Welcome to Save State, where we revisit some older games to kick off the new year. The Ys series is one of those that I argue, nigh constantly, should be a lot more mainstream than it is. From Nihon Falcom, the same company who brings us games like The Legend of Heroes series, Xanadu, Zwei, and my personal favorite import Popful Mail, Falcom has created a number of extremely engaging JRPGs over the years. The Ys series, one I’d argue is Falcom’s premiere action RPG franchise, has always been known for its spectacular combat and rocking soundtracks. In spite of almost every Ys game knocking it out of the park, not a lot of gamers have gone into Falcom’s back catalogue to experience titles like Ys Origin, available on Steam, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Ys Origin is the only game in the series, so far, to not feature Adol Christin as the primary protagonist. Origin, being a prequel to Ys I, is set 700 years before the very first game, and as a result utilizes a couple of new playable characters with whom players can become acquainted. Only two characters are unlocked at first- Yunica, your close ranged fighter, and Hugo, your ranged spellcaster. Yunica controls most comparably to Adol Christin, which means veterans of the series will likely have the most familiarity with her. Hugo, on the other hand, has ranged attacks and is a little bit slower, so properly spacing your attacks is key while playing as him. Further characters can be unlocked after clearing the game, with the third primary character being the true ending, so Origin is definitely a title you’ll want to visit a couple times.
Ys is an action RPG series known for quick combat and rocking soundtracks, and Origin is no different in this regard. Whether it be solving puzzles, chopping your way through a plethora of slimes, plants, or dragons, or just venturing around to collect experience and money, everything in Ys Origin feels fantastic because movement is agile and responsive. Enemy attacks can be evaded or jumped over, and most bosses telegraph their attacks reasonably well, but even should you hit a difficulty wall you can always spend some time leveling up or spending your acquired currencies to unlock new advantages for your character.
For those only semi-familiar with the Ys series, the games generally use the same engine for a few titles, then move onto something new. The engine featured in Origin is the perfection of the Ark of Napishtim and Oath of Felghana gameplay. There’s no need to switch characters to attack different enemy weaknesses like in the later games, nor do you need to use the bump enemies to deal damage system from the first few titles. Combat in Origin is simply extremely polished and beautiful in its simplicity, as you will primarily perform combo attacks with a single attack button plus a special move, attacking with a quick flurry of blows while mixing in ascending and descending attacks.
There are the very basics of equipment in Ys Origin, as each character has their primary weapon that you can level up as you scale the tower. SP acquired from fallen enemies can be spent for a variety of bonuses, like increasing your armor, stationary heal rate, reducing your MP usage, or increasing your move speed. The audio-visual feedback of Ys Origin is on point, and you’ll always be happy to hack your way through an entire hallway of enemies using your primary attack and special because destroying enemies showers you with items and gems, and you can always use them at all times.
You’ll need to take advantage of every single game mechanic as you defeat swaths of enemies and run into spectacular boss encounters. Origin might feature some fairly tame looking boss fights by today’s standards, but mechanically it features some of the best boss fights in the entirety of the Ys series. Learning boss attacks is quite important due to the frenetic nature of Ys Origin’s combat system, and some might prefer to play as Hugo to utilize ranged attacks for breathing room.
In terms of visuals, Ys features well-drawn 2D sprites gallivanting about 3D environments. Even when Origin released back in 2006, the environments were by no means spectacular, looking very comparable to what 2003’s Ark of Napishtim was capable of showing players on the Playstation 2. The areas are extremely clean to navigate, and you should always have a firm grasp at what you’re looking at, but cutting edge graphics weren’t the primary focus of Nihon Falcom for Ys Origin, and it somewhat shows. That doesn’t mean Origin is ugly, but it does mean the developers went for function over form for this particular title, and it’s worth noting for those who obsess about that kind of thing.
The soundtrack, on the other hand, is stellar beyond its years. The OST knows when to be quiet and somber, and also knows perfectly when to increase the tempo to get the player in the mood for some hack and slash action. The utilization of electric guitar, electric violin, piano, and synthesizers are what we’ve come to expect from the Ys series, and Origin stands shoulder to shoulder with the best the franchise has to offer. As a quick aside, because I know you’re all interested, Origin, Oath in Felghana, and Lacrimosa of Dana form the top 3 OSTs of this series, in my opinion. Familiar Ys melodies are present throughout the game, which breed a sense of familiarity if you’re experienced with the series, but they still sound great even if this is your first entry to the franchise.
For accessibility, Ys Origin features multiple difficulty levels, so players can adjust the level of challenge to their preference. After finishing, you’ll also have access to Time Attack, Boss Rush, and Arena challenges that will really test your skills, and even unlock a couple of familiar faces as playable characters should you be up to the task. Ys Origin has a good number of additional features and replayability, and no combat encounter, puzzle, or just room in general ever feels like they’d grow tedious in multiple playthroughs. Ys Origin offers loads of brisk and enjoyable combat encounters from start to finish, taking around 7-8 hours to complete a single playthrough, but around 35 hours should you want to complete absolutely everything.
Ys Origin, being a prequel set so far in the past, is still a great jumping-in point for the franchise if you’ve never given these titles a look before. The handfuls of references of this game can be appreciated if you’ve played Ys I and II previously, but you could also move onto those titles later should you decide you want to experience the entire franchise should you enjoy Origin. Each character plays differently with their basic attacks and special element moves you obtain from key items as you progress through Darm Tower, so there’s plenty to enjoy on subsequent playthroughs. If you like action RPGs and can sink your teeth into older titles, Ys Origin is absolutely fantastic with its mediocre graphics, but excellent gameplay and an amazing soundtrack, and I’d recommend it to anyone who can appreciate such a thing.
With that being said, let’s bring today’s edition of Save State to a close. Join us again after I’ve had time to play something from generations past, or some random indie title that I found interesting. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy indies, RPGs, and strategy games?
Developers: Nihon Falcom
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Steam, Xbox One