Release Date: February 21, 2017
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), PS Vita
If you are not familiar with Ys as a franchise, you should not be afraid of taking a chance with Ys Origin, the prequel to the seven previous releases of the Ys video game series. Then again, we are talking here about Nihon Falcom’s most prominent and successful franchise, a Japanese role-playing video game series that started back in 1987. That being said, most people interested in YS Origin will probably have some deeper knowledge about a series with a history like that, and if you are a console gamer, this release will make you even happier.
Ys Origin was originally released on PC on December 21, 2006, exclusively for the Japanese market. Six years later, a worldwide release follows, again only for PC systems. This was not a decision you would expect for a game like Ys Origin because it feels like a title meant for consoles. It’s an action-packed RPG title, with a lot of hack-and-slash elements and its art style reminded me of classic RPG titles from the PS2 era. It creates a strong PS feeling as a game, so holding the PS4’s controller on my hands and killing a variety of enemies felt pretty much like “home”.
As mentioned above, Ys Origin serves as a proper prequel to the Ys series and it takes place 700 years before Adol’s big first adventure in Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished. The main goal of the game has the heroes searching for two missing goddesses, Feena and Reah. You have to go inside a huge, dark tower and examine different rooms and areas, fighting your way through an army of demons.
At the beginning of the game, players have the option to choose one out of two characters, Hugo Fact or Yunica Tovah. Yes, you read that right, no Adol Christin in here, the red hair protagonist of Ys isn’t featured in Ys Origin, but that’s not a bad thing at all.
The game is perfect for gamers who aren’t familiar with Ys’ history because it focuses on the origin of pretty much everything regarding the Ys universe. It’s also very intriguing to people who have played the main games of Ys because this title tries to fill important gaps. The narration is exciting and both main characters have a pretty strong presence, for different reasons. While Yunica does not have the ability to use spells and magic, giving her colleagues the impression that she isn’t really that strong, Hugo is a mage with an attitude of a… asshole. And that word describes Hugo’s first hours almost “perfect”, also because the game features a pretty strong language. We already know that XSEED did a pretty good job in localizing Ys Origin in English back then, but DotEmu has also translated the game for the first time in German, French, Spanish and Italian. I can confirm that they did a good job in translating the game into German.
During the first 10-20 minutes, I was a little bit afraid regarding this console port/release. The opening scene was really choppy, with the edges of the screen rendering as the scene played out. There were some serious glitches on the bottom of the screen, while the sound was really low. After spending 25+ hours on the game, I can reassure you that none of these issues carried over after the title’s brief introduction. I witnessed just one crash, which was a “pain” though since Ys Origin uses statues for saving (no auto-save available), so I lost some progress.
Luckily, the game features a variety of artifacts that will make your life in Ys Origin easier. The “Crystal” gives you the option for an instant teleport to a statue, where you can heal, purchase new blessings and save the game. After teleporting back, you will obviously have to fight your way again through the same rooms in order to reach the next statue for the tower’s upper levels, but at least you have an option for saving the game (almost) instantly.
The statues are spread across the Darm Tower’s 22 different floors, so you can easily backtrack your way across the tower. I would wish though to have a map (a Zelda-like option would be perfect) because there were cases in which I would really need one. While the floors are designed well, it doesn’t feature a superb, epic level design that will make you remember every single room. And there are items which I really needed in order to progress further and we are not talking here about main quest items.
There are some moments, where the developers raised a little bit too much the difficulty, in a way that it confused me. While the “Lila Shell” gave me important and small hints in order to solve a puzzle and find a solution to a tricky part, after fighting the third boss, I felt super-under leveled for the next floor (The Silent Sands). The solution was to find a Cleria Ore, give it to one of my colleagues, so he could boost my main weapon and deal some actual damage to standard mobs. Since Cleria Ores are spread out across the tower, they did not feel like items you would need for your main quest. They felt more like your typical, side quest items, which will make your playthrough a little easier. I wish things like these would be explained a little bit better during the game, especially in cases in which you beat a boss and in the next room you’re getting your a** kicked by two… blobs. I don’t like the game to take my hand and guide me through the whole thing, but some things could have been explained better as you climb up the tower.
Besides some explaining-introduction issues, Ys Origin features simple, but very enjoyable gameplay. Don’t expect some deep RPG mechanics or turn-based gameplay. You are running, jumping, avoiding and using a variety of skills and spells in order to kill demons. It has also some platforming parts, which is just “okayish”, but I believe one of the highlights of this title is the boss fights. They feature different tactics in order to beat them, some of them have also different phases, where you have to change the way you hit them or avoid them. Ys Origin is definitely more Action than RPG and while I won’t deny that a felt sometimes like playing a (mindless) button-mash game, the whole thing is very enjoyable.
There is a variety of enemies available so you won’t get bored like in other games where you fight the same demons over and over again. The simple item upgrade system gives you a breath of fresh air here and there. As enemies are defeated, your character gains experience in order to level up. If you kill many enemies in a short amount of time, the experience bonus meter is filled up. Aside from the purple diamonds which serve as an in-game currency for upgrading your character’s skills (blessings), demons drop also other colorful items. These items grant temporary stat buffs for the character which help you maintain a good pace, with the nice hub screen providing every needed information about the character’s status.
The game doesn’t last long, as you will probably beat the main story in around 10 hours. Ys Origin is one of the very rare cases, though, which gave me enough reasons to start another play through. If you finish the game with Yunica or Hugo, you will definitely want to experience the story of the other character too. On top of that, you will unlock the third character and his “story” will also unveil some important aspects of Ys Origin’s scenario. The title features strong writing skills regarding its scenario and since you follow pretty closely the personal story of the main character, the game creates a feeling of wanting to learn more about the backstory of the second or even the third character. The three extra modes do also extend the hours you will invest into the game, although in a different, more typical way. “Time Attack” features boss rushes and leaderboards, “Arena mode” will put you in a massive fight against many waves of monsters and “Bonus Shop” has a variety of upgrades. Again, I personally do not like to replay titles and I am definitely no completionist or trophy/achievement hunter. But it would be really a shame if you do not complete the game with every character, or at least with the first two main heroes.
Responsive controls, an awesome localized story and killing thousands of demons with blades and magic. Could you ask for more? Well, in the end of the day, Ys Origin on PlayStation 4 is “just” a port from the PC version. It doesn’t feature any new things or exciting graphical upgrades regarding its PC counterpart. The inclusion of widescreen support and a number of UI changes are definitely more than welcome, but it’s still low-res graphics. Gamers who have it already on Steam, will find very few reasons for purchasing the game again on their console.
PS4 and/or PSVita users have the chance though to dive into an exciting prequel for one of the best JRPG franchises. While it’s a pretty different experience compared to the original series, gamers will find great value for 19,90 USD, especially since you’ll get both versions, PS4 & PSVita, for that price (cross-buy). While the PS Vita version has been delayed (May 30th), Ys Origin looks like a game that will profit from Sony’s portable console. The smaller screen feels nice for that type of graphics and most JRPGs are more enjoyable on portable consoles, also because of the genres’ archaic save system (PS Vita’s rest mode feels more suitable since it doesn’t depend on external power like the PS4).
That said, Ys Origin was definitely an enjoyable experience on PlayStation 4 and I recommend it to anyone who wants a fast-paced action-RPG experience with enjoyable hack-n-slash elements. The captivating story and the high replay value of the game will definitely make you want to invest a lot of hours into the game, especially if you like that type of games and if you haven’t some over-the-top expectations regarding graphics.
P.S.: You can quickly switch skills by pressing the L1 and R1 buttons, there is no need of doing it every time via the menu. You can thank me later.