Ys Origin Review – Dungeons, Demons, Ys Oh My! (PS4)
The Ys games have a rich history in action-JRPGs, starring the silent protagonist Adol Christin as he travels across various regions across the world, including Ys. Ys Origin has none of that. Instead, the origin story explains many of the mysteries of the Ys titles, such as the demon influx, how the Darm Tower came to be, as well as the history behind the twin goddesses, the Black Pearl, and the Six Priests. It’s meant to fill in any blanks for Ys fans who want to know more about the history of the people of Ys and round out Adol’s adventures in the first two Ys games.
That said, however, like most origin stories, Ys Origin doesn’t bring a lot to the table in terms of a typical Ys game. It’s not nearly as lengthy as the other games, simply because there’s zero exploration to be had. The entire game takes place in the infamous Darm Tower, and thus, it’s a series of consecutive dungeon crawls with nothing in between them. There are no side quests, no time to explore, no real crafting system; there’s virtually nothing to distract you from the monotony of running through dungeon after dungeon. Each dungeon has variety to be sure, but the pattern is ultimately the same: find locked doors, hunt down keys to unlock them, find new armor, find new skills or items to help you get to the hidden keys, fight dungeon boss, and repeat. Obviously, you can say the same about virtually every dungeon in an RPG out there. The problem with Ys Origin is that there’s nothing else to the game.
Instead, however, Ys Origin provides various characters players can choose to run the dungeons, and each one has their own set of skills, weapons, strengths, and weaknesses. As such, depending upon the character you choose, you will run into different mini-bosses, have different interactions with the NPCs and even the other playable characters, and ultimately see the origin of the Ys franchise from various perspectives. Fortunately the playthroughs are rather short (you can only make a tower run so long before people start to revolt), so playing multiple times with the different characters is incredibly feasible, even in this day and age of a new hot title releasing every week.
A Tale of Fighting Demons
At the heart of every Ys game, it all comes down to demon hunting. Ys Origin starts soon after the people of Ys fled to the Solomon Shrine and raised it above the earth to escape the demon infestation below. The twin goddesses one day disappeared along with the Black Pearl, the origin to all magic in Ys. Ys formed a search party of Holy Knights and sorcerers to travel down to the surface and bring the goddesses back. The search party finds that the goddesses are in the vile Darm Tower, which the demons have been building to reach Solomon Shrine and take it down. At the outset, players can choose Yunica Tovah, a Holy Knight apprentice, or Hugo Fact, a novice sorcerer. A mystery third character unlocks after completing their stories. Each character has their own goal of reaching the top of the tower, and to do so, they have to cut through rooms and rooms of demons. They’ll learn different skills along the way to spice up the combat as well as to solve some of the dungeon puzzles.
Yunica is a brawler with her axe. She moves very quickly, but she has to move in close to her targets, which makes her extremely vulnerable most of the time. Hugo moves more slowly, but he has high-range attacks. He doesn’t have to dodge as much since he can blast enemies away with his wand and his floating “Eyes of Fact.” The artifacts they find in the tower grant them each skills involving wind, lightning, and fire, but they don’t incorporate them the same way. For instance, Yunica’s wind skill is a whirlwind, where she can spin around with her axe and cut through any surrounding foes. Hugo’s, on the other hand, is a force shield that protects him from incoming fire or melee. Each character still has to use their wind skill to make long jumps (until they learn how to double-jump), but their different skills present unique ways of doing so. If Yunica initiates the whirlwind at the proper time after a jump, the momentum from her spin will carry her forward. Hugo’s force shield allows him to float while jumping. Take a guess at which is far easier to use.
But these physical demons aren’t the only demons the characters battle. Each as their own inner demons to face and overcome as they climb the tower. It’s a lovely metaphor to fight demons on the inside as well as out.
Ys Origin Has Its Own Demons to Fight
Ys Origin originally released for the PC in 2006. DotEmu helped bring the title from XSEED’s Steam release to the PlayStation 4 and Vita. They had to overhaul the controls entirely, of course, but they did nothing for how the game looks visually. The graphics and animation did not age well, to say the least. It looks like I’m playing a PC game from the early aughts, which I’d have to think would look far better on the Vita version than on my 1080p HDTV.
I also experienced horrible problems with the sound. Sometimes the environment noise, such as waterfalls, will carry over through other dungeons or even boss fights. If I died in a boss fight, the next time I fought the boss, the sound would disappear for some of the attacks, or other environmental noise would take over all sound completely. The video below of the longest boss fight in the game shows a bit of this problem with sound.
The ultimately biggest problem from the game was not the sound or the visuals, but from the lack of instruction. When a character learns a new skill or ability, a brief tutorial pops up to instruct how to use it properly. All of the tutorials are saved in the game’s menu as a bit of an instruction booklet. Nowhere in this instruction booklet does it explain how to save the game. I figured it out by accident when I was nearly halfway up the tower. How to upgrade a weapon is not explained either. The first time a character finds a piece of ore, a Roo gives it to them and magically upgrades their weapon with it. When I found more ore, I wondered why the other Roos I found didn’t upgrade my weapon. I was pulling my hair out in frustration when I remembered one of the NPCs mentioned that Rico was staying on the ground floor to temper weapons.
Not explaining how to switch skills on the fly was the worst offender. As far as I knew, the only way to change which skill you had equipped (wind, lighting, fire) was to go into the game’s menu. Once you’re in a boss fight, though, you can’t do that. You can’t pause the game either. This wasn’t a problem until I reached the final boss. In his second phase, he had a shield in front of his exposed weak spot, and nothing I did would break it. After dying several times, I noticed that the shield changed color. I knew that meant it was weak against a skill, but how could I change it without the menu? I frantically pressed every button I didn’t already know was assigned and learned that the L1 and R1 buttons switch skills. As soon as the credits finished rolling, I opened up a prior save and looked through the instruction manual for something I might have missed, but no. This rather important button mechanic was never once explained.
I don’t want a game to hold my hand the entire time I play, but I would like to know how to perform every action available. I’m certain this was obvious in the PC version of the game, and the tip didn’t carry over when porting it to console.
Hopefully a patch will come down that will add at least an instruction on switching skills and fix the sound issues. Ys Origin isn’t a great game, even with the various modes, difficulty settings, and characters that unlock for replayability, simply because it’s straight dungeon crawl with little variety. However, these issues prevent Ys Origin from being as good as it could be, and they certainly make it difficult to recommend the title to newcomers of Ys.
Ys Origin review code provided by publisher. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.