Saturday, March 5, 2016

Ys: Origin - Thoughts

My journey through the world of Ys momentarily ends on Ys: Origin, the modern prequel to the first two Ys books (er, games). Origin takes the Oath in Felghana formula and refines it, hitching the blood-pumping action onto a linear path to reduce backtracking. Gone is the open world and its towns, replaced by more interesting levels, better bosses, and an overall smoother progression. It still remains an eccentric Ys game at heart, with its hard focus on leveling and generally unambitious plot, but I'd contest that it's the best one I've played so far.

Back in Ys I, there's a gargantuan tower that you climb in the latter half of the game that's surprisingly long and full of labyrinthine corridors. Ys: Origin revisits this tower in its entirety, basing the entire narrative around the 25 floor behemoth. Thankfully the game takes ample liberties in re-imagining its rooms, treasures, and gimmicks, providing a completely new experience in a somewhat familiar setting. Perhaps the only thing I miss is visiting towns—for better or worse, the tower is your home now—but at least there's still a colorful cast of NPCs to chat with.

Speaking of, there's a better sense of camaraderie and fealty in Origin compared to the other titles. No longer do you play as the reticent Adol visiting a foreign land; you have the choice between three characters related to Ys in some particular way, each with their own unique storyline. My playthrough delved into the struggles of Yunica, an ax-wielding understudy of the Holy Order bound by duty to locate and rescue the goddesses of Ys. It was refreshing to play a game in this series where you're not some perfect savior that everyone falls in love with, but instead a sheltered local that has her own hurdles to overcome. While the plot follows a pretty unremarkable structure, the NPCs feel like they play a far bigger role and the pacing of the story beats is great, interrupting the game at exactly the right time.

As I said in my Oath in Felghana entry, the story and presentation in this series always takes a backseat to the fast-paced gameplay. The action piggybacks off of Felghana, but the magic is perfectly balanced (I preferred all spells equally) and the enemies have been tremendously improved. Though each area may be somewhat gimmicky, the environmental hazards and enemy combinations completely outclass Felghana, no longer feeling like needless filler before the adrenaline-fueled bosses. Looking back there's still some things the designers could tweak (like mixing more hazards and enemy types together), but what's here is still the best Falcom has offered.

I cannot understate how great the boss fights are either; the jump in boss quality from Felghana to Origin is almost as large as Ys I to Ys II. While I enjoyed only a minority of the bosses in Felghana, Origin knocks it out of the park with nearly every single one. No longer is it difficult to decipher what is happening or how to avoid attacks—within one or two attempts you should be able to devise a strategy for taking down your foe. Every encounter (outside of that goddamn bat again) is fluid and fast paced, demanding that you to learn your opponent's moveset in order to survive. Perhaps the only problem is that since it is a Ys game, grinding one additional level out will decimate a boss, so it can be tricky to find the middle-ground between "overwhelmingly difficult" and "yawn".

Also, have I said how great the magic is? Charge attacks never lose their charm even after the 100th time.

Whereas Ys I & II left me lukewarm by the end, I was thrilled to finish Ys Origin. It avoids so many pitfalls that the previous entries fall into, finally coming together to form a game where I could side with the fanbase's praise. The music is also fantastic and sublime, which is par for the course really, but needs to be stated anyway. I will confess that Origin is great because it stands on the shoulders of its successors—there were multiple points where I thought "oh, this is a cool throwback to Ys I"—but I don't think it diminishes from its own personal accomplishments. If the newer titles in the series are more like this, then it appears I have some games in the future to look forward to.

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