I’m not the type to buy something just because someone spilled anime all over it. Nevertheless, I’ve always enjoyed the Ys series. My favorite in particular was Ys 3: Wanderers from Ys, primarily due to its unimaginably powerful soundtrack. So how does this new one match up to the legacy?
I have to remember that the magnificent music of the Ys series doesn’t necessarily equal games that are at all fun to play. Aesthetics are simply not as important as gameplay, and story is even less relevant. Upon loading Ys Origin I was immediately confronted with the standard unskippable movies and cutscenes that I loathe so much. Not only is the story generic JRPG nonsense, but I was forced to endure it, pressing buttons to skip through dialogue, until I could actually control my character. This sort of foolishness is not acceptable in 2012, where the option to skip all conversations and cinematics should be present in every new game without exception.
But enough griping; on to the part that actually matters. Combat is simple and enjoyable action-RPG fare. Enemies are nicely varied and use different patterns and strategies to fight you. The controls are intuitive enough as it is, but the game allows you to plug-and-play an Xbox 360 controller. You can even play with your mouse for some reason, though I can’t imagine why you would want to, especially since you need a second hand to work the keyboard.
If you’ve played Ys: Oath in Felghana or Ys 6, you know what to expect in this. Linear paths with progressively stronger monsters, rad bosses, and slightly better equipment. Interestingly for an Ys game, you pick one of two characters (With several more unlockable) rather than the usual protagonist, Adol Christian, though he is one of the unlockables. I do look forward to another playthrough with a different character, as it apparently has a different set of bosses.
I only played through the game with one character so far: Yunica the generic anime teenager. She plays about the same as Adol from previous games, particularly from Oath in Felghana with its magic attack spells. I have few complaints here. I did find myself using the downthrust more often than any other attack due to its stun effect, and the phoenix spell you get relatively early is simply superior to the other two and will carry you through the rest of the game. There’s also the fact that the stop-and-attack move is very hard to do consistently, but fortunately it is not necessary, though it would be nice to be able to assign it or each of the spells to their own key/button so they can be performed more readily.
And unfortunately, there is no turbo button, either for spamming attacks or getting through the dialogue. I tried to use the repeat function in the amazingly useful JoyToKey but apparently Ys Origin is very finicky when it comes to that.
Getting around the game’s sole area is easy; you can teleport between save crystals any time you like, except during the unskippable cutscenes or when fighting a boss. The environments, however, are quite bland. Desert level, volcano level, "evil" level, all of which are part of the same big tower you can’t exit. (I guess I should be grateful that I don’t have to leave the tower to go on fetch quests, as is necessary with many Ys games.) None of them are particularly interesting. But the fascinating standard enemies as well as the bosses make the game worthwhile to play.
The bosses in Ys Origin are fantastic. Every one of them requires skill and thought; walk up to them and mash the attack button and you’re dead. Some of them have gimmicks, like the plant boss spits out pods that heal it if you don’t destroy them fast enough, or the lava thing that can pound the few safe platforms you have to stand on, or the mantis boss that can eat its young to avoid death.
The centipede boss Nygtilger in particular was a hell of a lot of fun. It crawls around a pillar and throws lightning bolts and poisonous pods at you, only exposing itself when it crawls down to spit electricity from its mandibles. You have to climb on its back and hack away at its chitin to actually damage it, and it’s had enough of that, it wraps itself into a wheel to run you over. While it’s still shooting lightning and poison. I love the death-defying challenge of bosses like this. My only disappointment was the final boss, a dull Sephiroth clone (He even turns into a demon angel thing!) who is very easy to beat compared to the viciously difficult Galbalan from both versions of Ys 3 .
Unfortunately, you can’t pause during boss battles. This is probably a lazy way to keep you from accessing healing items. You can alt-tab out of the program if you want to pause when you’re not supposed to, but pausing is a basic functionality that has been with games for thirty-plus years. Let us pause.
There was another point where the game crashed, and fortunately I had just saved in the previous room, but something wonderful happened: The next time I loaded up the game, it said that a crash was detected and it would restart me at the last room I was in. Nothing in the documentation gave me the impression of an auto-save feature, but apparently one is there, and I’m grateful for that.
I also experienced a very frequent bug wherein the music would stop playing but the sound effects would keep going. I could easily solve this by going back to the title screen and reloading my game, but it’s a bug nonetheless. Unfortunately, the music in question is disappointingly unmemorable and has nothing on previous games in the Ys series.
Ys Origin is a by-the-numbers addition to this venerable cult series. It’s like a look at what might have happened to the Legend of Zelda series had it not progressed much after the first NES game. Things are overly simplistic but efficient and satisfactory. There are some irritating bugs but none of them are game-ruining. The forgettable anime story can be quickly scrolled through. Ys Origin is a good game but far from a great one.