The Ys series has once again entered our lives, but I feel like the action RPG hasn’t made as huge of a dent in the gaming community as it probably should have, perhaps that will soon change. The series that began in 1987 is now celebrating it’s 30 year anniversary with the release of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and PC.
With such a long lineage of titles it might seem overwhelming to some when finding where to begin. However, other than a few terms and region titles, the game is fairly standalone and can be picked up by someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to play the other entries. With that said, if you’re starting with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana it might make it difficult to go back to the previous titles because this game is just so damn good.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana begins with returning protagonists Adol and Dogi taking up a side job of being a sailor. The Captain of the ship, Captain Barbaros, let’s Adol in on a story of a mysterious island that swallows up any ship that nears it. Coincidentally, while attempting to show Adol this island from afar, the ship is attacked, throwing the crew and passengers into the sea and washing them ashore the deserted island.
This is where Adol’s new adventure begins as he readies his sword in search of other survivors and a way to get off the island. Before the cars, the opening is quick, but it gives you a chance to walk around the ship and get a preview of each of the other passengers by speaking to them. Adol (like in previous titles) is still silent, well most of the time, and his replies in conversations are decided by the player. There are usually two choices that don’t really affect the story too much from what I can tell because I’ve tried to pick the obvious wrong choice and the other characters will just correct my response, which ends up just making Adol look stupid.
When the game opens up, the player goes off in search of any survivors from the crash while mapping out the island. After finding Captain Barbaros, the small group of survivors begin to build a fort called Castaway Village and make the best out of their bad situation. When it comes to base building, I can’t help but compare it to games like Suikoden where you enlist NPCs to move into your base where they’ll build a shop or satisfy some role that is needed on the team.
With Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, players will meet survivors along their journey and they’ll usually have a skill that can benefit the group. This includes item trading, weapon forging, medicine, and much more. Throughout the game, you’ll watch as your once empty base begins to fill up and become alive as the survivors work together to stay sane in a very stressful situation.
The spotlight of the Ys series is by far the battles and you will be doing that a lot in Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. After meeting your first two party members, Laxia and Sahad, you’ll be able to switch characters instantly in battle depending on which type of enemy you’re up against. Yes, that means a returning system in Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana relies on enemy weaknesses to weapon types instead of the classic elemental damage. However, there are equipable accessories that can add element magic and debuffs to your attacks, which do come in handy.
The battle system is fluid and responsive. Using a combination of normal attacks and special skills becomes muscle memory after the first couple hours of gameplay. During fights, players are able to Flash Dodge or Flash Guard by using either of the shoulder buttons. In order to trigger these in battle, they need to be executed at the right time. Dodging out of the way of an attack will slow down time and allow players to get in a few extra hits, while guarding against an attack at the right time will increase your character’s power.
There are also EXTRA moves that are unique to each player and are represented by a gauge on the screen. Once full, pressing the two shoulder buttons together will unleash a multi-hit special move that could save you in a few skirmishes. However, because this requires you to hit the dodge and block buttons at the same time, I found myself accidentally hitting them from time to time, which sucked when it happened (and depleted) right before a boss battle.
Speaking of which, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana has some pretty epic boss battles that require the player to learn the enemy’s pattern of attacks if they have any hope of winning the fight. However, these patterns change once the boss’s HP gets low enough and then you better hope you’ve mastered that dodge button cause this is when the fight gets real. Most of the boss battles are exciting and happen right after an awesome cinematic scene that introduced the mighty enemy, but there are also a couple bosses that were forgettable. That being said, there are a lot of boss battles in this game and some happen when you least expect it.
The pacing in Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana‘s story should be looked to as the standard of action RPGs to come. Whenever there’s the smallest feeling that the combat or exploration is getting tedious, the game throws you a curveball by introducing a new challenge to the survivors or opening up a new area on the map. It’s difficult to talk about story pacing without giving spoilers, but Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana provides so much with its deep character backstories that keep you wanting to continue playing and learn more about each survivor and their personal troubles that they face.
Another good break from the main exploring mission are the dream sequences that Adol has during the game. During these moments the main protagonist of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana switches to a girl named Dana. Slowly, you’ll learn about her world and how they tie with Adol’s, Which I must say Falcom did a wonderful job at doing.
Like other Falcom titles, NPC backstories and personalities are there for players who want to take the time to learn them. However, with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana having such a small cast of NPCs, Falcom seemed to put more time into giving them each a proper spotlight in the game. This can be seen when talking to them periodically throughout and the game, but also when accepting quests that increases their affinity towards Adol.
Exploring the island is huge part of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana and it can be quite enjoyable. As you explore there will be times when you can’t access a certain area, either because you don’t have the necessary item or not enough to survivors to help clear the way, these will be clearly marked on the map for you to remember to return once you have what is needed.
The map is easy to read and offers data on every section, providing the player with information like how many treasure chests are left and also the percentage of a certain area that has been discovered. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana‘s topography is fairly basic in the beginning, but after a few hours the game took me to some pretty beautiful locations that made me want to continue my journey and discover more.
You’re going to want to play Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana with headphones cause the music is by far one of the best soundtracks for a video game that I’ve heard. Running through island while hearing awesome drum beats and a violin blazing in your ear really pumps you up. The music fits perfectly with every theme and situation in the game. I applaud Falcom JDK for producing such a wonderful soundtrack. However, the game could have included more voice over tracks because for much of the game conversations are text only.
Now, I’m sure people are going to ask about Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana‘s localization. My honest opinion is that the team at NIS America knows what they are doing when it comes to translating and editing Japanese games. They definitely played it safe with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana and made the text approachable and easy to follow by not taking too many liberties with the localization. This is different from the playful and laid-back localization that western fans might be used to, but it still works and I was perfectly able to enjoy the entire game and it’s story.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana has introduced a new type of adventure to the Ys series and does it incredibly well. The game takes the action-RPG genre to a new level with its excellent story pacing and gameplay. The game offers many hours of exploring and fast-paced action along with plenty more for those who’d like to dive deeper into the mysteries of the island. The truth is after picking up Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana I simply couldn’t put it down until I finished the story. In the end, I found myself attached to many of the characters that I met along the way and part of me wished that this Ys adventure never had to end.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana will also release on PS Vita and PC.