Ys Origin Switch Review: Ascending the Heights
Nihon Falcom's Ys series prioritizes gameplay over story, but Falcom did something different with Ys Origin. It's a prequel story laying the foundation for the rest of the series, so it doesn't feature most of the things that make Ys recognizable like exploration or the hero Adol Christin.
What it does feature is an excellent combat system, pitch-perfect pacing, and a riveting story told in a unique way. This is nothing new since the game's seen multiple releases, but now it's on Nintendo Switch with nary a performance hitch in sight (unlike its other portable iteration on the Vita).
Ys Origin on Switch is one of the most focused, fluid, and exhilarating action RPGs around, even with a few rough edges, and it absolutely should be on your radar if you're a fan of the genre.
Ys Origin Switch Review: Ascending the Heights
The story is hyper-focused just like the game’s structure.
Ys Origin opens with a slick anime sequence showing the game’s prologue in action. It’s clean and stylish, but beyond that, it’s smart. It sets the tone for Ys Origin’s fast pacing and ties the story in with all the fighting you’ll be doing right from the start.
Like Falcom’s other experimental game from the same time, Trails in the Sky the 3rd, Ys Origin is structured differently from other games in the Ys series. Origins is more dungeon crawler than RPG. The entire game revolves around fighting your way through Darm Tower, so tying the story to that fight from the get-go helps keep it from feeling rote or stale later on.
The story is hyper-focused just like the game’s structure. The twin goddesses of Ys have gone missing right when their people are under attack from a demonic threat. A party of warriors from Ys’ noble houses descends to the surface to find and rescue, if need be, the goddesses while dealing with the never-ending hoard of demons inside the tower.
Origins features three different playable characters: Yunica, Hugo, and [redacted]. The third character isn’t a complete secret, but knowing their relationship to the rest of the story ahead of time does spoil some of the buildup.
Each has their own plot path and reasons for making it to the top of the tower and finding the goddesses.
Even though Origins leads into the first two Ys games, it’s newcomer-friendly. There are plenty of nods to other games in the series, such as major characters, item names, and bigger plot points.
But they’re not vital for understanding what’s going on, and Origin's plots are all compelling as a standalone story. Origins functions both as a good starting point for anyone interested and a satisfying lore expansion for existing fans, like all good prequels should be.
However, Falcom did do some mind skullduggery with Origin’s story, and the result is a mixed bag.
The full story plays out over all three paths, so just one character’s perspective doesn’t tell you everything that’s going on. You can skip to the third character after finishing Yunica’s or Hugo’s story, but here’s the kicker. Neither Yunica’s nor Hugo’s story has the official canon ending, the one that leads into Ys I & II Chronicles.
The true ending is reserved for the third character. It’s definitely worth seeing, and the different playstyles keep gameplay from feeling stale (more on that in a bit). But playing a game two or three times to find the true ending isn’t something everyone has time to do.
There’s a surprising amount of story for a dungeon crawler, helped, again, by the pacing and some snappy localization.
In an ideal world, Origin would have a cross-story structure like the developers used for Hajimari no Kiseki, where each main group has a different story to tell in the overall plot. As it stands, it’s up to you whether you want to see the full thing in Origin.
Fortunately, all of the endings are good in their own right, so you’re not getting cheated if you only play once.
There’s a surprising amount of story for a dungeon crawler, helped, again, by the pacing and some snappy localization. Whether it’s a major scene or just a brief glimpse of what’s going on, each cutscene teases just enough to make you want to push forward.
Ys games are often fairly linear, and Origin’s single location with one main path is even more so. That means you move forward every time you play, even if it’s just making it to the next statue or solving a few puzzles, and it can’t be stressed enough how good that feels.
Unlike Darm Tower in the first Ys, the Darm Tower in Origin is much more visually interesting. Each major section follows a theme — water, fire, sand — and has its own (very good) soundtrack, and you’ll often pop back outside for a time to see the world on fire beneath you.
These visual cues add to the sense of progression, and seeing the world in ruins from time to time helps keep the main story front and center.
At its heart, though, Ys Origin is a snappy combat game. Fighting is just as fast and fluid as the rest of the game and feels even more so thanks to Origin's running at 60fps on Switch.
Yunica, Hugo, and the third character have unique playstyles and abilities, so even fighting the same enemies and bosses as a different character feels like an entirely new experience.
Yunica specializes in melee combat and is best if you want a more traditional Ys experience, while Hugo wields a wand and works better from a distance.
Admittedly, it takes a bit to open up. Combat feels slightly one-note when you first start out, especially with Hugo since he doesn’t have as many attack options. But the feeling changes once you acquire your first magic ability.
Like with bosses, each character has different magic available. For example, Yunica’s wind element magic helps her hover in the air and repels enemies, while Hugo’s wind element creates a shield that absorbs attacks and deals damage.
It creates a welcome range of new combat possibilities you can use to make a unique playstyle for all three characters.
Ys Origin is a blast to play.
However you play, you’ll need to be on your game for Origins’ bosses, which are some of the finest in the series and almost steal the show from everything else. The best way to describe them is a cross between Zelda and Mega Man bosses.
Each has distinct attack patterns you’ll need to learn fast and a specific weak point to exploit when you can. The boss battles are as fast-paced as the rest of the game and keep you on your toes between dodging, magic-ing, and attacking, so the option to have Dash automatically enabled once you unlock it is a godsend. It’s tough but rewarding.
You’ll probably find you need to grind a bit regardless of your difficulty setting, and that’s the only hitch in Origins’ otherwise fantastic pacing. Leveling up just one or two levels is enough to give you an edge in tougher fights, but it takes some time.
Origins is generous with experience points, and you can use SP earned through fighting to upgrade your character, but it still takes you out of the experience unnecessarily.
As mentioned, the Switch version of Ys Origins runs at 60fp with no drops, or at least none I noticed. That puts it on par with the PC and PS4 versions and fixes all the performance issues present in the Vita version, making the Switch version of Ys Origin the ideal way to play the game if you like your RPGs portable.
Still, the graphics are obviously dated. It’s to be expected from a game that’s over a decade old, but whether that’s a problem is down to personal taste. I have a soft spot for the style and don’t count it as a negative point.
Ys Origin Switch Review — The Bottom Line
- Top-tier pacing and structure
- Deep story that's accessible for newcomers and rich with lore for fans
- Oh-so-satisfying combat
- Those boss fights!
- Excellent performance
- Grinding brings the flow to a halt
- That story depth comes at a cost of playing it three times
Ys Origin is a blast to play. Even with the grindy bits and replaying the game to see the real ending, it respects your time by always pushing you forward.
It cuts out most of the fat, so you're left with all the best bits — an absorbing story, snappy combat, and Falcom's characteristic banger of a soundtrack. This is just another great switch JRPG to add to the list.
[Note: Dotemu provided the copy of Ys Origin used for this review.]