After the absolutely mind-blowing Ys Memories of Celceta for the Vita, Nihon Falcom has out done itself once again with its newest installment to this iconic franchise. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA takes everything you know and love about the series and turns it up to 11.
The game takes place right after the events of Ys V. It opens as always with our now 20-year-old adventurer Adol Christin ready to trek to uncharted lands.
While sailing through the Goethe Sea on The Lombardia, your ship is attacked by a giant squid and quickly capsizes. Adol finds himself on the perilous Seiren Isle where legend has it that countless vessels disappear in and never make it back. Adol meets up with Laxia von Roswell, a high standing noble girl, as well as Sahad, a happy go lucky guy who effortlessly wields a broken anchor as a weapon. Together they explore this new land, gathering up the survivors of the crash and planning a way to escape all while uncovering the mysteries of this deadly monster ridden isle.
All this sets the perfect groundwork for the core theme of the game and that is exploring the island and expanding your small settlement. Like in Ys Memories of Celceta before it, Ys VIII encourages players to explore every nook and cranny of the map. Those suffering from OCD tendencies beware, since the game rewards you depending on how much of the game’s world map you charted during your adventure. Thankfully the game allows you to skip the majority of backtracking with the handy fast travel option, effectively letting you solely focus on uncovering new areas and opening up blocked off paths in old ones.
Unlike in typical RPGs where you have to wait until stores finish renovating a few hours into the game before actually being able to use them, here it’s naturally tied to the setting. As you find and rescue survivors from the Lombardia so too will they join your little settlement, providing for your small community in various helpful ways. Rescuing Alison, for example, will let you craft new outfits and accessories for your party, while finding Kiergaard the Physician will open a clinic in the Castaway village.
This also cleverly translates to the game’s side quests. After reading about what quests are on offer on the bulletin board at the entrance of town you can then find the person who put the request up in order to get more details. And while the quests usually involve bringing an X number of some item, completing them helps the town grow. In one instance, I brought wood which meant we had new beds and in another I was tasked with finding materials for a curtain in order to divide the male and female sleeping area, and yet in another I helped the town build up its defenses for the inevitable monster raids. All these make the quests feel much more personal and help you to more intimately get to know each of these characters.
At first, I was worried how the game will handle currency, but it managed to do that masterfully as well. Since you are building a settlement, gold and silver have little value in your small budding community. Instead, you will collect various items which you can use in one of the numerous shops or simply trade these excess resources for items of equal value.
This brings me to another of the iconic aspects, its resource gathering. Instead of slowly pick-axing away at an ore deposit or groveling through the dirt in search of a flower petal, in Ys you literally slash and bash everything you come across. It’s fast, painless and unbelievably satisfying to just run up to a bush or tree and slash it, automatically collect all the goodies which burst out.
Ys always had one of the best JRPG battle systems out there. There are no random encounters, but instead, you freely explore the world while taking on any enemies you want in real-time. Combat is mind-numbingly fast paced. In order to add a bit more complexity to what might have easily ended up as a mindless hack and slash enemies in Ys are usually weak to a specific attack, slash, bash or stab. This rock paper scissors-like combat will have you constantly switching between each of your three currently selected characters in order to maximize damage.
Boss battles are the highlight of the game. Here you will need to make use of the various mechanics such as dodging and defending at precisely the right moment in order to enter the Bayonetta-like bullet time. Add the riffing rock music and you have the perfect recipe to get any player pumped.
The game features a number of difficulty levels ranging from Easy to Nightmare. The fifth difficulty level, Inferno, is absent from the Vita version of the game and it has one-time use bottles, a max item limit, and even faster enemies.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana wouldn’t be a JRPG without fishing. Surprisingly the game lets you fish at just about every pool of water you encounter. After successfully completing a mini-game will be rewarded a fish as well as a number of ever important resources. This is a great way to relax after all the action and it will have you constantly on the lookout for secret fishing spots which give you rare items.
Both the 2009 Ys Seven and the 2012 Ys were primarily portable console titles. And while their strong and colorful art style brought the game a long way, it still looked like a portable title nonetheless. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana fixes this. And even though it may not be a powerhouse some might expect; the game looks absolutely stunning on the PlayStation 4 and PC. The clean, adorable semi-chibi aesthetic combined with the beautiful shading makes this game have a somewhat timeless feel. The now lowered camera shows more of the game world than ever, giving players that feeling that all previous restraints have been removed. Even PlayStation 4 Pro owners will have something to look forward to, since the game not only supports 4k visuals, but also runs at a buttery smooth 60fps at those resolutions. The game is also available on the Vita. Naturally, there is a drop in visual quality and increase in load times, as well as a few minor missing elements. Despite this, if you plan on gaming primarily while on the go the Vita version is your best option.
While Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it most certainly improves absolutely everything it can over its already excellent predecessors. It hits the nail on the head with just about everything it does, from the stellar combat to the almost Metroidvania world structure to the actual feeling of exploring a mysterious island inhabited by feral creatures. This is one of the few rare cases where the game’s narrative is closely tied to its gameplay, making for something truly refreshing. If you have never played a Ys game before this is the perfect place to start, while longtime fans are sure to be more than thrilled with this latest adventure.