Top Game Discoveries of 2015: #2 – Ys Origin

yunica_iconAs a series, Falcom’s Ys chronicles the adventures of a red-haired youth named Adol Christin who travels around a European-inspired continent called Esteria. He traverses an overworld, explores dungeons, visits towns, helps people, slaughters hoards of monsters, and usually ends up exterminating some giant demon. In this context, Ys Origin is an anomaly, presenting a unique experience from any other Ys game.

While it’s still an action-RPG, Origin takes place entirely inside a tower. There’s no overworld, no towns, very little in the way of side quests, and most unusual of all, no Adol Christin (well, aside from an unlockable bonus). It’s a fairly straightforward climb up the tower, mainly consisting of combat and platforming. For this reason, many Ys fans consider it one of the weaker games in the series.

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Ys Origin was not my first Ys game (that was the TurboGrafx port of Ys Book I & II via the Wii Virtual Console), but it was my second, so maybe it’s easier for me to appreciate it more on its own terms. However, it does have some specific characteristics that appeal to me, personally.

The game’s general linearity and heavy emphasis on combat almost make it feel more like an arcade game. In lieu of Adol, the game provides three other playable characters: Yunica, Hugo and Toal, the latter of which is unlocked after finishing the game once. The variety of characters, the game’s relative brevity, and its replayability combine to create an enjoyable dungeon crawler that appeals to my affection for arcade-style games.

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The combat, itself, is extremely well done, with enough depth and technique that Ys Origin practically qualifies as a straight-up action game. Each character plays differently, with Yunica and Toal being melee fighters, and Hugo’s magic functioning like that of a run-and-gun shooter (another genre I’m quite fond of). The boss fights are clever and epic, and while they can occasionally seem cheap at first, rest assured, there’s always a technique to it.

But beyond the gameplay, I found the characters and story to be quite charming, and they really won me over. Yunica, in particular, struck a chord with me as an appealing character whose development over the adventure was really enjoyable to experience. Hugo, by contrast, is an enormous prick for most of the game, but if you can put up with him for long enough, he turns out to be pretty cool by the end. Toal’s game is considered the canonical version of the story, and it ties everything together, but even he has a few surprises in store. It all culminates in an ending that (as you can probably guess) sets up the events that unfold in the original Ys I & II.

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I enjoy action-RPGs in general, but it takes a lot to get me to play through one three times in a row. Ys Origin did just that, and while I really enjoyed the other Ys games I’ve played, the uniqueness of Origin makes it stand out for me. It’s not just one of my favorite game discoveries this year, but easily one of my favorite action-RPGs ever.

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