The Ys action-RPG franchise is a venerable one. Dating all the way back to the Sega Master System for it’s first installment (Yes, Sega once made consoles!) in which you battled your enemies by ramming you avatar headlong into the on-screen mobs. There was everything a Zelda fan could possibly want, ranging from dungeons to screen-filling bosses and a lofty storyline in which you traveled from town to town doing various tasks to gain money, XP, and equipment. Despite it’s accessibility to the mainstream audience, the series never really became a household name in the same way that Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Quest did. This fact is fairly unfortunate since Ys has come so far since those first plodding steps into the unknown, beast infested landscape.
Originally released in 2006 for Windows XP (and recently redistributed on Steam for newer Windows OS’) Ys Origin takes us way back to the very beginning of the known saga as Skyward Sword recently did with the more popular franchise. There are Goddesses living among the people and magic is as abundant as in any Forgotten Realms campaign. These goddesses have gone missing, fallen to the world below and you are tasked with finding them, lest they be forever lost.
I have made several inferences to the Zelda franchise of games, but the series also plays like something akin to the Secret of Mana. With many tactical combat abilities to gain and an isometric, 3D view of the battlefield, the game plays much like a mashup of Mana and A Link to the Past. Retro style sprite-based graphics support this and make it feel like nostalgia was one of the factors in designing the look and feel of the game. The character portraits seem to be generic fantasy stock art, there is nothing notable about them, and they look like they could have been drawn by anyone with the instruction to create bland fantasy characters. How unfortunate that they couldn’t commission a portrait artist with a sense of flair and style, I feel the look of the game would have been greatly improved during the standing-around-blabbing bits if they had.
It is frenetic, often strategic, and nothing if not difficult: A true console dungeon crawl to make your father proud. But wait.. Isn’t this game a PC exclusive? Yes, but that doesn’t stop Falcom from making a game that begs a dual analog or even arcade joystick control scheme. I wrote this review on the recent Steam redistribution while using my Tekken themed, six-button, PS2 arcade stick to play the game and I feel that is really how this game was meant to be played. The WASD+mouse optional control scheme just feels strange and clunky, and I ended up dying a lot while using it.
At the beginning of the game, you can choose one of two characters, with a third unlockable character. A note for Ys veterans: Adol Christin isn’t one of them, though he does make a guest appearance in Time Attack and Arena modes. I have been playing mainly with the quick, melee warrior girl named Yunica and I am very happy with her fighting style. Hugo Fact is a mage character who fights at range with slower, more powerful attacks than Yunica. And I have not played with the third, unlockable character yet, so I can’t comment on his playstyle.
The tower in which the bulk of the game takes place mixes environmental hazard and some nasty combinations of mobs to get in the way of your goddess-saving duties. You are going to need to be quick, think ahead, and change up your tactics based on these factors. It turned out to be a very satisfying combat experience except for when I kept dying on the same basic mobs over and over again. The bosses are hard… Really hard. You can expect to die quite a few times before pulling through by the skin of your teeth to the end of each boss battle as you learn how to react to their skillsets and movements. There are also some jumping puzzles, these tend to be simple affairs with even the timed sequences being easy enough for Mario fans to clear on the first go: No challenge there!
The game utilizes a save point system in the form of demon statues which you purify and turn into goddess statues. These work not only as save points but also as skill vendors and transport devices. The skill store that is incorporated into each statue will have you spending skill points which your foes unceremoniously drop to the floor once they are dead. The abilities range from armour and weapon upgrades to buffs and defences which will help you out greatly in the floors above you. These statues work in tandem with an item that you carry around with you, making them something like a magical receiving platform. You basically carry a portable, instantaneous warp crystal everywhere you go so that you are always close to safety, no matter how far you stray from you base of operations.
Now, I mentioned before that this was originally a 2006 release. This is most apparent when watching the cutscenes which carry some of the more important bits of the story. They are very low-resolution and look blocky and bad by the standards we hold cinematics to today. Going from those sequences to the 1920×1600 resolution gameplay feels like a dramatic leap and I felt wowed at the in-game graphics, even though they are from the middle of last decade and are only passable and utilitarian by today’s standards.
That being said, the actual content of the videos is very epic. The opening cutscene reminds me of various high-fantasy anime that I’ve seen over the years with its powerful soundtrack and sweeping visuals. The story sequence right after hitting New Game is suitably epic and leaves questions unanswered until you actually get into the game and start finding out things about the world, which is nice in our age of having every little quirk in games and movies spelled out for us as an audience.
For a 2006 released redistribution, I would recommend this game highly to anyone who is in love with Secret of Mana, The Legend of Zelda, and yes, even the Ys series. The $20 pricetag seems about $5 too high, but the game is so full of replay value (in the form of several characters with different play styles) that I think it would help to fill out anyone’s action-RPG collection nicely.