Ys has been a first-rate role-playing franchise since its very first incarnation way back on the Turbografx 16. Since then, every incarnation of the series has given fans a much larger glimpse into the once pastoral fantasy landscape of Y’s and the struggles of its protagonist Adol. But Y’s Origins provides players with a new twist on this fantastical experience with a new set of characters but the same style of gameplay. After divulging more than 10 hours into this occasionally interesting prequel, I was left with wanting more after being given so little in the way of exposition and setting.
Ys takes place on the very same continent as every other title in the series but this time players are given a glimpse into this world some 700 years prior to Books 1 and 2. In essence, the story revolves around the disappearance of the twin goddesses Reah and Feena. During a time of great peace and prosperity, the world of Ys is suddenly attacked by the Demon hordes who seek to overthrow the Tower of Solomon and destroy the dominion of the twin goddesses. As their demonic invasion spreads throughout the land, the people of Ys seek refuge in the Tower of Solomon. Seeing the threat these malevolent monsters pose, Reah and Feena raise the mystical structure into the heavens with the hopes of protecting the citizens of Ys from these monsters. The Demon Horde see what the Twin Goddesses have done to the tower and erect their own Devil’s Tower to combat Solomon’s structure. Following this, Reah and Feena disappear into the Devil’s Tower to confront the demonic threat once and for all. Seeing that the land of Ys is without its Goddesses, the six priests implore its bravest knights and sorcerers to go into the Devil’s Tower and liberate the goddesses from the clutches of the Demon Spawn.
Gameplay and Characters
Much like other games in the franchise, Ys Origins implements a hack and slash style role-playing experience with an emphasis on character grinding. The battles are all done in real time and depending on the character you choose, you have a different experience each time you’re dealing with an enemy encounter. Speaking of characters, Ys Origins allows players to choose between two main heroes right from the very start. Yunica is a melee based hero with an emphasis on hand to hand combat rather than magic. She is the granddaughter of one of the six priests in the game, and her main weapon of choice is a battle ax which she wields wildly through a succession of button combos. Yunica also has the choice of three elemental attacks that enchant her melee weapon with the powers of wind, fire, and water.
Hugo is the second hero you can choose from, and unlike Yunica, his character class is based solely on magic. Hugo is a sorcerer and implements a much wider array of elemental based enchantments that give him the ability to attack enemies from mid-range. There is also a tertiary character that unlocks after you beat the game called “The Claw” who is sort of the synthesis between the two main characters. Both Hugo and Yunica play through pretty much the same levels, almost all taking place within the imposing structure of the Devil’s Tower. Throughout the journey, both protagonists must grind their way through a malaise of impressive boss battles and enemy encounters that render the game a modern feel, even though this title is a port of the 2006 PC release. As they level up, each protagonist fills what is called a Burst Meter which after a certain amount of time releases a powerful explosion that can kill multiple enemies. Besides the incessant implementation of a deep grinding system, Y’s Origins also makes use of platforming elements and puzzle challenges that render this title a cut above other Action/RPG games in the genre.
With all its emphasis on action and platforming with a twinge of hidden puzzles, Ys lacks much in terms of originality. Being a port from 2006, players see the title’s age during cutscenes and audio jump cuts in its musical score. Furthermore, in-game dialogue tends to be a bit shotty and stilted. This is most exemplified in the Nonplayable character (NPC) Shion who joins the foray of the fighting to protect Yunica’s grandfather and gives into some laughable dialogue text that makes most RPG’s of 90’s feel like a Shakespearean production. Further hindering a player’s enjoyment of this title is the camera angles during platforming sequences. The camera feels like it is not capable of keeping pace with the action taking place within the space of the frame, meaning that the camera is at times a couple of steps behind the protagonist’s actions. One has not seen this type of bad camera work since the N64 days and to revisit this negative aspect of gaming today is unthinkable.
Ys shows its age, unfortunately, and with little done by XSeed or Falcom to polish up its rough edges, Origins at times feels like a rehash rather than a remake. There is a lack of variation in this game that cannot be ignored. Most other RPG’s provide players with a wide array of landscapes to traverse in their journey but Y’s Origins takes place almost entirely within the confines of the Devil’s Tower. This can become mundane even with the hidden doors and puzzles scattered throughout the Tower.
But all this aside, Ys Origins does have its finer points. The battle sequences are fast and fluid, with every smash of the button feeling as precise as the swing of your character’s ax. With the implementation of a third unlockable character, the game does have some replay value especially since players can see the story’s complete arc meld perfectly with the franchise’s sequels. The campaign is short between characters, roughly 10-14 hours in total, just enough before the exposition becomes tedious and the action routine. Enemy encounters are impressive in their design. Each demon is as distinct and unique from each other as the heroes are in their abilities. Even though the game emphasizes heavy grinding mechanics in order to overcome the story’s gut-wrenching boss battles, players feel like they truly have achieved something with each level progression. The demon bosses scattered throughout the tower have depth and scale even for a title that is more than a decade old. An impressive feat considering Ys Origins unfolds mostly on a 2.5-dimensional point of view.
Having the ability to choose from two main heroes rather than having just a single protagonist also gives Ys Origins a sense of depth in exposition. Yunica and Hugo are distinct in their abilities which impacts the way players traverse the Devil’s Tower. Although the setting is set with the malice of a satanic structure, gamers are treated to a delightful choice between melee and magic, a feature that gives this prequel tale replay value.
Ys Origins is a delightful little Action/RPG that does little to stray away from the rest of the entries in this franchise. Although there are some awkward moments, mainly through the outdated cutscenes and poor dialogue choices, this prequel is the perfect segway into the world of Adol centuries later. Fans and newcomers alike will enjoy the simplicity of this budget titles. Despite its age, Microsoft was wise to adopt this port for its current-gen platform considering the fact that previous XBOX systems lacked many traditional RPGs that were given over to its competitors. For a mere 15-hour dungeon crawl, players feel the innocence lost in the world of Ys and the decomposition of its heavenly landscape. Paradise lost is the theme behind this title, and the claustrophobic feel of the Devil’s Tower feeds into this concept. One could easily make the case that because there is nothing new here that Ys is a poor port of an outdated franchise. But just one look at the grandeur that once was the Action/RPG experience of yesteryear renders this entry in the long forgotten franchise an enjoyable romp.