Title: Ys Origin
Release Date: September 29, 2020
Reviewed On: Switch
Genre: Action RPG
It isn’t often where I come across a game that I can replay endlessly without ever feeling like it’s lost its touch. Well, it turns out that the Faclom-developed Ys Origin fits the bill from its numerous outings across a myriad of platforms, and now finally arrives on the Switch. With it being the second Ys title on the platform, it more than fulfills its role of being both an introduction to the series and beneficial to those who are craving a challenging action RPG experience.
Ys Origin acts as a prequel to the Ys series, taking place near the aptly named Kingdom of Ys. Ys was known as a garden of paradise for its denizens thanks to the existence of magic that made their lives prosperous due to the holy artifact known as the “Black Pearl.” Owing to the rule of the twin goddesses, Reah and Feena, and the Six Priests, life was quite comfortable and flourishing.
That remained the case until droves of demons suddenly invaded upon their land. With the goddesses suddenly vanishing, the Six Priests formed search parties of knights and sorcerers to locate and retrieve the Goddesses in the only place they could possibly be, the fabled Devil’s Tower.
Ys Origin is a fast-paced action RPG with various challenging bosses, magic upgrades, and a plethora of secrets to uncover throughout the tower you ascend. There are three playable protagonists (with the third being unlockable) who each have their own unique styles of combat and distinctive stories. At the same time, the areas of the tower remain identical for all three protagonists, but the variance of combat across the three campaigns more than makes up for this repetition.
For instance, Yunica, one of the three protagonists, is very much a close-combat character. She wields an ax and eventually a sword that differ significantly in swing speed and magic type usage. Favoring agility, she can easily weave in and out of enemy attack ranges. Her wind spell, for example, the first spell you obtain, coats her ax in wind and lets you do a quick dash forward that also works in the air. This can be utilized for both swarms of enemies and reaching distant platforms.
Speaking of magic, the differences between the protagonists’ combat extends to the ways they use magic as well. The wind magic that Yunica wields works entirely different from Hugo, one of the other protagonists. He is a far more distant and ranged character than Yunica, and this can easily be seen by how his own version of the wind magic works, which envelops his body in a barrier that not only protects him from damage but also allows him to float across the air, acting as a sort of pseudo-glide.
You can even upgrade various parts of each characters’ build, such as beefing up their armor, decreasing MP usage, and increasing resistance to status effects. This gameplay philosophy of each character feeling fundamentally different from the other is one of this title’s strengths, and it especially shines through on greater difficulties.
There are five difficulty options, being Very Easy, Easy, Normal, Hard, and Nightmare. This not only helps with accessibility, but it also allows the player to experience the bosses at their own pace. Bosses are one of the highlights of the Ys titles, and Ys Origin does not disappoint. Every boss is intricately well designed with clear telegraphs and proper openings. There has never been a time in my multitude of playthroughs where I felt cheated from victory.
I never felt as if the game was at fault when I failed, which is a vital attribute for a title of this nature to have. Still, patience is required without a doubt. Assuming you aren’t playing on Very Easy, you can’t just run in guns blazing. Each boss requires a certain degree of learning, so deaths are inevitable; it’s just the type of game this is.
The stories for all three protagonists are exceptionally emotional and unexpectedly personal for a series that has always had a silent protagonist from before this title. Yunica, Hugo, and the third protagonist all have clearly defined obstacles they must overcome, be they mental or physical. They struggle, grow, learn, and you’re with them on every step of their respective journeys.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say the narrative is a selling point, they are definitely part of the filling that makes Ys Origin such a compelling experience. Being stuck in a tower for the duration of the game may sound off-putting, but even aside from the consistently changing environments and landscapes, the personal struggles of each of the characters come to a head as they ascend this monstrous tower. They’re all empathetic in their own ways, and by the end, you’ll likely feel at least a tinge of fulfillment after seeing how much they’ve grown.
Aside from the main campaigns, you can also unlock various other modes such as Time Attack, Boss Rush, and Arena Mode. The Arena Mode, in particular, has its own shop where you can buy upgraded versions of the characters, more arena stages, and some surprising rewards. Not only that, each of these modes is playable across all five difficulties with leaderboards for each, so there’s some combat to sink your teeth into if you feel the urge.
I can’t believe I made it this far without discussing the music! Falcom titles are well known for their absolutely incredible soundtracks, and once again, in this department, Ys Origin excels with flying colors. Not counting the stellar opening song, the areas of the tower itself all have their own tracks that fit the ambiances of their particular locales. The Guilty Fire has very vigorous instrumentation that just hypes you up the whole way through, while the Silent Sands retains an almost whimsical tune that amps up in intensity the longer you listen to it. The boss tracks are bangers too, so much so that they’re even a part of my daily playlists. The music department of this title is nothing to scoff at and is sure to enrapture you once you give it a chance.
Regarding performance, I can’t deny that I possessed a tinge of worry about how this port would perform. Having experienced the other platforms this game was ported to; there hasn’t exactly been a faultless track record. The Playstation 4 port had an erratic crashing issue, while the Playstation Vita version experienced some harsh lag during specific gameplay sections. Thankfully, however, the Switch port was basically perfect during my time with it across all three campaigns. There were no crashes, no slowdown of any kind, and it was generally just a smooth experience. This was the case for both docked and handheld modes too. It truly felt like the definitive version of this title.
If there is one issue I have with this title as a whole aside from the area repetition across repeated playthroughs, it’s the somewhat obtuse puzzle design that is occasionally present. While it is a relatively straight forward adventure, there are a few instances where progression can be a tad mystifying and ruin the pacing a bit due to how drastically different the methodology required for it is. This is by no means a game ruiner, but it can certainly leave an unnecessarily sour taste in player’s mouths.
Ys Origin is a title I hold near and dear to my heart. It’s not only my own personal favorite Ys title, but it is also one of my favorite games of all time. So it’s nice to see that some care went into this Switch port. While the repetition of exploring the same environments can undoubtedly dull the affair for some players, the stellar combat design, jaw-dropping soundtrack, incredible writing, varying level design, and the multitude of gameplay modes make this a one of a kind action RPG experience that any fan of the genre should pick up. This truly is the definitive version of this title, and I highly recommend it.
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