Ys Origin PS4 Review
Old-school PSOne-style visuals
Challenging, responsive combat
Varied enemies and boss battles
Great map design
An unrelenting dungeon crawl
Lack of visual or thematic variation
From its premiere Falcom credits screen, Ys Origin pulled me back into my PSOne years and kept me there for the long haul. An adventure colored by sprite characters in a 3D environment and a sprawling backstory, it touts all the character of old Square Soft titles Legend of Dragoon and Legend of Mana, as well as the at-times overwhelming text-based dialogue and equipment and skill systems that trained my mild milky generation to be meticulous. Nostalgia aside, Ys is firmly packed with well-founded mechanics, swift controls, and incredibly enjoyable gameplay that entertained yet somehow failed to inspire me. A weak overall story lined with Ys lore and uncompelling dialogue holds back the exciting gameplay from being a fulfilling RPG experience.
Ys follows the generic story of the axe-wielding Yunica and caster Hugo as they slay demons and unlock doors in a long repetitive tower ascent. A newcomer to the series, any backstory or context provided by Origin was immediately lost on me. As with many if not most RPGs, lore can read like the most esoteric knowledge with a bits of English thrown in as filler when you’re not in the know. Goddesses, demons, spirits; it all seemed to boil down to good-vs-evil, “now go kill some demons.” Maybe Origin works as a cohesive element to the rest of the Ys world but it fails to stand alone. Other than that, no twists or turns, resolution, or motivation.
Killing demons can be a blast. Gameplay feels familiar, like a call back to the Mana titles, but played tighter than many other ARPGs. Combat is punchy and fun, featuring a variety of dexterous attacks, charge ups, and unique elemental spells for both characters. The notably high frame-rate pushed the action to feel swift and light. Yunica’s fight is versatile, allowing her to litter her fast close range combos with powerful crowd control spells. Hugo’s ranged magic was similarly versatile but called for a completely different playstyle. As you crawl deeper into the dungeon, you discover magical objects that unlock new and distinct spells for either character.
Enemies are varied and incredibly fun to fight. Hordes of enemies turn the environment into a horizontally-styled bullet hell with a slew of projectiles, buzz saw spells, and traps. As a bullet hell fanatic, I typically found that the more difficult the enemy, the better. Bosses are spectacularly sized and puzzle-like, almost Zelda-ish, in the combat behavior. For example, the boss Pictimos cages players by summoning a wall of stalagmites, follows up by launching magical buzz saws their way, and finally tracing the floor with laser blasts. The giant centipede Nygtilger’s sheets his environment in lightning blasts, leaving narrow margin for escape. I loved every minute of it.
A majority of the game is spent navigating dungeon after dungeon without much “exploring.” Maps are interesting, packing plenty of secrets and puzzles into their maze-like construct, but get tiresome after long. While environments are beautifully detailed and varied, I really missed the sigh of respite that open fields or towns typically offer in larger RPG projects. Despite often blocky 3D elements, backgrounds and battlefields still communicated a sense of vastness; early on in the game, I recall a bird’s eye view of a massive nearby lava flow being just as impactful as it would’ve been as a highly detailed, big budget landscape.
An understanding of Ys Origin’s context as part of the greater series could have bolstered my appreciation for the title; however, at no time did the story truly intrigue or invite my curiosity. While its sharp gameplay got me going, the entire experience would’ve been enriched by deeper RPG storytelling elements. Not your 60+ time sink but a fun little ARPG for a rainy Sunday afternoon.