Here’s what our Kieron thought of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana.
The Ys series has a heritage stretching all the way back to 1987 and, until more recent years, had not seen much focus outside of Japan. Thankfully, these days publishers like NIS America are seeing success in adapting more niche JRPG titles for western markets. The latest of their efforts and the newest entry in the series, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, is a shining example of why fans clamour for these games to get the global treatment.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana starts out in a familiar way for this kind of game – on a boat. Series veterans Adol and Dogi are aboard a passenger ship looking for their latest adventure, when a sudden turn of events causes the ship to sink in a cursed ocean region (think the Bermuda Triangle). They soon awake to find themselves on a deserted island, separated from anyone they’d met on the ship, and promptly make the decision to make camp while they search for survivors.
The bulk of the story, and gameplay, in Ys VIII is made up of this search for missing crew members. Adol and crew task themselves with slowly filling out a map of the island on which they’re stranded, and building a village in which to house a cruise ship’s worth of castaways. Each new member found eventually fills a need within the village – rescuing a blacksmith’s daughter opens a smithing facility, for example – while a medical student is put to use concocting curative potions. As the village grows, so too does the adventuring party’s ability to further explore the surrounding environment. This gives the game an addictive central gameplay loop that’s reminiscent of a ‘Metroidvania’ style game, where each visit to a particular area gets deeper and deeper the more new abilities the protagonists possess.
As the story moves forward, another central character and plot thread is introduced in parallel to that of the island survivors’. This second story revolves around Dana, the game’s namesake, and while it’s intriguing enough, it isn’t anywhere near as compelling as the plight of the shipwrecked crew, mostly because of the previous few dozen hours already spent learning their stories and building them a haven on the mysterious and dangerous island.
Exploring the island itself is a blast, thanks to a very accessible and fast-paced combat system. Battles in Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana are completely real-time, with the player controlling any one of the three currently chosen party members at a time. The core combat itself is made up of standard weapon attacks and combos, and some secondary skills, but the most interesting mechanic is its rock-paper-scissors style system of weaknesses. Each enemy comes in one of three types – soft bodied, armoured and flying – and each character specialises in doing damage to one of the three. Attacking an enemy with a weakness to your current character results in extra damage dealt, and a chance to knock them down for an easy finish. It’s not an incredibly complex system, or one that requires a lot of thought, but the positive effect it has on combat is that it causes the player to constantly be switching up which party member they’re controlling, and gives the action a much-appreciated dose of variety. I often found myself straying away from my primary goal just to pick fights with the plethora of enemies dotting the landscape, just because fighting is that much fun.
When it comes to actual exploration, Ys VIII delivers by making everything as intuitive and player-friendly as possible. Fast travel is always an option when going back to further explore areas, or when heading back to the village after a successful quest. This helps to ease the tedium of backtracking, which happens fairly frequently in the early hours of the game. Critically, quests never drag on too long, probably owing to this game being designed not just for PlayStation 4, but also the Vita, where short-burst play is key. Exciting boss battles and other moments of variety come at a consistent pace, and new traversal abilities are earned quickly. Also breaking up the standard flow are ‘interception’ missions, where the village will call on the party to defend it from monster attacks. These play out like a ‘horde’ mode in a shooter, where waves of enemies come for critical points that must be defended. A score is earned at the end of all the waves and result in a tonne of useful loot, so participating in these interceptions is both fun and rewarding.
Ys VIII’s presentation is kind of a mixed bag. While the overall look is pleasant, with some beautiful island vistas to soak in and some great character designs, its cross-platform nature as both a PS Vita and PS4 game shows in its very basic visuals. Thankfully, this means that on home console the game runs incredibly smoothly and looks super sharp, further elevating the fast and responsive combat experience. All the combat and exploration are backed up by a terrific score, with a wide variety of tracks that perfectly set the tone in every scene, and are wonderful to listen to. Voice acting is decent enough too, although the dialogue itself isn’t always great, mostly due to some questionable translation. Still, the story remains compelling throughout by way of its fantastic cast of characters, both in the main party and in supporting roles in the village. Everyone has a unique story and personality to bring to the island, and so venturing out into the wild to find new ways to support them is always rewarding.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana may seem basic at a glance, but its true depth and value shows in its addictive exploration, diverse cast of characters, and its stellar combat. Backed up by some lovely sights and sounds, and a rewarding sense of progression, it’s a great next step for series fans, and also an accessibly entry point for newcomers.