I’ve played plenty of Ys games at this point, and while each modern entry or port of a classic one has plenty of differences from the last, the red-haired protagonist Adol has remained a constant. This sword-swinging adventurer has been at the forefront of every entry in this series of standalone journeys, serving as the one familiar anchor for all of these various adventures to form around. Ys Origin isn’t about Adol’s first adventure or his troubled youth, though. Instead, this prequel is set 600 years before any other entry in the game, and while the world and characters are incredibly different, the fast-paced action-adventure DNA of the franchise is more apparent than ever.
Ys Origin is an older entry in the long-running Nihon Falcom franchise, originally coming out nearly 14 years ago. It’s seen various ports to Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and even the Xbox One, so this Nintendo Switch release is simply bringing a classic journey to yet another platform.
You’ve got two different characters to play as initially before later unlocking a third by beating the game, and while none of them are series poster-boy Adol, they’re just as fun to play as and end up having a heck of a lot more character development and growth. Yunica is a close-range brawler with a beefy giant axe, while Hugo is a mage gifted with wild long-range abilities.
What’s great about this character choice is that each protagonist doesn’t just have a different playstyle, they have surprisingly different story arcs as well. Each one is thrust into the same scenario of climbing a daunting tower to rescue the two goddesses who helped make the land of Ys flourish, saving them from from nefarious demons who seek to obtain the power of the Black Pearl. Beyond that, their motivations for navigating the tower, as well as what ends up happening to them on their journey, differ enough to easily warrant a playthrough with each hero, even if you aren’t the type to replay a game.
The gameplay and pacing are the icing on the cake if you want to dive into the main story multiple times. Despite being a 14-year-old top-down action game, Ys Origin has some of the tightest and smoothest combat I’ve ever seen from an ageing dungeon crawler. You can dole out a simple single button combo string that can be mixed up with some dash attacks or jumping attacks, and then there’s various powerful skill attacks that can sometimes double up as handy navigation tools. Yunica’s Whirlwind is a powerful attack, for example, but it can also help you leap through the air during tricky platforming sections.
Over-leveled enemies and punishing bosses will keep you on your toes throughout the game, but at the end of the day, dishing out the same string of attacks over and over can prove to be a little mind-numbing during the lengthier sections of the game.
One of the most interesting gameplay features of this game is actually actually the absence of a particular feature. In Ys Origin, you ain’t got no dang map! While most exploration-heavy RPGs provide a mini-map to keep track of your dungeon progress with, Ys Origin is built around the idea of relying solely on yourself and your own intuition to navigate the winding pathways of the tower and figure out where your next destination is located.
This is a really rewarding experience that scratches the same sort of itch that Souls games and Bloodborne do. However, considering this game has a leveling system that can mean life or death, getting turned around and lost by the lack of a map can also end up leading to frustrating encounters with wildly powerful enemies.
Being a port of a 14-year-old adventure game also means that Ys origin looks and runs pretty flawless on the Nintendo Switch. Whether you’re playing handheld or docked, the framerate never hitches and the old-school polygonal sprite artwork of the game pops on the big screen just as much as it does on the small screen. A quirk from earlier ports of this game removed the blood splatters and mild viscera from the game, but a newly added blood setting lets you tick those boxes back on if you so choose.