I really haven't been keeping up with producing content at the rate I'd like to be. Setting a month aside to play Trails of Cold Steel II likely has something to do with this, but there's definitely something more there. I continue to grapple with bouts of depression and an overall refusal to accept that anything I do is worth anything. Even though I enjoy writing and making videos about games, these feelings definitely cut into my motivation--but I don't intend to give up. Last night, I finished a video on Ys Origin, which can be viewed below, followed by a text-only entry for those of us who don't really care for videos!
A few months back, I decided to start playing through the Ys series from the beginning. I'm not sure what motivated me to do so other than out of respect for Falcom as a developer. I really enjoy the Trails series and I'd always been planning on trying the series anyway, so why not play them all? I really enjoy studying how series evolve over time and I think tackling a series of action RPGs is not as monumental a task as I might have ahead of me with a series of traditional RPGs in mind. (Dragon Quest is a good example; I've still only played the first four of those.) I started with the first two games in the series as presented in Ys I + II Chronicles+ and then moved on to Ys III, playing both the Super Nintendo version Wanderers from Ys and also the far superior remake The Oath in Felghana, on PC. Ys Origin doesn’t fall as tidily into the chronology of the series since it’s technically a prequel to the first two games, taking place some 700 years beforehand and not featuring the traditional series protagonist, Adol. I could have played Origin right after the first two games, but after doing some research, I found out that it uses the same engine as The Oath in Felghana and was released after it--so I decided to play Felghana first. This of course still leaves Ark of Napishtim, which was technically released before even Felghana, but it’s chronologically the sixth in the series so I think I’ll leave that one for later.
Ys Origin is chronologically the earliest in the Ys series, at least as far as the story is concerned. It adds additional backstory to Ys I and II but as mentioned before, uses the same engine as Ys: The Oath in Felghana. Unlike that game, however, Ys Origin features three distinct playable characters who lived long before Adol took the first steps of his journey. Each of these characters belongs to one of the famed Houses alluded to in Ys I and II. Yunica Tovah essentially serves as a stand-in for Adol as her play style most closely resembles the gameplay from The Oath in Felghana. Since I played it shortly before this, I felt pretty comfortable jumping right in with her for my first experience with the game.The other two characters are actually quite different in terms of style.
|Believe it or not, she uses an axe in combat.|
Long before the events of Ancient Ys Vanished, twin goddesses Reah and Feena rule the prosperous and magical land of Ys--which inevitably is besieged by demons. In an effort to rid themselves of the demonic menace, the goddesses and their people sought shelter in Solomon Shrine, atop the land’s highest mountain. In a last ditch effort to fend off the enemy, the goddesses called upon the aid of an artifact called the Black Pearl to uproot the mountain and ascend far into the heavens. Not to be outdone, the demons erected an unholy tower in an effort to reach the land of Ys and continue their devastation. Amidst the chaos, the twin goddesses suddenly disappear, leaving a small contingent of Ys knights and magicians to form a search party to find them. In the game’s opening moments, it becomes clear that the goddesses have entered Darm Tower and it’s up to the search party to get to the bottom (or in this case the top) of the mystery.
Players of Ys I and II will recognize several references to that game’s families as the playable and supporting characters sport some familiar names. Additionally, the entirety of the game takes place within Darm Tower, which served as the first game’s final dungeon. It’s a little more complex this time around, but the memorable theme that plays immediately upon entering (and every time you return to the first floor) is yanked straight from Ancient Ys Vanished, although it has been updated and rearranged. Honestly, the idea of spending the entire game in what is essentially one dungeon turned me off at first, since I was worried about repetition. Surprisingly, this wasn’t as much of an issue as I’d imagined, since the layout of the dungeon expands and evolves as you progress your way higher and higher. If repetition was a problem, it’s only because the game encourages you to play through the game once with each character. It would have been nice for the characters’ paths to boast a little more variety, but the distinction between the different characters’ play styles somewhat makes up for that.
|Solomon Shrine rising into the sky.|
As mentioned previously, Yunica Tovah most closely resembles series protagonist Adol Christin. Though she wields an axe as her primary weapon, her methods of attack are very familiar. At the game's very outset, she unlocks a whirlwind ability that very closely resembles the Wind Bracelet from the Oath in Felghana--but it's not magic, she insists. All of the magic is contained within the artifact itself, as it is an important (sort of) plot point that Yunica isn't capable of using magic at all, in stark contrast to the game's other primary playable character, Hugo Fact, a sorcerer through-and-through.
Hugo's playstyle is actually pretty awkward by comparison, at least initially. He's a magic-using character that fires projectiles simultaneously from his staff and the ghostly Eyes of Fact that accompany him at all times. The elemental spells he unlocks over the course of the game are a different story, however, as he has an earth-elemental proximity mine, a wind-elemental shield, and a splashy dual-laser fire attack. He's a lot slower than Yunica, though, which leads to some awkward situations against certain bosses. I appreciated the drastic difference in gameplay pattern but I have to admit I enjoyed him a lot less than Yunica, traditional as she was.
The third playable character, Toal, is another melee, but he possesses no ranged abilities whatsoever--at least not until the very final area of the game. He fits into the berserker archetype and has the capability of transforming into a demon in Boost mode. He's the fastest of the three and maybe the most fun, although his inability to attack from range does makes things more difficult on occasion.
Ys Origin features a wide array of boss encounters, all of which must be tackled in slightly different ways depending on the playable character in question. There are a couple of bosses unique to each character, particularly for Toal, whose route is the most unique. The different ways in which the characters approach these encounters makes the prospect of playing through it three times a bit more palatable. None of these bosses seems to be as bone-crushingly difficult as some of the bosses in The Oath in Felghana, but most are well-designed and interesting.
With Velagunder, you have to deal a certain amount of damage to his mouth until he collapses, at which point you need to run up his arm and frantically attack his exposed brain until he recovers. Dealing the requisite amount of damage to his mouth is the bulk of the fight, where you'll have to dodge bubbles and lasers. Hugo's range gives him an edge up in the fight since he doesn't have to put himself in harm's way to damage the mouth, but his inferior speed means he has a harder time dodging the laser attack. Even so, his Force Shield ability allows him to essentially ignore the bubbles. It is a little awkward having to get that close to Velagunder's brain to damage it, though, so that part of the fight feels a bit more satisfying for Yunica and Toal. Like most bosses in Origin and in fact in The Oath in Felghana, Velagunder gets more tough when he gets low on health, gaining the ability to spawn annoying little worms that leave slime in their wake as well as sucking you in to chomp you for massive damage. Once again, Hugo has a leg up for this part of the fight since he doesn’t even have to worry about dodging the vortex attack since he can just put up his Force Shield to absorb it.
Nygtilger is another clever boss design that spends most of the encounter coiled around the outer wall of a staircase, effectively barring your way to the next level of the tower. This grotesque arthropod doesn’t do a lot of fighting back at first, but like Velagunder, it’s not possible to deal damage to him outright--at first. By destroying the armored plates on its back, you can whittle down its defenses until you can attack its head directly. Of course, the Pestilent Arthropod doesn’t take kindly to the abuse and soon starts tossing out purple orbs that explode after a few seconds. These orbs can be knocked out of the way with careful positioning, but it becomes more and more difficult to keep up with them as the fight progresses, meaning it’s important to do as much damage to the boss as possible in a timely fashion. If not, the fight becomes harder and harder, especially when you remove most of its plates and it curls up into a wheel of all things and begins violently cycling around the arena. Yunica’s Bolt Crash ability does wonders at removing the beast’s plates in the first segment of the fight, but Hugo’s Trap Mine is somewhat less effective. Toal actually can’t damage the plates at all until he can climb directly onto the beast’s back! In this case, Yunica is the best suited for taking the boss down.
|This guy is pretty gross.|
Pictimos is often cited as the most difficult boss in the game, despite it being three or four fights removed from the final encounter. This might be true, but it’s more frustrating than anything else. The Grim Mantid cycles through a set of different attacks that can be fairly easily dodged and it essentially boils down to a test of patience and whittling him down from range. Yunica is relegated to hurling fireballs from the Crimson Lotusblade while Hugo fires off deadly lasers from the Fire Wheel skill. Since it’s generally too dangerous to approach the fight from melee, where then does this leave the melee-only Toal? Although it seems like his version of the fight should be the most difficult of all, it’s actually quite the opposite. Although his fire skill is completely melee, it does provide him with a window of invulnerability, meaning he can generally hurl himself at Pictimos without fearing much in the way of retaliation. Even when the mantid starts summoning swarms of his babies, Toal has very little to fear, since the Inferno skill deals damage to everything around him.
The elemental skills give each character a unique edge in different encounters, but because these skills are used for platforming and exploration as well, they’re also thematically cohesive. For instance, the thunder skill for all three characters is more effective against armored opponents and is in fact required to take certain enemies down, particularly the armored foes in the underwater section of the tower. It can also be used to break down weak walls to find various important artifacts. What’s interesting about this is that even though the skill fulfills the same role for all three characters, the skills are functionally very different. Yunica’s Bolt Crash is effective at hitting enemies above her, for instance, while Hugo’s mines can be used as a way to punish foes that pursue him. And because Toal is strictly melee, his Thunder Claws heal him, providing him with some extra utility while sustaining damage in the fray.
Additionally, each of the three characters use their wind skill to get over large gaps. Yunica does so by whirling herself through the air, while Hugo simply dramatically slows his ascent. Toal dashes straight ahead--but his ability can’t be used to cross gaps as effectively. For this reason, his Inferno skill instead fills this role much later in his arc in a way not dissimilar to Yunica’s Whirlwind. All three characters can use their fire skills to light torches, which is also required to progress in a few different scenarios. For Yunica, the fire skill gives her one ranged option, whereas for Hugo it simply beefs up his existing ranged attacks. Toal of course simply gains the ability to attack slightly above him and absorb the occasional attack.
|Toal using Inferno to jump a gap.|
Just like The Oath in Felghana, each playable character also has the ability to enter Boost mode after charging the gauge by repeatedly defeating enemies and dealing damage. This mode dramatically increases attack speed for Yunica and Toal and increases the number of projectiles fired for Hugo. Perhaps more importantly, it reduces damage received by 50%, meaning it’s quite useful in a pinch. Much later in the game, each character unlocks a unique super move that is only usable in Boost mode, although you’re not given much time to play with it, unfortunately.
Ys Origin definitely has The Oath in Felghana beat in terms of gameplay variety, but it’s not nearly as difficult and the bosses aren’t quite as memorable. Additionally, playing through a lot of the same content three times in a row is a little tiring. I think I would have preferred if at least some of the game took place outside of the tower, although I really did enjoy callbacks to iconic areas from the first Ys title like Rado’s Annex and the Hall of Reflection. The soundtrack continues to be quite catchy and memorable, although again, I’ll have to give The Oath in Felghana the edge here. Even so, Ys Origin features a few excellent tracks, like the hard-hitting tune accompanying the Blighted Blood section of the tower and the otherworldly ambience in the Flooded Prison.
It’s been about a month since I finished Ys Origin, so as a result this video (and article) are rather late. However, I’ve not given up on making my way through the series, so expect more Ys in the future. However, I’m probably going to be taking a bit of a break from the series to spend time on the mountain of titles that are coming out soon. Expect some ramblings about Trails of Cold Steel II pretty soon. I wasn't able to record anything from it, but I spent so much time on it, I can't possible leave it alone without writing about it.