Tears of joy
Have you ever heard of the name Adol Christin? If not, Adol just so happens to be the hero of the many Ys games since 1987 and he’s an adventurer who keeps finding himself in all sorts of adventures. For those who have no idea on how to pronounce this game’s title, Ys is pronounced like “cheese” but omit the “ch-” sound in the beginning.
This latest entry is trying some pretty new stuff to the tried-and-true action RPG formula of the Ys series. The term “Lacrimosa” happens to be latin for “weeping”, so will this new game make you cry in a good way or a bad way? Will it involve sadness in some way? You’ve probably read the subtitle above so just read on to find out why I think this makes me happy.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA (Vita, PS4 [Reviewed], PC)
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: NIS America
Released: September 12, 2017 (NA) , September 15, 2017 (EU)
MSRP: $59.99, $39.99
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA, begins with the red haired adventurer Adol Christin working as a sailor on the passenger ship Lombardia, just wearing his sailor suit while doing some sailor stuff. As expected, adventure always seems to find Adol and he ends up shipwrecked on a seemingly uninhabited island. This mysterious island is believed to be the cursed island of Seiren, known for all the terrible tales of ships lost that come near it. Adol and the other shipwrecked survivors must try to survive the dangers and uncover the secrets of the cursed island. The story also centers around the eponymous Dana, whose story about fulfilling her sacred maiden duty slowly unfolds alongside Adol’s tale of survival.
The bread and butter of the Ys series is the combat, and Ys VIII upholds the series’ fast and frenetic fights even with the shift in the camera, and is still very similar to the last released proper Ys game, Ys: Memories of Celceta (also on Vita). The combat is simple with only one attack button but is still gratifying that just looks and feels good to do every time. There will be a maximum of three active party members with the player controlling one character and the AI controlling the other two members.
Combat can still be complex with the use of skills with blocking and dodging, up to 4 different skills can be equipped at a time with plenty of different skills to use once unlocked and each character will have their own unique skills. The dodging and blocking is also another important part of combat. Performing either of the two at the right time before an enemy’s attack hits the player at the last moment will trigger a “Flash Move/Guard” which slows down everything but the player for a few seconds that allows the player to get in some hits on the enemy.
Each character will have one of three different attack types and certain enemies will be weak to these attack types.Using the right attack type will “Break” an enemy that lowers an enemy’s defense and makes them vulnerable to all attacks. Thankfully, the AI controlled characters do a good job at fighting and can break the enemy for you. Characters can now jump which adds some verticality to the combat. Using all these combat techniques efficiently becomes really important in the higher difficulty modes when players have to use everything at their disposal to survive.
The newest change to the Ys series in Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is that the camera moves in for a more closer view of the action from behind the character. It also likes to keep one of the character’s behind in perfect view of the camera in a lot of the cutscenes as well. This new camera also introduces a lock-on feature to aid in combat but it isn’t perfect and both the camera and lock-on will sometimes be at odds with each other.
Fighting multiple enemies can be a bit confusing since it doesn’t know whether to target something in view of the camera or the closest enemy in range. The player still has re-center the camera at times when the enemies are off screen. While this sounds like an issue, it is still pretty minor and players can get the hang of using the lock-on effectively.
The PS4 and PC versions of Ys VIII are enhanced ports with added content of a Vita game released last year in Japan. The Vita version sadly does not have the added content as it releases alongside the PS4 and PC versions in the west. One of these enhancements is a increased framerate that maintains up to 60 FPS. There are some occasional stutters when many enemies and graphical effects litter the screen, though this doesn’t really interrupt the game at all since it barely lasts for a second.
Other limitations of the game design that were meant to work with the Vita hardware is still present in this version, sections of the map are chopped up into sizeable play areas. There is a second or two of loading when moving to different areas that slows down the momentum a bit. This might make the world feel a bit less open world, but thankfully the loading is pretty fast which makes it tolerable and easily ignored.
The music in Ys series have always been good and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA keeps that tradition up and its soundtrack serves to amp up the action with a mix of fast rock and orchestral beats. There are also some of the slower fantasy JRPG music that one would expect from such a title that completes that feeling of a grand adventure.
This new island setting encourages some backtracking action for exploration and sidequests, throwing some metroidvania elements such as being able to access new areas after unlocking certain things. Retreading paths taken gives the island setting a sense of familiarity and makes the world feel more organic. Fast travel to and from any previously visited landmarks also helps to traverse the large map. There is plenty of exploration to do that fills out out the map including some off-the-beaten path stuff that often leads to treasure and other goodies to find.
Gathering items and material which acts a sort of currency is here again much like the previous entry and is used for creating many things such as useable items and equipment. There’s always items to get from places and enemies, so there is always incentive in going through paths traveled before. There’s also basic fishing minigame that is a nice distraction to do on the side that nets materials and items.
One of the new additions in this new Ys game are Interception battles, which are like wave defense sequences, where the player will fight off waves of enemies that are trying to attack the home base. While this adds a bit of a breather to the exploration, these things tend to pop up right when I was just about to finish up all the stuff in a map area. These battles are scored and can be replayed later to get a better score for better item rewards.
It does take a bit for the story to get going and once it picks up, it starts to get better as more is revealed as to how the island and Dana tie in together. Most of the characters in the game have some interesting backstories, while some are more fleshed out than the others, I can still remember almost every named character and can say something about them. There are some dialogue choices in conversations that pop up from time to time but these don’t affect the story at all, but they do add a bit of flavor and personality to the character interactions.
A lot of the new things in Ys VIII seem to be a response to what’s currently popular in video games such as the “survival” genre where players have to gather resources and fight the elements. These additions such as the island setting and wave defense battles to name a few, are a bit superficial and not really interwoven to the fabric of the game. However, these new additions do greatly add to an already great Ys game that helps to make it better.
Ys VIII was originally on the Vita and it was already a pretty game on the system to begin with, using a stylized anime look helped in the transition into HD. The character models have some good detail on them, as well as the other visual elements such as in menus that you’ll be constantly looking at are very sharp. The environment doesn’t get the same exact treatment as much but they aren’t bad at all and are still pretty vibrant and memorable.
There was some concern about the localization a while ago, particularly with an oddly literal translation of a boss name in a pre-release demo shown to the public. That little error has been fixed and I didn’t find any other errors of the sort in my playthrough. The english voice acting in the localization is perfectly fine but those who want to opt for the Japanese audio will have the option.
I played this game on normal and found it a bit easy so I started up on hard and found a good challenge. That’s not to say that normal difficulty doesn’t pose the occasional challenge when a new enemy shows up, but for those wanting to put their skills to the test will have a few higher difficulties to try and test their mettle. Ys VIII clocks in around a modest 30-40 hours for those who want to focus on the main story, which is manageable for those not wanting to invest in ridiculous amounts of hours that Japanese RPGs usually require from the player. Completionists and those wanting to tackle the new extra endgame stuff will have an additional dozen or more hours of playtime.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA has its share of flaws but its very satisfying combat more than makes up for it while the fun exploration and good story kept me going through all of it. Ys fans will love this one, and those new to the series are sure to get some enjoyment with the solid fast paced action that might turn them into fans as well. This is definitely a game I would like to have with me to play if I ever get shipwrecked on a deserted island.
[This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.]