Nearly five and a half years after its first release, the seventh game and prequel to the “Ys” series saw its North American release via the Steam digital distribution platform. With five difficulties ranging from “Very Easy” to “Nightmare,” three playable characters, a 20-plus hour main story and two bonus modes, “Origin” delivers intense, dynamic combat and high replay value.

Ys Origin

Nihon Falcom

The expansive “Ys” series universe’s beginnings are explained in “Origin,” which covers the journeys of one of three main characters — Axe-wielding apprentice knight Yunica, the magician Hugo and the mysterious and agile Claw — through 25 floors of a demon-infested tower. Yunica and company hail from Ys, an idyllic floating sanctuary that is home to a pair of twin goddesses, Reah and Feena and the root of all magic, the Black Pearl. Ys hovers above a ruined and war-torn landscape fraught with danger and demons, which the goddesses have seen fit to disappear to, taking the Black Pearl with them.

This is where the player character comes in, hacking, slashing and blasting their way through the tower and uncovering the reality behind the goddesses’ disappearance. Each character has a different story, and mastering each one’s abilities is key to fully clearing and understanding “Origin” ’s plot. Serious gamers can even take a stab at timed and arena modes, with times and achievements displayed in leaderboards worldwide.

The combat is incredibly fast-paced even on lower levels of difficulty, and each character has a vastly different playstyle from the others. Progressing means adapting to various platformer and puzzle-solving elements and dealing with the various obstacles enemies impose, from lighting up your screen with dozens of lightning bolts to teleporting and spewing acid. Bosses require inventive strategies to take down and, while they border on frustrating, provide fun and white-knuckled, no-frill, no-break tests of skill.

As much of “Origin” ’s appeal can be placed into its crazy combat as can be placed into its environment; stages are designed to test out-of-the-box thinking and speed, the synth-heavy rock-orchestra soundtrack keeps engagements lively and the big-eyed Japanese art style is a welcome break from the recent string of dark releases. Fans of other Japanese RPGs like the “Star Ocean” series or earlier “Final Fantasy” series will feel at home with the anime-style cutscenes, wailing synth riffs and the heavy grind necessary to take down later bosses.

Occasionally, players will encounter a wall in their progress. This is especially true in the harder difficulties. In a fashion typical of the “Ys” series and other RPGs, a startling difficulty jump separates certain areas which forces players to go back and grind for experience and upgrades. Fortunately, “Origin” features stacking experience, defense and strength bonuses for individuals engaged in extended combat, which not only encourages but rewards this kind of play.

“Ys Origin” is a great game for anyone looking for fast-paced action, and with roughly 60 hours necessary just to fully uncover the plot, five difficulties to conquer and an Arena mode that provides nigh-limitless new tests of skill, it has a very large amount of content to explore and master. Devotees of the series will find their sanctuary in this prequel, and newcomers will have a taste of the signature balls-to-the-wall combat, puzzling platformer characteristics and adorable character cast the “Ys” series is famed for.

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