Somewhere back in 2003, legendary Japanese PC developer published Ys VI: The Ark of Napishtim. It was an excellent game, a perfect blend of fast paced action and RPG-style exploration and level building. It’s the kind of game that all of the recent Mana games wishes they were. Apparently Ys VI was popular enough for Konami to port to the Playstation 2 and PSP and bring to America, though they went largely ignored, mostly because the last Ys game anyone in the English speaking world cared about was on the Turbografx-16 in 1991. Back on the PC, Falcom kept at it, creating Ys: The Oath of Felghana (a remake of the third game) and now, mostly recently, Ys Origin.
As the name would leave one to believe, Ys Origin details the beginnings of the world of Ys, and deals with the goddesses Feena and Lair. Since this takes place hundreds of years in the past, longtime hero Adol Christen is nowhere to be found. Instead, you take control of two different characters – Yunica Tovah or Hugo Fact. Those last names should ring a bell for Ys fans, as the characters are related to the six priests that featured heavily in the plot. A lot of the mythology ties in heavily with the first Ys game, and while the number of people that actively care about the storyline of Ys is probably pretty small, they’ll definitely be happy with this installment. There are other references to the series too – at one point, you run into a villain named Kishgal, which is also the name of a city in Ys VI.
The entire game takes place in Darm Tower, which again should seem familiar, but not necessarily in a good way. Darm Tower was a gigantic skyscraper of a dungeon, and it encompassed approximately 2/3 of the length of the first Ys. You also had to go through parts of it again in the PC Engine version of Ys IV. So at this point, exploring this redundant dungeon seems like a bit of a worn out concept. There’s no overworld to explore or anything, just a straight run up the tower, although you usually have to backtrack between certain areas, or fully crawl through every corner to find necessary items. Thankfully, you can warp between save points at pretty much any time.
Still, the areas themselves are pretty dull. You go through a standard nondescript zone, a water zone, a fire zone, the usual. The graphics engine is exactly the same as Ys VI without any real improvements, so it might feel too familiar. The designs are quite repetitive, but the apparently laziness doesn’t stop there. Although their storylines and different, each character goes through the same stages, and beating the game with both of them unlocks a third character simply dubbed The Claw. In order to experience the story to its fullest, you need to play through the whole game three separate times. Granted, each playthrough is relatively short, but it reeks of cheapness.
Thankfully, the solid action that has defined the recent Ys games is still here in its finest form. Yunica plays pretty much like Adol, and also uses some of the magical spells similar to the ones in Oath of Felghana. Yugo is a bit different because all of his attacks are projectile based, which drastically changes how you play the game. It feels more like an arcade-style shoot-em-up, except with statistics and level building. Controlling Hugo is pretty fun, although some way to strafe would be nice.
The amazing boss battles have been the highlight of the Ys games, and thankfully Ys Origin doesn’t slack in this department. While most of the environments are pretty unimpressive, the boss creatures are huge, and each battle challenges your reflexes, as well as your pattern memorization skills. One of them is a huge centipede which crawls around a tower, before leaping off, molding its body into a circle, and rolling around the arena, setting the ground ablaze. The only problem is that the framerate tends to falter in many of these instances, although this shouldn’t be an issue if you have a decent video card. Other than this, the game runs pretty well on any computer from the past few years, even without any fancy hardware.
Falcom is usually known for putting out amazing soundtracks, and while Ys Origin is certainly pretty good, it’s just not as good as it should be. The boss theme is excellent, as is the opening song, but the rest you can probably take or leave.
Ys Origin is definitely the weakest of the recent trilogy. Hopefully Falcom will take their time with the next and flesh things out a bit more. Gamers unfamiliar with the series would be better off checking out Ys VI or Ys: Oath of Felghana.
The good thing about Ys Origin being on the PC is that it’s easy to import. Any computer with Windows can run it, as long as you fiddle with the Control Panel options and set the non-Unicode language setting to Japanese. With the exception of some annoying fetch quests, it’s pretty easy to play without any Japanese knowledge, although you’ll be missing out on the story, which is one of the main focuses of this installment. The first edition comes in a nice cardboard box holding the DVD, the instruction manual and an artbook. It’s a nice package, although not nearly as awesome as the CD set included with Oath of Felghana.
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