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If it’s towering monstrosities, fast-paced action, metal guitar, beautiful hand drawn animations, and a black and white story of good and evil – it must be Ys. Although Ys Origin may have many characteristics that are indicative of the intellectual property, this Ys title is anything but stereotypical. Ys Origin has been ported to the PC from a 2006 PSP title (which may also be why it plays best with a controller) and for the first time in twenty years, Ys doesn’t start by resuming the role of Adol.
Instead of Adol, you can choose from one of two protagonists – Hugo Fact or Yuncia Tovah. Hugo and Yuncia are part of a twelve-person search and rescue team. This team of elite mages and holy knights is leaving their floating angelic landmass of Ys behind in search of two very important goddesses who have gone missing. Misfortune strikes the search party during the descending journey from Ys when their celestial vessel is struck down, separating the search party from one another. It’s not before long though that Hugo and Yunica rendezvous with some of their party members and begin to ascend a tall tower where the goddesses are believed to be. During their ascent, Hugo and Yuncia will need to overcome many obstacles of both a mental and physical nature.
No matter which protagonist is chosen to ascend the tower, both will be an integral part of the story whether you’re specifically playing that character or not, but neither perspective dramatically changes the story’s plot points as they unfold. The real choice is what type of combat style and or persona you want your main protagonist to have.
Hugo’s an apprentice mage and is the more intelligent and self-confident of the two. He is quick-witted, blunt, sure of his powers, and oblivious to feminine wiles. Yuncia is a knight in training and is much more naïve, innocent, and gullible than Hugo, but regardless of their personality characteristics, both Hugo and Yunica’s journey to the summit of the tower will unearth a tale of self-discovery and personal turmoil.
The events that culminate during the hike to the highest floor are character-driven and give insights into the protagonists through triggered events or memories. Most memories are displayed through the use of motionless hand drawn images with dialogue boxes that explain the event or detail a conversation from your character’s past. Apart from the still-images, Ys Origin supports some very lovely animation videos for events of paramount importance. The animated shorts complement the hand drawn animations of the character sprites that occupy the game world. The game world itself, on the other hand, is completely rendered in 3D which makes the hand drawn characters standout with great relish. Even though many story features are visually presented beautifully, the narrative’s progression is predictable and the events that unravel are fairly cliché. Each different character gives a slightly alternated perspective into different ways the same events can play out within the tower, but neither story, nor the characters that inhabit it, is particularly interesting.
The trek to the top of the demon-infested spire will take its toll on the young protagonists, mostly due to the Darklings along the way. The Darklings are a race of surface-dwelling people who are separate from the sky city of Ys. They’re also in search of the wayward goddesses, presumably for nefarious purposes. Amongst these Darklings is a nonchalant man with claws, a goofy girl with some tattoos and a trident, a muscly man with a giant axe, and a short-tempered sorceress. They all seem too show their faces at the most inconvenient of times to laugh at you, challenge you to duels, talk shit, and summon prime demons to hualt your progress. The banter these characters deliver can have its moments, but the dialogue is mostly dry. The real reason these encounters are so enjoyable is because they are usually followed by great boss battles with the prime demons.
These prime demons are extremely difficult and let the complexity of combat excel. Each prime demon employs a variety of different battle mechanics to keep the encounters fresh and very challenging. Boss encounters may range from offering a variety of combat mechanics such as beams that chase, lingering poisonous spore clouds, weak body points, timed attacks and patterns that you must memorize, weaknesses to specific elements, and many more. Bosses will defeat you often, but when you finally win, success is very satisfying.
The downside is that the challenge of the bosses is unfavorably off-set by the lesser demons that fill the rest of the explorable tower. All of the monsters besides the bosses are just cannon fodder and never offer much of a challenge, but it’s still enjoyable to hack and slash your way through the masses nonetheless. The real issue here is that the pawns filling the corridors of the tower are so simply killed that when you reach the extremely daunting task of a boss, you might feel like you’ve hit a wall with progression. Luckily there are plenty of save-points spread throughout the tower that can be fast-traveled to. So, if a boss is too difficult, success might be as simple as loading a previously saved game and warping to a lower floor in the tower to blast and cleave some lesser demons for experience.
The droves of simply-killed demons are a means to the end of earning Spirit Points (SP) and XP to rise in level. SP can then be used to enhance your character’s abilities. For example, you can spend SP to purchase skills that enable your character to take less damage from environmental effects, increase movement speed, lower the cost of power-up attacks, increase the refill speed of super powers, and many more. When you rise in level you’re not in control of any aspect of the leveling process, the character is simply granted more damage to their attacks and some more health points to take extra punishment.
In addition to Spirit Points and increasing in character levels, the protagonists will also obtain an assortment of armor and items to aid in surviving the diverse hazards and obstacles of the demonic spire. Treasure chests are spread throughout the elementally-themed environments that will reward you with new armor for your chest and feet, along with various applicable accessories. Checking the nooks and crannies is a necessity (at times) to find items that may be required to advance to the next zone or defeat the next boss. For example, you might find spikes that apply to your boots to make moving on slick surfaces the same as normal ground or a chest could yield a gill necklace that allows your character to breathe underwater for lengthy periods of time. Ultimately, the combination of Spirit Points, XP, unique items, armor, and elemental attacks will be needed to surmount the difficult prime demons.
The intense boss battles are where this action RPG really shines. To sweeten the deal you can get a handful of new boss battles by beating the game to unlock a playable Darkling. The Darkling will allow you to experience the events of the tower from the antagonist’s perspective, which is more interesting than Yunica or Hugo’s story. Although none of the multiple perspectives the narrative can be witnessed from is particularly fantastic, the different characters make combat feel fresh and give battles enough variation to justify playing through Ys Origin a few times. The 5-8 hours it might take to finish each play-through is enjoyable and worth the time, which ramps Ys’ value way up. This book of Ys might not be the best written chapter, but the throwback to older RPGs and the boss combat make Origin a joy to see how the saga of Ys would lay the foundation for the legend to come.