Tag Archives: Action RPGs

Owlboy Review

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The Super NES is known for many great things. Obviously Nintendo’s own wonderful games, and some of the most memorable efforts from names like Capcom, Konami, Square, and Natsume. These efforts often resulted in excellent adventure games, action RPGs, and action platformers. In recent  years a number of new games have shown up paying homage to these titles. But not all of them have done it as well as Owlboy.

PROS: Beautiful visuals. Tight controls. Engrossing story.

CONS: A few annoying bugs. Objectives aren’t always clear.

PIXEL ART: This game really does raise the bar for the art form.

Owlboy is easily one of the best modern platformers done in a style that resembles the 16-bit titles of yesteryear. Immediately you’ll be blown away by the insane amount of detail in the pixel art. The shading of the grass, the gradients in the clouds, and the plethora of tiles that make every background, and object stand out. Not only is there a great amount of detail, but so much of it is animated. Animated so well, in fact, that it matches the characters with their text balloons almost flawlessly.

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Speaking of facial sprite animation, and text balloons, Owlboy has a story on par with many coming-of-age animated Disney films. When the game begins you take control of an owl named Otus. Otus isn’t well liked by most of the inhabitants of Ville. He’s mocked, teased, bullied by many of the other owls his age (often because of his muteness), and he’s ostracized by adults. He gets blamed for things he has little to nothing to do with. He has one friend named Geddy who works defense for the town. Things change drastically one day, when a mysterious troublemaker distracts the two, and allows an invasion of pirates to occur.  From here, our pariah has to go on a three arc adventure to become the hero.

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Along the course of the story new characters get introduced, and this is where the game’s mechanics start to really take shape. Owlboy combines the Platformer with Adventure, and Action RPG elements to create something pretty special. You’ll explore different towns, and talk to NPCs the way you might in a game like Ys, or Faxanadu. You’ll explore areas the way you do in Metroidvanias. You’ll get into boss fights on par with those of the Classic Mega Man series. The developers at D-Pad even went the extra mile to make the shop one of the most entertaining moments in the game.

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Otus can run, jump, fly, and do a couple of  roll attacks as you go through the game. But he can also pick up some of the NPC characters you’ll meet, some items, and even some enemies. All of which are needed to solve puzzles, and get to a lot of areas. Most of the puzzles are fairly challenging to solve, involving every possible thing you can lift. Throughout the campaign you’ll also find fruits, and vegetables that replenish health too. Around halfway through the game you’ll find a shop. It works a little bit differently than the typical shops in most RPGs, and Adventure games.

Rather than simply buy items with the money you have, the shop keep sends out employees to just give them to you once you have enough coins. They don’t take the coins from you though. So it’s almost like a level up progress bar accented with comedy. These moments are quite hilarious too. The game makes excellent use of its characters, and animation to deliver laughs. Rather than simply give you the normal mundane experience of grinding money until you can buy the best kit, it’s gives entertainment. And these funny moments fit right in with the rest of the story.

 

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The story is great, the characters, are great, and everything else for the most part is as well. Not only do you get a bunch of interesting challenges to solve, but you’ll also do your fair share of platforming. Any good platformer requires excellent, and responsive controls. Owlboy has them. As you jump, fly, and switch characters around, things feel natural. So while things may look insurmountable at times, with enough practice you’ll get through them. The game utilizes the Adventure feel of checkpoints rather than the life system many retro-platformers do. These are fairly numerous, so there aren’t very many times you’ll find yourself re-doing long stretches of hurdles upon a mistake. That isn’t to say things will be easy. There were a few parts of the game that I found myself spending thirty to forty minutes on because I didn’t do just the right move. Or because I didn’t kill an enemy quite fast enough. But again, perseverance pays off. If you don’t give up, you’ll get through it.

The game is a lot of fun too. It scratches the itch of just about any old-school experience you can think of, and it’s engrossing. It makes you feel accomplished when you do something grand, and it doesn’t feel discouraging when you fall down. There are also plenty of moments that will just wow you. From riding rock dragons, to infiltrating bases, to the tremendous boss fights, there is a lot to love. Boss fights bring back the era of memorizing patterns. Much like the Mega Man, Castlevania, and Contra games of old, each fight makes you watch for openings. Eventually you’ll realize the boss is doing the same thing, and you’ll learn where to move, or which character to utilize, at what time. Most of them have several forms though, and with each form, a new pattern to learn. But through it all, you’ll have a great time. Whether you were in that era or not.

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As I’ve stated before, Owlboy looks astonishing. But the soundtrack goes along with it all so beautifully. The game has a wonderful orchestral score that flows from scene to scene, and area to area. It’s as if a Metroid game were filled with symphonic songs inspired by classical composers. None of it really comes off as cliché either. It’s almost expected in any fantasy setting to hear strings, and woodwind instruments. But here again, it feels like an animated Disney film. There are up tempo notes of optimism when things are looking up for our characters, and there are bombastic yet somber moments when it looks like all is lost. It probably isn’t the sort of thing you’ll listen to on a work commute, but it does accent the story, and gameplay very well.

It would be easy to write the game off as some niche experience for geezers like me who jammed on Ys III, Mega Man X, and ActRaiser on the Super NES back in the day. But it really isn’t, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you skip it because of that impression. Yes, indeed, there are plenty of things to like for those who were around for the 16-bit console wars of the 1990’s. But the new twists on gameplay, identifiable characters, and well told story, are things anybody who likes video games can experience. Owlboy joins the ranks of well-crafted, memorable indie releases like Axiom Verge, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, Undertale, and VVVVVV.

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It isn’t without its faults, as even the best games have some issues. In the case of Owlboy it seems to be bugs. Minor bugs, but annoying nevertheless. One of which seems to screw up your controls at random. Loading from the last checkpoint seems to fix it. This only happened to me once, near the end of the game. But it’s still worth mentioning. Another is how, at least on PC, the game still runs in memory even after exiting to the desktop. Pulling up the Task Manager in Windows allows you to shut it down, but it’s still 30 seconds of annoyance. There are also a couple of times in the campaign where it isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go next. But this is really a minor nitpick since you’ll be spending a good portion of time just exploring anyway.

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Overall though, Owlboy comes highly recommended. It’s fun, engrossing, and has something for just about anyone. It’s a game that will likely garner an emotional response from you, thanks in part to the excellent animation. It’s a game you’ll likely cherish in part because of the story, and characters on display. But it’s also a game you’ll likely enjoy going through due to the top-notch play control, and well crafted gameplay. Owlboy is a must play addition to any collection.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.

Undertale Review

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Last year a game came out of the underground gaming scene. A game that scored a lot of points with critics, and spawned a vast fandom in a short amount of time. Like an up, and coming alternative band it quickly caught the attention of mainstream audiences. Undertale is a big hit with a lot of folks. So as we enter a new year, I start it out by seeing just what all of the fuss is all about.

PROS: A well crafted adventure with elements of many genres.

CONS: Some areas have an insane level of difficulty.

PRANKS: They will certainly be played on you.

Undertale tells the story of an unnamed protagonist. A small child falls down a chasm, and wakes up in a series of caverns. After you name the small child, and create a save file, you are off to go spelunking. Early on in the game you begin to meet characters, and interact with them beginning a theme of consequences. Undertale’s hook, is that it has a multiple number of endings depending on what you choose to do. Do you help someone, or do you decide to let someone else take care of them? Do you take those items, or do you decide that they don’t belong to you? Do you kill an attacker, or do you let them go free?

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Throughout your journey the game will give you many, many choices, and most of them do impact the story as it goes along. You can pretty much make whatever decisions you want at your leisure, through the overwhelming majority of the game. At its heart, Undertale is an adventure game. But it has a lot of elements from RPGs, Shmups, and classic arcade games. This is especially true in its battles, where even here, choices are impactful on what you’ll do next. The game does spend the first act introducing you to not only some important characters, but the mechanics as well. Navigating the early corridors, you’re put into some situations that boil down to tutorials. The upside is that they don’t come off as tutorials, and they don’t come off as mundane. You’ll play a few puzzles, do some interaction, and even use the battle system.

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Undertale’s battle system looks like an old NES JRPG. You’ll have options under an attack, action, item, and mercy tabs. Attacking pulls up a timing mini game that feels like a free throw mini game from an old 16-bit EA Basketball game. You have to line up your attack in the center of a bar. The closer you get, the more damage you’ll do. The action tab, will have a number of options for diplomacy, depending on the enemy. You can try your hand at these in order to open up some emotional walls in an opponent. If you play your cards right, you can use these to win fights without injuring or killing anyone. The item tab lets you go through weapons, health, and object items, while the final tab lets you either try to flee a fight, (sometimes you can’t.) or let the opponent go. In some cases you can’t let them go until you’ve succeeded in your diplomatic tasks.

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During these turn-based sequences, when an enemy attacks you, you’re thrust into a mini-game. Some of them are shmups. Some of them are puzzles, but you’ll need to become proficient at either in order to survive. Some of the bosses do an insane amount of damage, so you’re also going to want to horde a lot of health items throughout the game.

The rest of the game is typical adventure, and RPG fare. You’ll explore towns, talk to characters, buy items from shops, and sleep in hotels. There are also some puzzles to solve in order to progress, along with some secrets if you’re willing to go exploring. These secrets can be a great benefit. Some of them will make certain boss fights a lot easier, or uncover some backstory for you.

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Visually, the game goes for a combination of old art styles. Some will certainly see inspiration from the Nintendo Entertainment System. But the battles will evoke memories of early CRPGs being played on a CGA monitor. Other times I was reminded of systems like the Atari 2600, or the Commodore 64. Undertale doesn’t stick to a single retro inspiration, it tries to display a number of them. The writing isn’t half bad either. So often games try to tell jokes, or have a dramatic moment, and it feels like a plead to love the characters.

Undertale genuinely made me laugh a couple of times, and frequently introduced characters I felt like I could get behind. This isn’t to say that it is the best game at doing these things. But I can give it some credit for a job well done. There are also a number of moments where the game will outright try to mess with you. Some of these attempts are feeble. But there are others that are pretty great. A few of which took me back to playing Eternal Darkness on the Gamecube.

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Be that as it may, I think a handful of fans might be a little bit blinded. Undertale is good. In fact, it’s very good. But it isn’t the first game to do what it does. Nor will it be the last. Many games have tried to show the importance of choices, and their consequences over the years. Ultima, System Shock, Bioshock, Epic Mickey are but a handful of them. Some of these games did it better. Others as well. Yes, some may have even done a far worse job.

However, when you take the choice system away, what you’re left with isn’t much. You have a pretty good story in this RPG adventure. But the world is smaller than some of those old 8-bit JRPGs, and CRPGs the game is inspired by. There are also long periods where you aren’t doing much of anything if you’re not exploring something or reading dialogue. I also ran into a technical problem where every so often my character would automatically veer left. I tried several controllers on the off chance I had broken my Xbox 360 controller, but the same thing continually happened. The game also isn’t configured to take screenshots in Steam. I had a difficult time trying to get some shots for this review, frequently juggling between applications.

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Pointing these things out doesn’t mean I didn’t like the game, or that it wasn’t fun. The multiple choices, and endings do give players a lot of incentive to replay the game a few times. There are certainly enough likable characters, and moments that make it a story worth experiencing. Undertale definitely has the potential to become a pretty big franchise because of those things. But the game could also stand to let the player do more, through a bigger world to explore. It could use some more meaningful interactivity in that world. It doesn’t have to be Earth shattering stuff. But more than choosing to be good or bad in a random battle, or a sparse puzzle. There are hints of that very early on. It would have been nice to see some more of it explored in the middle areas of the game, and the final leg of the journey. Some players might be turned off by a very sharp difficulty spike near the end of the game as well.

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These complaints aside, I did enjoy my time with Undertale. I can see why it has quickly become so beloved by so many. Hopefully if, and when a sequel arrives it addresses some of the technical issues, and adds just a tad bit more to do without feeling like padding. In the meantime go ahead, and pick up Undertale. It may not be the flawless game some insist it is, but it is a very, enjoyable one. One you will likely become very invested in.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Evil Quest Review

In the grand scheme of things, few games cast you in the role of the bad guy.  Sure, there are the heavy hitters like Grand Theft Auto, or Saints Row.  But outside of the crime themed games, things begin to thin out a bit. Enter EvilQuest, an old school Action RPG from a small outfit called ChaoSoft. Released about two years ago, it’s a game that didn’t get a lot of mainstream attention upon release. In it, you play as an evil warrior named Galvis.

PROS: Solid game play. Comic relief. Fun to play. Challenging.

CONS: Inconsistent  pixel art. Very short. Brutally difficult boss gauntlet.

ULTIMA: Had Tie Fighters. EvilQuest has an AT-ST.

Imprisoned for war crimes, Galvis breaks out of prison for several missions on his thirst for power, and revenge.  Ultimately,  he wants not only to destroy his enemies, but the entire planet. He even has a plan to kill the planet’s deity. This involves tracking down an axe of supernatural origin. In order to take hold of it, Galvis has to traverse the land, seeking, and destroying shrines. The shrines hold the power to unlock the door to an astral plane where this being exists.  It isn’t a particularly deep story, but it does have its share of  humor, and moves along the action fairly well. Character dialogue fits the archetypes properly, and there is enough substance here to keep you interested in it. The game takes inspiration from a lot of Action RPGs, JRPGs, and early WRPGs. Most notably Ys, Crystalis, Ultima, and even a hint of early Final Fantasy.

Just like those games, you can expect to explore several over worlds, dungeons, and find towns. In the towns there are NPCs that give some general information, or send you on errands. These of course lead you to items you’ll need in order to access further areas. It’s a formula that these sorts of titles have used for years. Where EvilQuest differs a bit is that it doesn’t take itself seriously 100% of the time. There are small bits of dark humor centered around some of the sillier or overused conventions of the genre’s 8-bit days. Galvis will murder NPCs while making grandiose super villain speeches. The game goes out of left field a la Ultima, by bringing in a Star Wars themed vehicle.

Thankfully, the game does emulate the classics it loves fairly well most of the time. Areas are nicely varied, and there are a lot of really cool enemy types. Spells, weapons, and potions are the usual element based fare. There is the fire sword, and ice sword. Along with themed armor, and shields throughout the game. Many of which can be found during quests rather than trying to buy them in towns. In many of these cases the themes go along with the types of enemies in the area. Like dragon themed armor for dragons for example.

This continues throughout the areas. You’ll find your way through ice zones, fire zones, mountains, fields, and a deserted battlefield.  There is a pretty deep encyclopedia of characters, and backgrounds in the game’s pause menu. As you discover new enemies you can read their dossier, or read journal entries. Similar to the ones found in Falcom’s Ys series, they’re handy for filling in blanks in the game’s lore. You’ll also be levelling up your health, and magic abilities from time to time.

The levelling system is based upon experience points. You get four main stats that can be upgraded over the course of the game. Two affect your health, and resistance to damage. The other two affect your magic, and attack power. You get these points the way you would in most other role-playing games. By killing enemies. In later areas you’ll find grinding away on enemies is the only way to survive certain boss fights. When you receive enough experience points you can assign them to whichever stats you want. However, it will only let you apply two points to any given stat per level up. So if the game gives you four, you can’t dump all of them onto your attack power. Two of them have to go elsewhere.

Throughout your time with the game you’ll alternate between using different weapons, and magic items. Some of these replenish your health, others extend the length of your life bar. Still, others will give you more points to cast spells with. Nearly all of the spells have upgrades as well, as the weapons. EvilQuest also takes a big example from SNK’s Crystalis by offering a charge shot. It works almost exactly the same way, even requiring you hold still while charging. Moving will impede the charge from growing. So in fights you have to charge, dodge an attack, then stop to continue charging.

EvilQuest also takes full advantage of the Xbox 360 controller.  Gamers used to playing these kinds of titles on a console will feel right at home. But the game also fully supports a traditional keyboard setup. Play control in either case is relatively smooth. You can move Galvis around with little to no trouble. Using magic, or attacking enemies works fine, and overall things are responsive. It’s actually built more with the pad in mind, as you can easily cycle through magic items on the fly. That said, in either case you still may find yourself pressing select, and start a lot to get to journal entries, save menus, or your load out screens. The game looks good most of the time. Like a lot of games being put out independently these days, Evil Quest has a retro look. It tries to encapsulate the aesthetics of Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System, and Commodore 64 era games. In some places, one could also confuse it with an early MS-DOS title by Apogee.

But in doing so it has a bit of inconsistency. Most of the time these sprites are pretty nice, reminding you of the titles it is inspired by. But then, there are places in the game where the look changes enough to be jarring.  Make no mistake, nothing looks outright horrible. Just inconsistent. It should be noted some of the best visuals the game offers come up during boss fights. Boss fights are the best part of Evil Quest. With the exception of a few, they’re usually huge characters, with a lot of powerful attacks. They’re very flashy, impressive, and pretty difficult. Especially near the game’s climactic final battle.  The retro theme continues in the game’s audio which mimics the sound of a Super NES game fairly well. The music won’t be playing in your head hours after you’ve played it. But it does fit the theme of what happens on the screen. The game also has a lot of Steam, and Xbox Live achievements for anyone looking to hunt away on them.

Not everything in Evil Quest is great though. Besides the inconsistent look in spots, there are a number of small issues that pile up. In the early sections the game isn’t very open. It becomes fairly predictable where you need to go, and what you’ll need to find. This certainly improves as the game goes on, but initially things are rather straight forward.  The game’s final boss is a soul crushing three form affair. One that you will take on immediately following another difficult boss fight.  So expect to max out every stat you possibly can. If you don’t, you’ll end up spending a lot of time trying to grind your way to an acceptable level of health, and attack power. All in an area of very tough regular enemies.

On the technical side, the game doesn’t support full 1920 x 1080 resolution. The highest the game supports is 1280 x 720. So if you play the game with full screen selected it will be stretched to fit your monitor. To be honest even windowed, the 720p resolution seems to have been stretched from the 640 x 480 resolution. This is disappointing because most computers have had 1080p capable monitors for a long time, even before EvilQuest’s release. It’s also too bad the game couldn’t run in full screen mode, centered, with borders surrounding it. This would have at least kept a proper aspect ratio. It doesn’t break the game, but it is disappointing.

It should also be noted that in over world areas you can pretty much save anywhere. But in dungeons you can only save in a designated checkpoint area. In towns you cannot save at all. There isn’t really any reason for this. You spend about an equal amount of time in each, and run into about as many enemies, and hazards. A quick save system where one could save at any point, or a checkpoint system would have made more sense. The strange mix of both seems unnecessary. The game isn’t very long either. Dedicated players can clear the game in a couple of hours.

Still, it’s a step up above a lot of other indie games you can find on download services. It functions well. It plays well. It’s a short ride. But it’s a fun, and challenging short ride. For retro gamers, or fans of RPGs  it’s worth a look. It isn’t going to take the place of your favorite series, but it is a fun distraction. It’s not a perfect game, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. It’s average. But it sets itself apart from other average games with some fun moments, and bad guy themes.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Ys Origin Review

Ys never seems to get into the pantheon of JRPG franchises. Everyone gets their thumbs, and sometimes pitchforks ready with every Final Fantasy. Everyone has at least heard of Dragon Quest aka Dragon Warrior. Look at the aftermarket prices for the Super NES version of Chrono Trigger. Yes, JRPGs are a large subset of the Role Playing genre. They have been since the days of 8-bit console systems.

PROS: Pretty good story. Cool characters. Responsive, and fun combat.

CONS: Short length. Story requires beating the game thrice to see it all.

ADOL: Isn’t in the campaign. This is a prequel folks.

So why hasn’t Ys been more popular here? There are probably a lot of factors. One of the most widely accepted theories involves platforms. Ys started out on the PC-88. A computer only ever released in Japan.  When released stateside, games in the series have appeared on many of the less popular platforms of their time. Ys I made an appearance on the Sega Master System, then Ys I+II would see release on the Turbographx 16 CD add-on. In other parts of the world Ys would be on all sorts of computer, and console formats including the Famicom.

The series doesn’t have turn based combat. It instead takes action game cues. Going for more of a Legend Of Zelda style of combat. It retains plenty of item gathering, and exploration. It builds up a lot of characters, even minor ones. It still feels decidedly JRPG, yet has enough twitch game play for novices, and action fans. So while it’s more accessible, the fact that it’s an action RPG hybrid probably kept some of the purists away. Where am I going with this? To the chronological beginning. Because thanks to XSeed, Ys has been getting a little more attention over the past few years. They’ve been given porting, and translation duties for many of the games in the series. One of those games is Ys Origin.

Ys Origin is a prequel. It takes place 700 years before the original game, and attempts to set up a lot of the back story for the series. Ys is a story about a kingdom in the sky. When evil threatened to doom the kingdom, two super natural beings elevated it into the heavens above. These beings are known as the Goddesses. They, along with a council of priests advise the kingdom on matters. They also have a stable of holy knights that they call upon in times of trouble. Like a lot of great fantasy stories, it involves different family blood lines, mysticism, and interpersonal drama. Some of the stories can be pretty deep, others fairly simple.

Ultimately the game will make you want to beat it three times, because that is the only way to see every aspect of its story.

Without giving too much away, the story in Origin centers around the Goddesses, and their relationships with the three main characters. The two disappear mysteriously from the sacred Solomon Shrine, and head off to the surface land below. Eventually they head into a tower overrun by evil demons, and other monsters. The tower also happens to be the same one featured in the original Ys game.

Worried about the Goddesses, the leaders of Ys send our heroes to find, and return the Goddesses. But of course, a band of evil demons attempt to get to the Goddesses before the heroes can. Along the way you’ll run into many of the JRPG conventions you might expect. From game play conventions, to character archetypes.

In Origin you can take control of one of three characters:

Yunica Tovah is a young woman who is the daughter of one of Ys’ high priests. She is the only one in her lineage who doesn’t have a mastery of magic, and so using her means you’ll be doing a lot of hand to hand combat. She earns an apprenticeship with the Holy Knights of Ys, and embarks on her mission to find the Goddesses.

Hugo Fact is a sorcerer. He has a recklessness in him, and so he follows the trope of the edgy, devil-may-care, anti-hero. Being skilled in magic means that most of your attacks will be ranged. So if you love projectiles in your action RPG you’ll probably choose Hugo.

Beating the game with either one of these characters will open up a third character quest. Toal Fact is the mysterious brother of Hugo Fact, and has a story arc that crosses paths with the other two character storylines. Interestingly, Toal Fact’s storyline is considered canon, while the other two are not. Toal’s storyline also has a unique perspective in that he is actually helping the demons trying to capture the Goddesses, rather than the heroes trying to rescue them.

Ys Origin differs a little bit from Ys I&II. While it follows a similar formula, it has a slightly different combat system. The original games featured something called the Bump System. Running into your enemies  would damage you, while hitting them off-center, would damage them. This game follows the path of other action RPGs, and gives you an attack button. There is also a jump button for use in some light platforming sections. You will also have a button to activate your boost mode, as well as a spell ability attack.

Attacks feel pretty accurate. Hit detection is pretty solid in this game. Battles generally feel not only fair, but satisfying as well. As you level up your character by grinding kills, and finding items, some of these moves can be upgraded. So a mystical force field can be increased in size, or a fire attack made more powerful.  The game also features a checkpoint system similar to Metroid Prime’s Save Rooms. In certain areas you will find statues of the Goddesses. Here you can save your progress, or use the currency picked up from fallen enemies to upgrade your items. There are all sorts of items you can find like better weapons, and armor throughout the game. There are other items that are paramount to solving certain puzzles. For instance, there is a mask that allows you to find hidden paths one couldn’t find otherwise.

Other items are needed to further the storyline you are playing. You may need to find a certain item, and back track it to an NPC you found earlier. All in order to acquire a new item to get further along. Initially, the game will feel a little bit linear. Early on, the game makes things fairly easy to figure out, and you won’t really feel much need to explore or backtrack. Thankfully, after the first segment or so, it really begins to open up in its level design. Once that happens, you’ll find yourself exploring every nook, and cranny for potential items. From there you’ll constantly try to find another statue to buy upgrades, and save your progress.

There is only one major drawback to the level design aside from some early linearity. That is that the entire game takes place in the tower featured at the end of the original Ys. Because of this, it limits some of the environment variety. There aren’t any outdoor environments to really explore. There are certainly a lot more than steel or stone structures mind you. There are areas that have a sandpit theme, volcanic foundries, a flooded section, as well as some fantastical sections. They do fit the themes of the storylines nicely, but one can’t help but miss exploring large swaths of land, and finding towns, or other structures. Still, when the game opens up, again you will do plenty of exploring. So it isn’t a complete deal breaker.

Upgrading your character is also very important in Ys Origin. Because while this game may be more action oriented than many standard RPGs, leveling is still a big deal. Some of the regular enemies will seem impossible until you do, as taking one or two strikes will probably kill you. On that front, enemy variety is quite large. You even have access to a log book that adds entries describing each new type you discover. It will also add entries for NPCs, and even boss characters. There are goblins, orcs, killer turtles, phoenix birds, and countless other monsters.

Bosses in this game are also grand, and amazing. Some of them return from the original Ys games with retooled attacks. Some of them are entirely new. While the game may not be a technical powerhouse, these bosses still come off as imposing. Each of these boss battles will feel like an event. Even after you solve an attack pattern, or find the right item. The enemy variety continues in the run of bosses. You’ll face towering demons, NPC’s, and more.

It goes along with some excellent presentation. Ys Origin combines modelled environments with 2D sprites. Sprites are very detailed, and colorful. As in other Ys games characters have a super deformed look, while the cinema screens, and dialogue HUDs feature a more traditional manga style. Cut scenes vary. Some of them are done in the game’s engine, while others are done in FMVs. The FMVs look right out of an anime, featuring some really nice animation, and colors. Unfortunately the FMVs do have a compressed look to them, with some grain.

The audio in Ys Origin is one of the highlights here. The hard rock chip tunes are really well crafted, and mesh nicely with orchestration. Most of the songs have catchy hooks, and will bounce around in your head hours later. Some of these are remakes of classic Ys games’ songs, while others are new. Sound effects are terrific. Fighting enemies have nice punchy sounds, along with some excellent clings, and clangs during blocks. Enemies growl, scream, and even explode while accompanied with some wonderful cues. Even little details you would find important in other games from other genres are here. Footsteps, Doors opening or closing, you name it, it probably has a nice sound effect to go along with it.

Depending on the difficulty you select, Ys Origin can take anywhere from six to ten hours to finish. It isn’t a terribly long JRPG. However, playing through each of the character quests can get you as many as thirty hours, as the storylines will artificially lengthen the game in doing so. Even though the game is short compared to most RPGs where there are hundreds of hours of side quests, or activities, Origin delivers. It has a large roster of likable characters, the game play is rewarding, and has one of the better storylines in the genre. Even if it isn’t entirely original, it takes a few chances. Some of the swerves you’ll see coming, and others will surprise you.

Ys Origin doesn’t have very high requirements by today’s standards, so almost any modern PC should be able to run it with little trouble. The Steam release also features some achievements, and support for widescreen monitor displays. Ultimately, it is a really cool game. JRPG fans, as well as retro gamers would do well to check out the prequel to this under looked series. Especially those who would like to see more Japanese developers produce games for computers.

Final Score: 8 out of 10