Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA Review (PS4)
Adol Christin is many things. Adventurer, saviour and number one in gaming heroes I would never invite on a cruise. The star of Falcolm’s action RPG series Ys does not have a great history crossing waters. And Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, unfortunately for those around him, does nothing to buck this trend.
Ys VIII opens with Adol and his close pal Dogi figuring their next adventure once they land in a continent called Eresia. Whilst earning their keep by working as security aboard a cruise liner called the Lombardia, their plans are quickly scuppered as the ship is sunk by the sudden attack of a giant Kraken like creature. Waking up alone and confused (almost a series staple at this point) on a cursed island called Seiren, which nobody has ever escaped from, Adol quickly starts finding fellow shipmates and guests from the fated ship and sets up a makeshift village by the name of Castaway Village. While exploring the island and making plans for an escape, he realises the island is inhabited and surrounded by giant and menacing ancient beasts.
Right off the bat the story appealed to me a lot more than other recent JRPGs I have played as it turns the chosen warrior trope on its head. While Adol is skilled and capable, pretty much every person you meet throughout the story brings something of value to the village. Whether it’s a blacksmith, doctor or a tailor, every character is unique and has their own back story and reasons for being on that ship. For the most part they are very endearing (Save for one character, who is one of the most insufferable characters I have encountered in a video game in a while). There are hardly any damsel in distress scenarios which is refreshing. Everyone in this village puts in the work to help Adol explore the island and get them home.
As there is no currency on this abandoned island, Adol and his teammates have to search the island harvesting materials from plants, rocks and enemies. It was interesting to watch the materials and items you could create and craft build up throughout the game. It gives a real sense of comradery between the ever-growing group of survivors.
While Ys VIII does a fantastic job in crafting a high stakes, survival-against-the-odds, story over an intimate setting, the main portion of story for which the game is named after does not really kick into gear until a good 20+ hours into the game. During the course of the adventure, as you progress through story events and filling out the map of the island, Adol will have strange dreams about a woman called Dana. Dana is a revered maiden for a long dead civilisation that once resided on the island. The narrative in Ys VIII takes a while to really find its groove and it keeps you away from the action for far too long. Apart from the Dana intro sections, there is an egregious offender of a section which takes the form of a murder mystery. It’s quite obvious who the perpetrator is and the game drags it out a lot longer than needed. These narrative missteps force you into long periods of dialogue and cutscenes that take away from Ys VIII’s strongest point.
Combat. Plain and simple Ys has always been a series at its best when you are swiftly cutting down foes accompanied by a great soundtrack. Ys VIII does not buck this trend, delivering a simplistic but ever evolving combat system. Essentially a rock paper scissors system. There is only one actual attack button, the variation comes from the unique skills that each character learns. This time Adol is not alone in the field and will need to use his teammates strengths and skills to his advantage. Each character has a particular attack type. Adol is best dealing with ground based foes with his piercing attacks. Sahad, for example, is the tank powerhouse dealing damage to armoured and shell based foes, while Laxia can make quick work of aerial enemies. You can switch between them on the fly to keep the momentum up and make quick work of enemies. Once you build up the gauge, you can unleash Extra Skills which are screen filling special moves that will pretty much decimate anything unfortunate enough to stray into their paths.
Eventually you will encounter fellow castaways that add to the roster of available characters. Each character plays radically different, and their unique play styles can be put to good use as the game allows you to freely swap characters in and out. As long as you are not in a boss battle. Thankfully at no point did this combat become tiresome as you are constantly powering up skills and acquiring new ones in the field. Which is ideal when you need to go through an area and grind for some materials.
During his time exploring the island, Adol and co will journey into dungeons which present a greater danger than general exploration. There is no health regeneration, and a boss fight is probably waiting at the end. There are however, save points that will replenish your HP as you go.
Alongside the story objectives, Ys VIII is filled with optional side quests you can pick up from the notice board in Castaway Village. These normally have an expiry time and can be anything from catching a giant fish to killing off particularly dangerous enemies in an area. Although these are secondary missions, you normally raise renown with the quest giver that will help Adol in two of the other major side activities; repression and suppression battles.
The castaway’s presence on the island does not sit well with a lot of the native species. Some of which are legendary beasts thought to be mythical or long dead. They regularly attack the village and in the repression battles, the castaways must defend the village against waves of enemies in a horde mode wave based battle. You can use the materials you find out in the field to upgrade the defences of the village, such as catapults and barricades, to ensure victory.
The suppression battles have you taking the fight to the beasts on their territory. You lead attacks against their lairs in a large battle where you have to destroy their nests, ending with a battle against their leaders to effectively cull their numbers. Raising your renown with the other castaways has them helping during these battles by sending support attacks, buffs and debuffs that can quickly help turn the tide of battle in your favour.
Owing from its roots as a Vita game, the visuals in the game are simplistic but stylised. The character models themselves look fine, with each of the main characters having features that would not look out of place in an anime. Larger enemies and bosses however look blockier and the textures sometimes let them down by looking stretched. The textures also could have been nicer in the dungeons. But the variety in locales is welcome, from bright sunny beaches to swampy marsh lands that you never linger in for too long.
Ys VIII is a fantastic game that managed to keep me hooked in throughout my play-through. Having played a few of the earlier titles in the series, the direction of the series has edged towards a lot more dialogue and moved away slightly from the fast-paced exploration of the earlier titles. This is evidenced by my 60-hour play-through in which I had not completed everything. While the main story concerning Dana was not as engaging as Adol’s, it was still interesting enough to keep me playing by not being totally predictable. The combat, music and the plethora of side content definitely did not feel like padding. There is enough here to keep fans of the series and newcomers entertained until Adol’s next outing.
8 riveting memos out of 10