It all starts with an oof. When the first humans walked the Earth and saw each other they said oof. When they rolled out of bed for the first time they said oof. Then again the second time. When cowboys got trod on by their horse they said oof. Or was that hoof? We’ll never know. Like those great moments in history, it’s also how the Ys series started.
The Ys (pronounced Yeese) series has quite an elusive history with a lot of its main games being on systems nobody owned. It started life in 1987 on the PC-8801, with recent entries being left to die on the PSP or Vita, and some never making it out of Japan. Now with a worldwide Switch release of Ys VIII, several PC ports, and Ys Origin bringing the series to Xbox for the first time, it feels like the series is finally getting some breathing room. I’ve recently finished a playthrough of Ys Origin and thought I’d write this little review to explain the strengths of the Ys series, and what makes Origin worth playing.
Firstly the game is very short. This is a good thing? Yes because it’s not lacking in content at all, the length is mainly due to the quick battle system and fast 2D movement. Instead of a drawn out one minute turn-based dramatic battle you can destroy an enemy in one second without any screen transition at all. Just mash attack and keep running to the hype background music. Rooms are also structured with a fixed camera over isometric 3D, and small enough to run through quickly if you know where you’re going. Even if you don’t know where you’re going you can run around in circles very quickly. It’s a very streamlined game from a core gameplay perspective without much downtime.
The real-time combat is quite fun and addictive despite its simple nature, and still tied to level progression and skill unlocks. When you unlock more skills you simply get more movement options, like a whirlwind that lets you jump further and also does damage. Now you’re moving even faster and can reach that ledge you couldn’t before. Now there’s a new ability or key on that ledge that lets you get to another place. The progression combines items, movement and abilities to open up the map further for an added adventure feeling. It has many different elements that are just fun to play and they are connected quite seamlessly. The game design is very basic but has a high sense of satisfaction, mostly due to how awesome it feels to move and attack. I liked the sound effects but had to turn rumble off however, as it was ridiculously over the top and obnoxiously loud. (you can toggle that in the Xbox One system settings, not the game unfortunately)
The game’s battle system is all about movement and positioning. The boss fights are where the combat absolutely shines and have their own unique designs and patterns that work very well with the core gameplay. Bosses have pretty massive health bars too so you need to make sure you’re prepared beforehand. I’m not kidding, you can’t pause the game at all in boss rooms for some reason. So if you have the wrong armour or item equipped the first time you might be screwed. I don’t quite understand this because the fights are long and the only way to go back is to reset the entire game if you need a break. Just a minor annoyance in the grand scheme though, and all the bosses only use your core abilities. There’s nothing absolutely necessary to equip but you just might find yourself doing a lot less damage. The most important thing here is that the boss fights are a lot of fun.
Is this an RPG or a bullet hell shooter? Platformer too? The game doesn’t really care about the rules and I think is best described as an “action RPG”. Lotsa jumping and slashing and running around. If you’re worried about the difficulty there’s Easy, Normal, Hard, Inferno and Nightmare to choose from. For some reason you have to unlock “Very Easy” after a normal playthrough, kinda defeating the point if you’ve already beaten it. I guess they wanted a slight challenge for everyone but it’s nothing too crazy and you can always grind if you find Easy too tough. It’s only in the later difficulties where you need to dodge enemy patterns perfectly.
The graphics are quite bland but this just gives even more attention to the fast combat. There’s no need for any bells and whistles. If we had a long drawn out 3D sequence for each battle it wouldn’t look that good anyway, you would just see the grain on the walls. Save that for the big budget AAA games. I’m sure there’s some guy in an Ubisoft office right now modeling some perfect cracks on a wall, wishing he was working on a Ys game. Ys Origin never tries to push above its weight in the technical department, and that makes it a consistent experience. The graphics being bland didn’t bother me at all because they are also super clean and comfy. The game runs at a satisfying 60fps and movement feels very good. It’s all designed with a minimal approach to maximise the feel of the game rather than be cinematic. During dialogue you can still appreciate the great art design and quality writing. It does its own thing very well and not much else.
The whole game takes place in a tower, and you progress by climbing floors until you get to the top. The one drawback of the bland graphics is that every floor can start to feel the same after a while and it’s easy to miss important items. At least that’s what I told myself when I missed a significant upgrade and spent an hour trying to remember where I hadn’t been. Just that one ledge I accidentally walked past several times, ah well.
Ys Origin is a great game, maybe not the best in the series but a good place to start. It won’t really change your life or make any top 10 lists but it’s comfy and enjoyable. Ys VIII on the Switch is closer to being a lifechanging masterpiece, but also significantly longer and full priced compared to this budget release. I’ll talk about Ys VIII another day but just wanted to take a moment to recommend Ys Origin because it’s such a short, no-nonsense playthrough and quite an enjoyable slice of gaming pie that’s accessible to anyone with a PS4, Xbox One or PC. There aren’t many little RPGs of this quality out there. There’s also huge replayability after the initial playthrough, with multiple characters to play as, and other modes to unlock such as Time Attack and Boss Rush. I hope more people give Ys a chance because it’s quite a long running series that has never really seen huge success. It would be great to see more games in the series re-released in Origin style, or simply ported to Switch. I’ll leave you with the coolest thing about the world of Ys, the two moons.