Ys Origin Review (Nintendo Switch) -- A Simple Yet Satisfying Dungeon Crawler
Set 700 years before the first title, Ys Origin expands on the franchise's lore with a combat system that blends both style and substance.
Review copy provided by the publisher
Ys Origin first released in Japan in 2007 for PC and was later localized and released by XSeed Games in 2012. Since then there have been numerous ports for the title, including its most recent entry for Nintendo Switch.
Ys Origin takes place 700 years before Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished and delves deeper into the lore from later games such as Ys, Darm Tower, the Black Pearl, the Twin Goddesses, and the Six Priests. The story follows a group of elite warriors gathered by the Six Priests in order to track down the goddesses Reah and Feena. There is nothing complicated in the plot, but it does a nice job of fleshing out important lore for the titles that come chronologically after Origin.
There are three main differences between this title and the rest of the Ys franchise: Adol Christin isn’t the protagonist for the first time, the game itself is a straight dungeon crawler that sees players exploring Darm Tower, and players can choose from and control three different protagonists. From the start, players can choose between playing as Yunica Tovah or Hugo Fact, with the former specializing in quick and powerful mid-ranged attacks, while the latter is the slower long-ranged fighter. Once you beat the game with at least one of them, you unlock the third hero “The Claw,” a short-ranged and high damage character made for more experienced players (which perfectly complements their unlock requirements).
The character balance is excellent; each hero plays completely differently and requires players to adjust to their fighting style and specialties. Yunica is ideal for players who love big bruisers that wield giant axes and greatswords, with simple but powerful and effective combos that cleave enemies. Meanwhile, Hugo is perfect for those who would rather specialize in long-ranged magic, which mixes in spells that target either area of effect or fill the entire screen. And for those who want a fighter with a bit more time investment for a high payoff, “The Claw” fulfills those needs splendidly.
“There is nothing complicated in the plot, but it does a nice job of fleshing out important lore for the titles that come chronologically after Origin.”
No matter the character, the base mechanics of Ys Origin are the same; one button is for normal physical attacks that can chain into combos, and another is to activate a special ability or magic. These abilities are distinguished enough between each character and establishes the differences in playstyle well. They also serve combat and exploration roles during the game, such as Yunica’s Whirlwind which not only is useful for crowd control in battle, but is also necessary to make long jumps while platforming.
Characters also possess a “Boost Meter” that slowly fills as time progresses in the game. Once this meter fills completely, that character can be temporarily “Boosted” for quicker and stronger attacks and far greater defense. On top of that, once certain conditions have been reached during gameplay, boosted characters can use a special move called “Burst” that quickly depletes their Boost meter to activate an ultra-powerful, extremely wide-ranging release of highly destructive energy. As an extra bonus, Ys Origin rewards continuous kills by dropping items which grant temporary stat boosts. For the permanent boosts, you collect Spiritual Points (SP) from fallen foes and offer them to the Goddess Statues littered around the tower. There are tons of boosts that range from stat increases, equipment optimization, and more.
While the mechanics sound a bit on the chaotic side, the concepts behind them are easy to execute with just a bit of practice. The controls themselves are smooth and characters are a breeze to maneuver around the battlefield, and those tight controls are balanced well with a surprisingly deep combat system and enemies that require a variety of strategies to defeat. Boss battles can be incredibly challenging, with even the first one testing players’ abilities to apply what they learned right from the start.
“While the mechanics sound a bit on the chaotic side, the concepts behind them are easy to execute with just a bit of practice.”
Outside of battle, the platforming is also consistently challenging and has a more traditional difficulty curve that drives home each skill and trick that you mastered just beforehand. And unlike a good amount of other action-based JRPGs, the platforming feels like a natural extension of gameplay and not a tacked on feature to pad out the game.
Despite how you navigate through a single tower, the enemy variety and the variance of the rooms and puzzles make a single 10-hour playthrough feel free and fun until the very end. Not to mention, the replayability from the three characters in Ys Origins livens up gameplay and story in a huge way.
The visuals are beautiful, a sort of 3D sprite art graphical style that looks both fantastic and ensures silky smooth gameplay. Each section of Darm Tower for the most part has a distinctive layout, with only a few repeating sections sprinkled around. The classic looking artstyle and character designs are clean and possess that nice nostalgic charm, and the sound design is excellent through both its sound effects and the score. And though entirely gratuitous, I appreciate the option to add blood when slaying enemies and the ability to control how much of it appears (naturally I chose the “gory” option).
Ys Origin has a great localization as well, which nails the often difficult balance between an accurate translation with one that sounds natural. I’m hesitant to clamor for full voice work; on one hand it would be the perfect way to bring out the solid script and allow more people to appreciate it. But on the other, the sometimes inconsistent nature of voice acting for smaller titles means we could have been stuck with something mediocre that muddles the script instead. So instead I’ll appreciate the opportunity to imagine my own voices for each character.
“Ys Origin is a choice that you’d be hard pressed to pass up — especially for its price.”
It’s difficult to find much wrong with Ys Origin; it is a short game, but one that delivers on every front and offers great replayability value to boot. As a bonus, it’s a good entry point for beginners to the Ys franchise due to its prequel status. In fact, because of the importance of the lore it details, this makes for an excellent foundation for the later games.
For those who want an enjoyable title with simple and layered combat system, great character and sound design, spot on localization, lovely graphics, and a story that delves into the franchise as a whole, Ys Origin is a choice that you’d be hard pressed to pass up — especially for its price.