Some eleven years after its original Japanese release, Ys Origin has been brought to PlayStation 4 by publisher DotEmu (via a PC localisation by XSEED back in 2006). Set 700 years before the events of the main Ys series, Origin steers away from the series' familiar protagonist Adol Christin in order to focus on the background of the series' story by exploring the world through the eyes of new characters.
Kicking things off, you have a choice of playing as one of two characters with very different playstyles - thankfully there's a brief explanation of the tactical benefits and drawbacks at the choice screen in order to aid the decision-making. First up is Yunica Tovah, an apprentice who initially wields an axe before upgrading to a sword later in the game. While Yunica cannot cast magic of her own accord, the second character, Hugo Fact, can, and he specialises in magic attacks propelled by his staff. Yunica excels at more close range offensives, whereas Hugo is the opposite and attacks from a distance, so it comes down to what you prefer.
No matter which character you choose, the aim of the game is the same; you'll need to navigate a tower in order to save the two goddesses of the fictional world. However, each character does have their own individual story arc, so there's a good amount of replayability for those wishing to squeeze every drop of content out of the game.
As is to be expected, defeating enemies earns experience points which help you level up. There's also the chance of picking up other items from the floor - buffs, restoratives, and the like - which can aid you through the dungeons. Typically these items are dropped by fallen foes, but can also be obtained via broken vases. Looting chests will give the opportunity to pick up more rare items, such as the occasional inventory item, weapons, and equipment - it's all pretty standard stuff for the genre. There's also a basic skill system in place, which lets you increase your health, attack, etc.
Ys Origin plays really well, and feels very intuitive throughout - navigation feels especially wonderful and fluid. There's no wondering where attacks are going to land; they land exactly where you expect them thanks to some impressively tight controls. There is some initial difficulty in ascertaining where flying enemies are height-wise, but once you experience this a few times, you'll undoubtedly become more accurate. Meanwhile, some platforming segments do feel a little hit-and-miss, but ultimately, once you're used to the way the game handles, it all becomes effortless.
Ys Origin feels like a stark contrast to the majority of Japanese RPGs being made today. There's no auto-save function, no map, and no viewable quest objective. You're encouraged to rely on your own skill and intuition to progress through the game, and as each area is cleared, it feels like a real achievement as a result. Tactics should be the priority, as progressing to an area where you might experience a difficulty spike, or worse, be beaten by a boss, will set you back to the last save point. It's therefore imperative to think about how well you're doing in each section and how you'll cope with what's to come in order to avoid any progress being lost in vain.
Though the game looks and feels spectacular, the gameplay provides very little in terms of variety overall, meaning that proceedings may prove monotonous for some over time - even the music is repetitive and forgettable. There's also no verbal dialogue, and altogether, the repetition can eventually reach rather mind-numbing levels. Fortunately, though, the game does seem to know when it's in danger of becoming too tedious, and tends to throw in a boss battle or a new type of enemy to contend with - and ultimately, there's not much time to dwell on things anyway, as the game itself is fairly fast-paced, with most battles over with within seconds and the story concluding relatively quickly.
While things can feel monotonous in places, Ys Origin is a fun ride, and a great introduction to the series for newcomers. Existing fans are sure to enjoy the additional story, though - it's one that only adds to an already rich mythology. Feeling like a fresh escape from the hand-holding that's found in many RPGs these days, Ys Origin is also a welcome challenge that's sure to please those looking to test their skills.