Thursday, March 16, 2017

Ys Origin (PS4) Review

A certain new console from a certain big company behind a certain popular plumber released early this month, but SuperPhillip Central's focus right now for its first review of March is Ys Origin. This PlayStation 4 port was handled by DotEmu, and overall, the port turned out okay. Here's the full review of the PS4 version... then later on this month we'll dive into that certain new console!

This could be the start of something big.

...And it is... somewhat. The Ys series may not have the same level of clout or popularity in the gaming world as RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, but it has survived and thrived with a dedicated fan base of players both in Japan and on this side of the world. As the title suggests, Ys Origin is a beginning tale that sets the series into full motion. This is a game long before the pursuits and adventures of the series' main hero, the redheaded Adol Christin. The original Ys Origin launched 12 years ago on PCs in Japan. About four years ago, XSEED Games finally localized the game for Western markets. Now, DotEmu brings the game to a home console for the first time with this PlayStation 4 port. It's overall imperfect even when compared to XSEED's initial offering, but it's worth a look regardless.

Ys Origin has you taking on the role of one of two characters that you can select from right from the get-go of the game, either the close quarters, axe-wielder Yunica Tovah or the magic-using Hugo Fact. Your character is a part of a search party that enters a foreboding structure known as The Devil's Tower. The search is to find a pair of missing goddesses that entered into the tower for unknown reasons. Meanwhile, there is a nefarious and pure evil group wishing to not just harness but to unleash the demonic energy from something called the Black Pearl, and they interact with our heroes throughout their climb up the tower.

Regardless of who you select to play as at the start of the game, the main journey plays out the same. Only there are different conversations between characters as well as a slightly changed order of bosses to take on. The main discrepancy between the two characters is how they play. Yunica is a hard-hitting, close-range wielder of an axe. Her attacks are slow, but they do some significant damage. Meanwhile, Hugo uses a volley of light energy to attack foes, requiring constant presses of the attack command to unleash each series of shots. Along each characters' adventure, they'll come across specific items granting wind, thunder, and fire skills. While Yunica's wind skill involves her spinning her axe like a whirlwind, Hugo's wind skill gives him a temporary shield that can be used to deal damage to nearby foes as well as slow his descent across small distances.

Sometimes a wizard just needs a breath of the outdoor air.
Each characters' unique ways of attacking means that players can and will practically have to change up how they tackle the various battles they face, whether typical enemy onslaughts or battles with bosses. In addition to Yunica and Hugo, a third playable character is available once the initial two character stories have been completed. Note: This is unlike the XSEED Games Steam version, which only required players to beat one of the two stories to unlock the third. This may sound extremely tedious-- playing through the same game thrice-- but three things keep Ys Origin from growing stale quickly. First is the gameplay variety in how each of the three play. Then, there's their individual tales shining more light on the overall story. Finally, there's the ability to play on different difficulties, making enemies harder and boss battles all the more brutal.

For those who haven't played either the Japanese original or XSEED's localized Steam version, Ys Origin plays similarly to Ys games like Oath in Felghana and Ark of Napishtim and not like the more modern Ys Seven and Memories of Celceta. Hugo and Yunica are able to jump freely, meaning there's a focus on both combat and platforming.

And sometimes an apprentice knight... needs a smell of a pool of blood? Wait. What?
Ys Origin totally takes place with The Devil's Tower. Your goal is to move up its 25 floors to the very summit. Despite the idea of this Ys occurring in one place, the theme of each section of floors is different. One is a watery passage with some flooded parts to contend with (requiring finding vases filled with energy for your oxygen meter, lest you wish to drown) while another is themed after desert ruins complete with quicksand and sand slides.

Areas of the tower mostly have you attacking and defeating foes, who don't drop money but instead skill points. These skill points or SP can be used at various save statues to grant permanent boosts to things like decreased MP consumption, the increase of how much SP you gain from a defeated foe, a decrease to how much damage certain terrain like lava or spikes gives you, etc.

Well, you didn't expect them to roll out the red carpet
and let you ride an elevator to the top of this tower, did you?
Ys Origin is less about puzzle-solving like games of its type and more about exploration. Yes, there are some doors that need unlocking, but it's usually as simple as stepping on a nearby button or at most, lighting up several surrounding torches. Exploration not only comes from finding the necessary path of progression, but also discovering plenty of secret areas where and treasure chests are stored, housing things like boosts to your character's skills, new equipment, ore that can be refined to strengthen your weapon, and HP-increasing elixirs.

You know a major segment of the tower is almost over when you reach a giant sealed door requiring a medallion of some kind to fit inside it. Sure, you can occasionally lack the necessary medallion you need, forcing you to backtrack through the current segment, but the areas aren't overwhelming at all in size. Even if you have to return to a previous area of the tower, the ability to fast travel between save statues makes backtracking painless. This makes things like finding the required medallion or key to a door you can't get passed all the less annoying.

I always found myself giddy with excitement when a medallion door
presented itself because that meant a cool boss fight was on the other side.
These medallion doors lead to the tower area's boss, and if you're familiar with the Ys games, then you know what to expect; awesome encounters that are not only amazing in spectacle but battles that will push your action-RPG skills to the limit. Boss battles present you with patterns to learn, openings to find in order to attack the enemy, and the requirement of patience. Merely slashing or striking with no regard will generally end in death quite quickly. Due to the fact that there is no way of healing your character in battle, these climactic encounters require you to pay attention, endure, and most importantly rely on their own skills to overcome. Even through death, a simple hit of the "Retry" prompt will return you to the battle, and if you wish to live to fight another day, when you reload your save, you can fast forward through any preceding dialogue.

You may die once or twice (or ten) times, but finally taking down a tough boss is a great feeling.
Ys Origin originally released near the end of 2006. It's obviously now 2017, so there's no question that what was a dated-looking game then is an even more dated-looking game now. Despite this, everything from the main characters, to the enemies, and to the 3D models of the environments all look well and good. The level of detail isn't tremendous, but what there is here in Ys Origin is pleasant on the eyes. Something that will never be dated is the fantastic score, once again showcasing the Ys series' penchant for awesome soundtracks. Whether it's a pumping theme that plays as you're pushing yourself to survive a particularly tough boss battle or a more melancholy tune that plays during an emotional scene, Ys Origin satisfies with its sound.

However, the work that DotEmu has done in bringing Ys Origin from the PC to the PlayStation 4 isn't without problems. A big one is the occasional crashing of the game, so make sure if you're participating in a grinding session to either level your character up or to accumulate SP, that you remember to occasionally go back and save your progress so you don't lose precious time. Then there's the ridiculously small HUD, which uses tiny icons and even tinier font. This was the type of game I had to sit closer to my TV screen than I would have liked. Smaller issues include some audio and graphical glitches. These don't ruin the experience, but they do lessen the quality of the port.

If you've been waiting for a reason to replay or play Ys Origin for the first time, then this PlayStation 4 port, while greatly imperfect, is still a worthy choice, especially if you want the ability to play it on the go when the PlayStation Vita port releases this May. (Both versions are cross-buy.) While the problems presented in this port make for a less than stellar experience compared to XSEED's Steam version, you still get a fantastic action-RPG for your PlayStation systems while you wait for Lacrimosa of Dana later this year.

[SPC Says: B]

Review copy provided by DotEmu.

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