Ys Origin Review
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On 07/26/2012 at 11:54 PM by Travis Hawks
A devastating tale of love lost… for a game reviewer.
For the Ys obsessed only.
It’s pretty heartbreaking when you are really enjoying a game only to have it all hit a breakneck stop and you just want it all to end already. Such was my experience with Ys Origin - a prequel to the long running Ys series from Falcom that is finally available in English after first being released in Japan years ago. I spent several hours mesmerized: loving the combat, wondering what would happen in the story, and considering if I would soon be buying other games in the series to satisfy my nascent Ys fandom. Then, the game’s off-kilter balancing rammed me into a wall. Then another. And another. Time after time, Ys Origin mires you in lengthy forced grinding situations, and that one fault is the game’s undoing.
Like I said, at first I was smitten. The game uses an isometric presentation, harkening back to the limited processing power of yesteryear, but its style has been ‘zazzed up with relatively modern solid models and clean, intricate texture work. The way the game looks is gorgeous in its crispness, with the characters’ bright colors standing out against the muted (but not drab) color palette of the setting. It’s all made even more invigorating thanks to a mashup of butt and prog rock ripping through the levels.
You’re immediately grabbed with a lengthy anime story sequence when you start up a new game. No words are spoken, but it’s an intriguing visual vignette that gets you wondering what the heck is going on with a dark tower spewing tendrils at a glowing heaven-sent orb. As you climb the shadowy tower, explanations are slowly revealed with traditional silhouette slide-in/text-box dialogue between characters – which are not as flashy as that opening scene, but fit nicely with the throwback aura of the game. The story will have a slightly different angle depending on which character you select at the beginning - Yunica the knight’s daughter specializing in close combat or Hugo, the projectile-blasting magician.
If you’re like me, you’ll pick a character based on which play style you prefer, but be warned: Hugo is the classic role playing game asshole that is out to save the world and learn valuable life lessons along the way… whilst you groan. I spent less time with Yunica, but her naive in-over-her-head 'genericter' seems much less insufferable. But, again, it all comes down to your combat preferences: close-quarters axe swinging or magical energy blasts from afar, since only the dialogue and attack methods really differentiate your character choice.
Each character’s basic attack is supplemented by additional treasures found throughout the tower, which give you a nice variety of means to dispatch the oncoming hordes. The special attacks are upgraded as you go too, so the bombs that Hugo drops in his wake will eventually get stronger and stronger as you find the proper gems to increase their effectiveness. All of this makes the combat pretty enjoyable and that’s a good thing since you will be doing so much of it.
And this is where Ys Origins’ flaws start to poke through its pleasing appearance and satisfying combat: the balancing. At the beginning, when you are traveling up the bottom few floors of the tower, all is well. Very rarely did I have to stop progressing and go back through rooms simply for the sake of leveling up. This all changes about halfway up the tower when you hit your first wall that makes you mindlessly mash buttons and take out the same enemies over and over as you slowly level up. Once you finally clear that hurdle, you’ll face a refreshing fun time clambering through the tower’s rooms, flipping switches to open doors, defeating special enemies to open a chest, and so on. Nothing revolutionary, but it’s all pretty fun until you hit the next impassable point.
You come to recognize these roadblocks - the damage you dish out suddenly drops to one HP per strike from your weapon, making it nigh impossible to really take anyone down. This means you’ve got to head back to the slightly easier section and run in circles for a bit to level up. Sometimes it takes more than one level increase to make a difference, and one level too far will make the invincible beasts into the flimsiest patsy-demons ever conceived. This is the problem - each set of bad guys (including bosses) has a certain level where the damage you can inflict makes it the perfect challenge. If you are one notch below or above that particular level then there is either no way to proceed or no challenge. To a degree, this is present in all RPGs, but here it’s to excess. This problem (and hence the entire game) could have been fixed by just tweaking the enemies’ stats behind the scenes, but now we’re stuck with a laborious grind-fest that only lets up long enough to show us what could have been.
Glorious moments like the boss encounters motivate you to struggle along for a while against the dysfunctional balancing - boss battles that are the most enjoyable fights I’ve faced in some time. Each boss has a pattern of attacks and weakness, much like many other games -- Zelda included -- but uncovering those patterns can be pretty challenging here. From large, screen-filling demons to teleporting feathered critters not much taller than your squat avatar, each boss battle is a polished event that can inspire you to keep plugging away at the low level mooks in order to advance to the next one... for a while.
Tackling Ys Origin takes real determination. Punching your way through obstacle after obstacle that has the same solution (grinding) requires a certain type of player. If you can achieve some sort of transcendental state doing this sort of thing, then Ys Origin might not bother you too much. For me, getting stuck and knowing exactly what I would be mindlessly doing for the next half hour or so made me more and more frustrated the longer I played. Especially when I would power through each section and then delight in the next set of tower floors that were filled with nice platforming, fun puzzles, and breezy combat against new enemies I hadn’t been slaughtering en masse without a breather. And so, I’m left a bit saddened by the whole experience. Ys Origin has all the right parts in the right places; it’s simply unbalanced to such a degree that most everyone should avoid it.