Out of all the franchises Falcom has developed in the 39 years since they were founded, the Ys series is probably my favorite. Typically framed as the travelogues of the famous adventurer Adol Christin, each Ys game has provided players fun action-adventure stories since 1987. Most of the games are standalone, but there are a couple of exceptions. Ys Origin is a prequel to the series, taking place 700 years before the original two games. It explores lore that was previously only hinted at, mainly the story of the goddesses Feena and Reah, and is frequently considered to be one of the best games in the entire series. I had never played it to completion before this week when the game finally came to Nintendo Switch, after previously being ported to PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Xbox One.
Ys Origin is an absolute blast. There are three playable characters, all with different campaigns and playstyles. Yunica is a knight apprentice with no magical power at all, Hugo is an established mage that specializes in magic attacks, and once you complete both of their stories you unlock Toal’s. Toal uses his claws to attack, and his story has a lot of information that recontextualizes the rest of the game. All of their campaigns take place in the same setting: Darm Tower, one large dungeon made up of multiple levels. The events tend to be similar, but all of them have different perspectives on what happens and occasionally have unique bosses. Each playthrough can take you around roughly 7-8 hours, so you’re looking at around 25 hours from just the main game alone. There are time trials, an arena mode, and a speedrunning section to unlock after at least a first playthrough, alongside other characters to play as. There’s plenty of content in this package, so there’s plenty bang for your buck.
Ys Origin’s gameplay is a polished and perfected version of the engine used in Ys VI and Oath in Felghana, but with more of a focus on dungeon crawling. While the removal of an overworld and towns seems unfortunate at first, what this really does is keep things as precise as possible. With a couple of exceptions, every key item you need is found in the current level you’re in and progression is always fairly straightforward. There are some rather obtuse puzzles that are expected for older games like this but I feel most of it has aged rather well.
This is one of those games best played by exploring every nook and cranny, as there are an abundance of secret items scattered around to improve. There are interesting puzzles and fun platforming in each level, and thankfully nothing ever feels reused. Each level has a unique gimmick that can be adapted too with either skill or a special item. There is no autosave in this game, and you can only retry without losing progress during boss fights, so these statues are your best friends. Not only can you save your game here, but you can also improve your skills, resistances, and equipment. The design of these levels are very tightly knit, the enemies offer a genuine challenge, and there was rarely any downtime.
The boss fights range from exhilarating and amazing, to downright frustrating and unfair. Near the end game, it teeters the line to both. The best piece of advice I can give to anyone finding themselves stuck on a particular boss is to leave and gain a level or two, it can make a big difference. These bosses are designed around memorizing patterns, so it’s not a great idea to attack them without a strategy. Every time I died I would study what I did wrong, and then come up with a new improved strategy to counter it and dodge as much as I could the next time. They continue to get harder as your skill level naturally improves, and I’d say this is probably the best designed classic Ys game I’ve played.
The story, while enjoyable, is definitely not the focus here. I found myself very invested in Yunica’s story thanks to her simple-minded personality. She’s a passionate girl that makes up for her lack of magic with a strength of heart and body. There are some very good twists here, but this is an action game above all else. It is often recommended to play Ys I and Ys II before playing this, however with those games not planned to release on Switch that can be a bit difficult. You wouldn’t necessarily have your experience ruined without prior knowledge, but a lot of the important moments mean a lot more with knowledge of those games. I wish it had gone into a couple of aspects with greater detail, but its an adequate story that was a nice cherry on top.
As a port, I have to commend Dotemu for their work. Unlike the previous portable port on the Vita, it runs at a solid 60 frames-per-second handheld and docked. The sprite work for the characters and enemies are incredibly charming, and the 3D environments are incredibly clean. The Playstation ports were criticized for toning down the game’s blood, and while that never bothered me too much it is worth mentioning that is not the case for the Switch release. There’s a toggle in the system menu now that lets you adjust the level of blood you prefer. I noticed no issues at all, and I’m very satisfied with this version of the game.
I don’t know if I would recommend Ys Origin as someone’s first experience with the series – that goes to the masterpiece known as Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana – but this is a great port of one of its best games. The music is catchy, the art is great, and the gameplay is some of the snappiest from the classic Ys titles. Given the game’s pedigree, I came in with very high expectations, and I’m happy to say most of those were met. Rarely exceeded, but this is a blast of a game that’s well worth playing for any action game fan.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Dotemu