Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is an action RPG developed by Nihon Falcom and released in Japan for the Playstation Vita on July 21 2016. This started my long and agonizing wait for the North American release, which NISA finally delivered on September 12th, 2017 for PS4 and Vita. I found myself scrambling to the closest EB Games on release day to find a copy of the game, unwilling to wait for my Amazon order to come in. I quickly popped my disc in and after a few hours of gameplay, I came to the realization that Ys VII is exactly what I look for in a video game. Over the past few weeks, I have been counting down the minutes at school so that I can go home and get my golden hour of Ys gameplay. I have finally finished the game, and while it may not necessarily be a perfect game or an all time favourite of mine, it was some of the most pure fun I have had playing a game.
Ys has never been a story driven series. The series focuses on adventure and exploration. Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished simply tells you that there was an advanced kingdom known as Ys that one day vanished into thin air. You are then given control of series protagonist Adol Christin, and you are left to explore the local town and fight monsters in the surrounding area. The rest of the series follows a similar format: Adol arrives at a new locale with amnesia, and explores the surrounding area while uncovering the underlying issues of the region. It is a very simplistic plot, and that’s ok. I believe that one of the greatest aspects of gaming is that you don’t necessarily need a great plot to produce a stellar video game. Don’t get me wrong, I personally love to sit down and play through a slow-burn, story driven game like Persona or Legend of Heroes. But I do believe that a game’s merit is sometimes based too strongly on its story. I think it’s important to look at what the game is focusing on to judge its merit. Super Mario Brothers has virtually no plot and rightfully does not get criticized for this. It is a gameplay driven series, and its merits are judged based on its gameplay mechanics. Ys VIII is a gameplay driven game, and its story is an acceptable secondary driving force to the combat and exploration. However, if you are looking for a strong narrative, you will be disappointed.
Ys VIII starts in a similar manner to other games of the series, with Adol Christin finding himself in a new area. This time, Adol is travelling on a ship known as “The Lombardia,” when it is attacked by a mysterious creature. He finds himself on the accursed Isle of Seiren, and quickly finds other Lombardia travelers who are stranded on the island. Together, they create Castaway village as a base of operations and home for other survivors. Their eventual goal is to learn more about the island and find a way to escape. Adol is charged with the task of mapping Seiren, and sets off to explore the island with his newfound companions Laxia and Sahad. During his travels, Adol dreams of woman named Dana, and has visions of her upbringing, relationships and struggles.
While the premise is simple, it sets up many questions to keep the player interested while exploring Seiren. Just who exactly is Dana, and when is Adol going to meet her? What is the mystery of the Isle of Seiren and why is it cursed? Will the passengers of Lombardia be able to escape and return to their usual lives? It is not deep or complex by any means, but there are some genuinely interesting moments. In particular, the plot picks up significantly in the final two chapters of the game, and I personally enjoyed the twists and turns despite its simplicity.
The characters in Ys VIII are fairly one note. Adol Christin is the red-haired silent protagonist that we find in every game. You are given dialogue options for Adol frequently, and it makes me wonder why he doesn’t just talk. Dana Icarusia is our female heroine, a kind woman who was just given the title of “Maiden of the Great Tree.” Throughout the game, Dana dreams of Adol’s adventures, and uses his guidance to come to terms with her role and eventual fate. Laxia von Roswell is your classic tsundere that opens up as the game progresses, and while its been done a million times, her character was pleasant. The rest of the playable characters were fairly one dimensional, but they were decent enough to not irritate me. The game also features recruitable NPCs for Castaway Village, which is founded by Adol and his companions at the beginning of the game. The members of Castaway Village can carry out various tasks for Adol and his companions, such as farming, blacksmithing, medicine, crafting and mixing drinks. Like the main cast, the Castaways are one note characters, but I personally enjoyed their interactions with Adol and some of the references they made to previous games.
The biggest issue with Ys VIII plot comes with its localization. Falcom made the mistake of letting NISA translate the game, and the result is disastrous. Ys VIII has one of the worst localizations I have seen in a video game. There are tons of fragments from Japanese, awkward dialogue and lines that do not make any sense. I honestly would not be surprised if I heard that it was localized with Google Translate. On the extreme opposite end, there are moments where the Japanese dialogue is replaced by some ridiculous meme. Here are some examples of this god awful localization:
The Ys series has always been about fast paced, buttery smooth action gameplay. Ys VIII provides the greatest gameplay experience yet. It builds on the battle system of its predecessors magnificently, and it is one of the best action RPG battle systems I have ever experienced.
Ys VIII features 6 playable characters, and it does an incredible job at making them all feel unique. I spent a roughly equal amount of time using each party member because they were useful in different situations. Each character using one of three attributes: Adol and Dana use the slash attribute, Laxia and Hummel use the shot attribute and Ricotta and Sahad use the strike attribute. The majority of the enemies have a weakness to a particular attribute, and the player can seamlessly switch between party members to attack the enemy. This mechanic is incredibly satisfying because the player frequently fights groups of enemies with different strengths and weaknesses. For instance, I often found myself using Adol to take out grounded enemies, quickly switching to Laxia to take out flyers and then using Sahad to defeat armored or shelled enemies. The transition between characters is instant and it’s incredibly rewarding choosing the right attribute for the enemy. Hitting an enemy’s weak point repeatedly leads to a break, where the enemy is stunned and all attacks become effective, which further rewards the player for attacking with the right attribute. Moreover, each character has several exclusive skills that can be using skill points that are built up from using basic attacks. These skills are unique to a particular character, which further differentiates the cast. While Adol and Dana have the same attribute, their skills are completely different. Adol focuses on slower, powerful slashes while Dana’s attacks are incredibly quick and have a longer range. Furthermore, each character has a powerful Extra Skill, similar to a Limit Break, that can be used after landing a specific number of normal attacks. The characters were all an absolute blast to play, and I found myself playing every single one of them extensively.
The biggest strength of Ys VIII’s battle system lies in its defensive mechanics. The player can roll and dodge to evade attacks and reduce damage. If the player rolls or dodges right before the enemy attack hits, they will initiate a flash dodge or flash guard. A flash dodge will slow down the enemy temporarily and allow the player to land several free hits. A flash guard will slow down the enemy and temporarily guarantees critical hits for the player. This mechanic is brilliant since it rewards the player for paying attention to enemy patterns. It exponentially increases the depth of the combat system since the player must learn every enemy’s nuances and specific timings. It’s one of the few game that has made me thoroughly pay attention to every enemy’s attack patterns and animations.
The beauty of the battle system is that it is extremely easy to pick up while also incredibly deep. I typically played the game after a long day of school, and I just wanted to bash things. I usually set the difficulty to normal and bashed away, and it was incredibly satisfying thanks to the smooth controls and quick animations. However, the game also has a lot to offer for those who want a challenge. I occasionally raised the difficulty to nightmare to challenge myself, and I really needed to think about every move I made. I had to make sure that most of my attacks were placed between enemy attack animations or after a flash dodge or guard. A wrong move meant devastating damage for my party. The higher difficulties are perfect for those who want a little bit more challenge and depth to the battle system.
Ys VIII features a lot of additional content for the player. The village has a request board where sidequests are posted by the Castaways. The quests are typically fairly simple in nature and range from fighting an optional boss to gathering materials. Upon finishing the quest, there is usually a decent amount of interesting dialogue, and the side quests do fairly well in adding some depth to Castaways. Ys VII also introduces interceptions and suppressions to the series. Interceptions occur when the village is being attacked by nearby monsters, and the party fights waves of enemies while protecting their base. Suppressions are an outbreak of monsters in a certain area, and the party travels to a region to lower monster activity. These modes were solid horde modes, and offered very useful prizes for the main story.
The exploration of Ys VIII is another strong point of the game. The game features the largest map in the series, with dozens of environments such as forests, mountains, shorelines, abandoned cities and many more. Each region features its own unique enemies and landmarks, making each new environment feel fresh. Moreover, some regions have characters that Adol can recruit to Castaway village. The passengers of Lombardia were separated during the crash, and were scattered across the island. Finding these characters can lead to various benefits for the village, since each villager can carry out a specific task. The game also rewards you for exploring since one of the members of Castaway village gives you a prize for every 10% of the map you complete. I had an absolute blast exploring in Ys VIII, and I found myself searching every nook and cranny of the deserted island.
Falcom is not typically a company known for producing graphically impressive games. Their games usually sell a few hundred thousand units, and as result, they keep their budgets low. With that being said, Ys VIII is their best looking game released in North America. The game runs at a respectable 1080p on PS4 and 4K on the PS4 Pro. It is certainly not among the best looking games on the system from a technical standpoint. However, the visuals are enhanced by the game’s beautiful artstyle. I personally loved the designs of the main cast, especially Adol, Laxia and Dana. The environments and enemies were also well designed, and I enjoyed the fact that the game made use of many different colors.
Falcom is well known for their stellar soundtracks across all their games, and Ys VIII is no exception. Falcom Sound Team JDK does incredibly well in capture the fast paced battle system with their specialty rock during combat being the highlight. My personal favorite tracks were Gend d’Armes, Sunshine Coastline and the opening.
Ys VIII was one of those rare gems that reminded my why I play video games in the first place. The fast paced, smooth combat system is pure fun, and I found myself constantly looking forward to my next session. Exploring the island’s different environments was a ton of fun and really captured a sense of adventure. The story and characters will not blow you away, and this is not the game for somebody who is looking for an, in-depth story, especially since NISA lazily slapped together one of the worst localizations I have ever seen. However, the story does feature some interesting and surprising moments along the way. Ys VIII also features a high quality soundtrack and solid visuals to complement its strong gameplay. If you are interested in JRPGs or action games, you will not regret picking up Ys VIII.