Origin plays out more like a dungeon crawler than anything. As such, its combat is rather simple compared to in other action RPGs, yet it’s still rather entertaining. Alongside your basic attack, you have a few aerial attacks (based on whether you’re in the upward or downward portion of your jump), a lunge attack, and three elemental skills (based on wind, electricity, and fire) you can swap between at will. These skills and your attack style change depending on which character’s campaign you play through, though. For example, Yunica utilizes short-range axe attacks, while Hugo uses ranged magic.
As you progress through the tower, you’ll rely more on a handful of tricks to help you get through. Each character has a boost meter that can be used once full to provide a temporary burst of quicker, stronger attacks and higher defense. Also, upon leveling up your elemental skills, you can charge them to use a more powerful strike. These skills have uses outside of combat as well, such as the electric skills’ ability to break weak walls. Learning to use these skills effectively both in and out of battle is one of the keys to your success
One small complaint I had is that for a game classified as an action RPG, I found the RPG elements to be rather lacking. All equipment upgrades are technically missable, as they are achieved by means outside of leveling up. Your skills level up not by using them, but rather by finding their corresponding gems in the tower. Sure, you can spend SP at the goddess statues to bestow bonuses on your character (such as reduced environmental damage), but I would have loved to see a skill tree or something. There are enough elements there that I would still call Ys Origin an RPG, but barely.
The other real gameplay complaint I have is that the only differences between each character’s campaign are attack method and changes to the boss order. In each campaign, you climb the same tower, with the same chest/item locations, and same enemies. While this helps subsequent playthroughs go a bit faster, since you already know the maps, I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more variation in the campaigns.
My favorite component of Ys Origin is undoubtedly its presentation. The mixture of 2D visuals with the 3D backgrounds creates a beautiful sight. Ys Origin isn’t fully top-down, opting rather to fix the camera at an angle, which works well given the gameplay style. These design choices truly come to life during the major boss battles, which undoubtedly are likewise my favorite sections of the game (and dare I say — some of my favorite sections in any game in recent memory). The boss of each of the tower’s sections is a hulking 3D behemoth. The changes in style and size between you and these demons are striking and, alongside changes to the camera angle, serve to emphasize the enormity of the task laid before you.
One other striking feature of Ys Origin‘s design is the variety of environments you travel through. Each segment of the tower has its own theme to it, bringing with it its own set of obstacles. For instance, in the water section, you have to contend with long periods of underwater traversal, whereas the fire section requires you to navigate around pools of lava. Each of these sections is visually distinct from the others, helping you feel like you’re always making progress, and always kept me excited to see what the next segment’s theme was.
Tons of unlockable content
One thing Ys Origin does really well is reward players for completing the game. After finishing either one of the campaigns, you unlock that character for use in speedrun and time attack modes. You’ll also find that there’s a third option for campaign mode that you unlock by completing both Yunica and Hugo’s stories. Completing the game with all the characters also unlocks an arena mode. Competing in this mode earns SP to buy more upgrades, maps, and unlockable characters.
If you’re really wanting to complete the game though, some of these characters can be taken back into story mode to help with the nightmare difficulties, which unlocks further arena mode content, which finally unlocks one last piece of content. It may not be worth it to go quite that far, but if you wind up really liking Ys Origin, there’s a lot of reasons to continue playing once the credits roll.
Should you play it? Ys, you should.
Knowing nothing about Ys aside from the fact that there are quite a few games in the series, I was a bit hesitant to take this review on at first. I wasn’t really sure what to expect or just how much knowledge of the other games would be needed to truly enjoy it. But I’m happy to say that those fears were put to rest early in my time with Ys Origin.
It’s not often that I review a game in which I want to dive right back in after I finish with it, but Ys Origin is one of those rare exceptions. With the exceptional boss fights, the copious amount of unlockables, and the short runtime, I can already hear the game calling to me to return. However, if there’s one thing that really stands out to me about how good this game is, it’s that it makes me want to check out the rest of the series.
A review code was provided by the publisher.