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Indie Cred: Ys Origin - All Along The Watchtower

If youíre a gamer in the US, likely your only encounter with the Ys brand before this era would have been with Wanderers from Ys for the SNES. It was certainly my first experience, and one that has stuck with me since the day I first played it. While it was deeply flawed and stupidly difficult at times (especially the bosses), the gameplay was still something unique and fun and the music was absolutely awesome.

Ys Origins is another game in the epic series that is finding new life on Steam. Itís a standalone game, being a prequel set 700 years before series hero Adol ever touched a sword, and is easily accessible for anyone.

Thereís a bunch of fantasy mumbo jumbo, but the long and short is that the two goddesses of Ys, one who's a decent harmonica player, have run away from their floating continent with a Macguffin of stupendous power and a group of mages and knights are sent to find them.

Now this is a religion I could get behind.

The entire game takes place inside of Darm Tower, a huge spire on the surface thatís chock full of demons, helpfully sorted in order of strength from the ground floor up. Thank goodness they didnít switch that, or the game would be really short. Demons know their shit, clearly.

Hugo, entering the Castlevania wing

Initially, you have the choice between two characters: Yunica, a young girl and knight-to-be of Ys and Hugo, a mage. Iíd like to take a second and say how awesome it is that the main bruiser of the game is a female, wields an axe and is dressed very conservatively. Sheís also never treated like a weakling, holding her own against powerful demons and sorcerers in spite of being unable to use magic. In short: a badass.

Hugo is entertaining in his dickery, easily pissing off everything with a pulse with his witty comebacks and hardass attitude. He can be a bit grating, but after Yunica's wholesomeness, some snark can go a long way to freshening up the experience.

There is a third character, who is more difficult to play than the other two, but is just a whirlwind of asskicking when you play them right. I can't talk too much about this one without giving away part of the story, but the third time through, the path is different enough to refresh the experience and the revelations within round out the plot nicely.

How many teen girls do YOU know that can one hand a battle axe?

Yunica and the third character were the most fun for me. The gameplay and breakneck speed made physical combat crazy fun, especially once you unlock more of their abilities. Hugo plays far differently, with most of his fighting taking place at range. It was more carpal tunnel inducing, but being out of the fray made the game a hell of a lot easier. Trapping enemies in a web of magical remote mines never gets old either.

Graphics are a nice mix of 3D landscapes and bosses with sprite based characters and minor enemies. It has a Xenogears/Final Fantasy Tactics vibe to it that I canít help but love. There are minor perspective issues when platforming because of this, but itís nothing unforgivable.

The music, by the way, does not disappoint. Some of the themes, such as the one in the desert area and the last floor are great background tunes to slaughter demons to.

To me, what makes this game are the boss fights. Whether itís a nail-bitingly close duel with one of the many colorful villains roaming the tower or a life-or-death struggle with one of the gargantuan demons that live on each floor, theyíre all memorable, exhilarating and brutally hard. The best part is how carefully designed most of them are. When you die, you know damn well what you did to screw up. Rarely is it ever a bad mechanic or cheap tactic that kills you, which is what kept me coming back. I might have been cursing up a storm after being killed twelve times by a giant centipede, but damned if I wasnít grinning the whole time. It helps that the controls are razor sharp and very responsive. Ys Origins is a blast to play.

Didnít I ride you in Ocarina of Time?

The gameís not without its flaws, however. The levels are mostly uninspired, ranging from generic desert area (in a tower) to underwater world (still in the tower) to gigantic lava factory (strangely high up in the tower). Deaths can come extremely cheap as well at times, with some enemies being far more deadly than they first appear and your character giving little feedback to how much damage theyíre really taking. Donít even get me started about drowning, which is almost as stress inducing as any underwater adventure Sonic ever undertook.

To really beat the game and understand all the events going on, youíll need to beat the game a total of three times. The third time is a bit different, but the levels, major bosses, music and enemies never change. If you donít enjoy the gameplay enough to carry you through this, it could be a game breaker. To me, I loved every second of it. The thrill of overcoming a particularly tough boss is just too much to pass up.

Dalles, continuing Chester and Ernst's lineage of terrifying Ys villain names.

If youíre a long term Ys fan... well, youíve probably already played the hell out of this. If youíre a fan of action rpgs with a solid difficulty curve, youíll likely get your moneyís worth out of Ys. Just kill that centipede once for me.

Has anyone else gotten the chance to play Ys Origins? What are your thoughts on the game? Should I pick up 1 & 2?
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About Returner Mikeone of us since 6:25 PM on 01.24.2013

I'm a gamer who's lived in Indiana, Colorado, Hawaii and Japan (having majored in Japanese at Indiana University). Beyond the electronic, I'm a fan of of scuba, fencing, movies, anime and creative writing.

I love all kinds of games, from indie, to foreign, to high profile and experimental. I grew up with the NES, SNES and Genesis, and was always a nut for a good RPG.

I'm currently working on a writing focused interactive fiction with a team online, and assisted in map design and writing for Killing Floor when it was a mod.

I'm hoping to bring an interesting voice to the community and I ask for your feedback, your criticism and your support.