XSeed Games, PC
Written by Chris Dominowski.
The Ys series has long since been the odd duck of the JRPG world. Not that the quality of the games has been suspect; far from it, but from a myriad of other reasons such as platform release decisions, little advertisement, and infrequent localization. Most of all, it has carried the distinction of being the only major JRPG series to make its home primarily on home computers, as opposed to consoles, save for a brief stint on the PlayStation Portable. However, the computer iterations of the series have almost never been released outside of Japan. Thus, the recent release of Ys Origin and Ys: The Oath in Felghana on Steam has marked a symbolic coming full circle for the franchise, despite being older titles in their native country. Ys Origin in particular has never been released officially in English. Being one of the most lauded entries in the series’ recent history, there was a fair amount of hype in the JRPG community surrounding its long-awaited release. Does Ys Origin live up to its longstanding pedigree, while holding its own in its 6 years since original release? Only one way to find out.
Ys Origin is meant to be quick, light fare compared to most of its RPG brethren. The game features three different stories to play through (the last of which is locked until finishing the first two), and each story takes about 15-20 hours to complete. If you are content with finishing the game through just one story, that’s all well and good, but if you love the game enough to put in the time and effort, you will have an awfully substantial game to play through (Not to mention extra modes such as Time Attack which are unlocked after completing your first story). XSEED translated the game themselves, as opposed to basing their work off the existing translation patch, and it was clear that a fair bit of effort went into making the dialogue sound as natural as possible, which is carefully-written, as opposed to the relatively standard plot.
Like any RPG, Ys Origin lives or dies based on the quality of its battle system. An otherwise good game can be ruined if it is hampered with chore-like gameplay. That is why I am pleased to report that the combat in Ys Origin is fast, fluid, and immensely rewarding. Being an Action RPG, there is inherently a great deal of choice and fluidity already built into the genre, but this game simply nails all of the core tenets of the sub-genre. Each fight brings new challenges and enemies, all of which have their own quirks that must be accounted for in your fighting style. For example, if there are many flying enemies in a particular room, switching to a lightning attack to reach them effectively is a good option. Or, if you are in a room being swarmed by a horde of low-level enemies, a spinning wind attack will clear them out nicely. These skills keep everything moving at a fast clip, and ensure your interest is maintained while playing. Even level-grinding isn’t really necessary at easier difficulty settings, which matches the tone presented by the game’s play mechanics perfectly. This may be one of the few times when I recommend playing a game on easy mode, not because of difficulty, but because it creates a more consistent sense of flow. Although, if you do play on normal mode, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem. One thing I feel I cannot go without mentioning is the boss fights. These are easily the most creative and challenging bosses I have seen in an ARPG. You are almost never pitted against a boss where the main tactic is mashing the attack button until it stops moving, but each one has a pattern and/or weak point that you have to figure out before fighting. It gives the game a very retro vibe in terms of design. When you finally do memorize a boss’ pattern, it’s an exhilarating feeling to finally beat each one. The art for the bosses themselves are nothing new, but the way in which you fight them absolutely is. I had a tremendous amount of fun with Ys Origin’s battle system, and I consider it to be one of the two best parts of them game.
The other of which is the soundtrack. The Ys series is famous for its unconventional-yet-excellent soundtrack, mixing hard rock, orchestral, and a hint of Celtic music to deliver a unique auditory experience. Origin does not disappoint in the slightest, providing a soundtrack that is both powerful and memorable. The tunes for each level put you in the exact mood the game wants you to be in; a commendable artistic achievement on Falcom’s part. This is some music you will want to listen to well after finishing the game. Anyone who has heard Ys’ soundtracks before knows what they’ll be getting, but new players will likely be astounded by the level of care and attention given to the game’s aural presentation.
It’s not every day that we get a game that is quite as fun as Ys Origin. The story isn’t terribly deep, and most of the game is meant exclusively to showcase the gameplay, but that is precisely why it works so well. The game has one of the most engaging and polished battle systems ever put in a Japanese Action RPG, and needless to say, it is a blast to play. It’s actually just a bit scary that it has taken 6 whole years for this game to receive a proper localization, given its quality. $20 is a meager asking price for one of the best JRPGs available on Windows, and any fan of the genre who has a Steam account should definitely at least consider it.