Given my wide-reaching dismissal of the anime aesthetic this generation, it’s hard to believe that I’ve let the Ys series wriggle its way into my heart. I was more or less ambivalent toward the series during its Master System and TurboGrafx days, but its outings on the PSP, especially Oath in Felghana, found themselves fast-tracked onto my list of favorite games. When I heard that a prequel based on that same engine was destined for Steam, my interest was piqued. While everyone else was out prepping their PCs for Diablo III, I was making sure mine was ready for Ys Origin.
The game was originally released for Windows XP in 2006. Since then, it has seen a number of revisions and releases, but never made its way to the U.S. until now. It may be 6 years old, but thanks to Falcom’s hand-painted sprites, it looks better than half a lot of JRPGs releasing today. It also means that most any PC you pull off a shelf should be able to run it flawlessly with no tweaking or upgrades.
For the unacquainted the Ys series are action RPGs that follow Adol Christin’s adventures across Europa. The more recent entries are fast-paced dungeon crawlers with gorgeously rendered sprites against a polygonal backdrop, much like a high-resolution Saturn game. Its a type of game that is rarely released nowadays, and is even more rarely released with any sort of quality. Although the series has certainly seen its highs and lows, the past few offerings on the PSP have really knocked it out of the park.
Ys Origin takes place 700 years before the first Ys game. 700 years before Adol Christin ever set foot in Darm Tower. It tells the story of the Tower, the Twin Goddesses and the six priests that will write the six books of Ys. Since the game is not being told from the perspective of Adol, Ys Origin forgoes the series’ now trademark journal-style dialog for a more traditionally structured script. Your main character’s voice is no longer open to interpretation, and instead the main cast is relatively chatty. It takes some of the freedom of interpretation away from the player, but the decision makes sense, since Adol’s Travelogue is not intended to be the narrative voice.
Adol’s absence is filled by three playable characters: Yunica Tovah, a young apprentice knight and daughter of a great Knight Commander, Hugo Fact, the young mage from a famous lineage, and the mysterious Claw. Each has their own unique story that leads them to Darm Tower, and each plays slightly differently. Yunica and The Claw control very similarly to Adol from Oath in Felghana, while Hugo introduces ranged magic to the standard hack-’n-slash formula. Although the climb up the tower is nearly identical for the different characters, the different strategies required and a few switch-ups make each trip feel uniquely challenging.
The soundtrack is yet another guitar-heavy arrangement of classic Ys tracks, with some new tracks thrown in to keep it fresh. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I don’t get a nostalgic every time I hear the Darm Tower Theme, and this arrangement was more than able to give me tingles. If you aren’t as intimately familiar with the past games as myself, then the soundtrack might come off as a little ’90s-centric. Take that as you will.
The campaign takes about 10 hours to complete per character, and the Steam release includes expanded content; a Time Attack and Arena Mode which allow you to play through the levels of Origin as Adol with his movesets from Oath in Felghana or Ark of the Napishtim. That’s a LOT of content to Ys fans! At $20, its hard not to recommend it to anyone that’s ever found themselves lost in Adol’s journals. Fans of action RPGs will enjoy the tight controls and challenging dungeons, but will probably miss a lot of the references to Ys: Books I&II. Luckily, Falcom has made those games available on PSP and DS as well as the Wii Virtual Console, so if they aren’t already in your library (they should be) they aren’t difficult to find.