Most people, if you ask them to name a 25-year-old game series in which you explore dungeons and fight monsters, will likely say “The Legend of Zelda”. Even though the Ys series is as old as Zelda and has enjoyed immense popularity in Japan since the first game, Ys 1: Ancient Ys Vanished (1987), the series has never been that popular outside the Orient.
A few entries did make it west on PS2 and PSP, either through Konami in 2005 with Ys VI: Ark of Napishtim (the first English release of the series in thirteen years) or XSEED’s masterful handling of translations starting with Ys: The Oath in Felghana. XSEED released Ys: The Oath in Felghana, a remake of Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (1989), on Steam in March. This is the first time most PC gamers get to experience what is (in terms of number of game releases) the largest Eastern RPG series second only to Final Fantasy.
Released on Steam in May, Ys Origin is the seventh game in the Ys series and a prequel. It takes place first in terms of chronology, 700 years before the events of “Ancient Ys Vanished” (Ys I & II). As you explore a huge vertical dungeon known as “Darm Tower”, the game elaborates on much of the series’ backstory, including characters, mystical artifacts and locations.
There are three playable characters (one is initially locked until you beat the game once with either of the other two), each has their own story and combat style. Yunica, a young knight, uses an axe and sword for close-range melee. Hugo Fact, genius magician and all-round ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥, shoots bullets and is the easier of the two to play. We’re not going to spoil the third character for you.
Combat is fast and action-packed, with enemies having clear and recognizable patterns to their attacks. As you hack-and-slash your way up the tower, there are some mild puzzles to solve and mild platforming elements to jump through. There’s a kind of momentum system to keep you pushing forward: as you kill enemies without stopping, you gain a bonus to the rate at which you get experience points and “SP”. The “SP” points are spent to permanently buff your character, such as increasing resistance to negative effects like poison or confuse , or to upgrade your armour.
The boss fights are where the game (and series) really strut its stuff. While mowing through general enemies is pretty easy, boss fights require focus. You’ll need to learn their attack patterns, figure out which skills to use against them, and if you’re really into that kind of thing there are Time Attack and Boss Rush challenge modes.