Well wasn’t this a delightful surprise. And I don’t mean that in the sense that expectations were originally low – as a very casual fan of the Ys universe (I played two games in the franchise) I was looking forward to a return to this bombastic action RPG series – but the opening to this eighth instalment was, shall we say, a little worrisome. The first hour or so gave very little impression at all, other than some basic looking graphics, floaty movement and some absolutely dreadful dialogue (made even worse if you are foolish enough to use the English dub). It reminded me of fan made anime action RPGs and lame spin offs – games like Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity sprang to mind, which isn’t a good thing, especially for such a well-loved series like Ys. But boy was this initial impression shot to absolute pieces. Not only does the title mainline that Ys cheese and action that we all wanted, but opens up as a game more than I could have expected. And I will say this now, even before approaching the conclusion of this review, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is an exhilarating and extensive experience, which fans of the franchise, and just fans of action RPGs in general, absolutely need to play.

The premise of the game sees our protagonist, Adol Christin, setting sail aboard a passenger ship in search of a new adventure. Adol is the main character from previous Ys games, if you were unaware, and is joined again by his close friend Dogi. The captain of the ship talks about a mysterious island they will soon pass, one that has a notorious history – which, with a fine dose of foreshadowing, he explains that no one has ever been there before and that ships go missing when they try to visit it. Cue a giant sea monster that brings the ship down, leaving all its passengers to wash up on the shores of, you guessed it, the mysterious island.

Adol soon finds that the place is inhabited by dangerous beasts, but with some luck he runs into another passenger from the ship – an uptight young woman named Laxia. Together they set off to try and find other passengers. After succeeding in that respect (finding Dogi and the captain of the ship) a small camp is set up as a home base from which you will go out to search for more survivors, and in the process find out what the hell is going on with this island.

The main gameplay direction therefore, is to explore this semi-open world island with all of its beaches, caves, forests and other interesting locations, to discover what it holds and to try to regroup all the stragglers from the ship. As you find more of the passengers, your camp will grow to become a village, with each person fulfilling a specific role. For example, you will find a doctor who will provide you with the ability to create healing items and physical buffs and defences; you will find a blacksmith who can help improve your weapons, and so on and so forth. The point being that each new person you find doesn’t just progress the story, but also how well equipped you are to deal with the challenges ahead.

And the challenges are many. Vast numbers of beasts, from wolves to giant scorpions and dinosaurs, patrol every area, and even larger, tougher enemies provide exciting boss battles. Thankfully, the ship’s passengers all seem to be versed in combat, and for a selection of those you save, they will join your party as you push further into the island. Each character has a particular strength when it comes to fighting. For example, Adol and his sword are effective against enemies weak to slash damage, whereas Laxia and her rapier provide good piercing damage (super effective against flying foes). You can have three members active in your party at one time, and can switch between them in real time. While this is good for dealing with different enemy types, your party members still engage in combat when you are not directly controlling them, and therefore are always providing some support.

You can also switch out members of your party in the options menu and mostly any time you want – with the exception of mid boss battles – so if you are in an area that’s heavily populated by enemies with a specific weakness – say, giant scorpions that are weak to strong attacks – you can even utilise two characters with the same strengths at one time, so your damage output is maximised against the current foe. The level of strategy to the combat was a pleasant surprise, and while not quite as complex as it might initially sound, particularly later on in the game making use of each character’s strengths is very important.

And I’ll remind you that all of this is happening in real time – in that classic Ys action RPG style. The combat here is an absolute delight. It’s super-fast, powerful and flashy – with enough variation between characters and enemy types that it never seems to get old. This is definitely helped along by the learning of new skills, and the various power attacks that your party can dish out. You can equip four special moves per character, and as you level up you will unlock new ones. These encompass a variety of effects, from AOE damage, to extra stun, but more importantly they generally just do more damage than a normal attack. Adol, for example, has a dash move so he can throw out a powerful strike from a distance, and Laxia can throw out a handful of daggers. These special moves will use up some of your SP (mana), however this can be refilled simply by attacking enemies. It seemed early on in the game that you rarely have an issue with running out of SP, however I can confirm that this changes drastically when you face tougher enemies – your base attacks may do virtually no damage to a large foe, and therefore you will have to rely on special moves to deal any significant damage, or to break their defense.

In addition to special moves, you also have an ultimate power move, or ‘Extra’ as it’s called in-game. Your Extra Gauge is filled up by landing special moves on enemies, and once full you can release a devastating attack. Again, the attack in question varies with each character, and it’s really cool to see each party member’s extravagant bombardment. You can improve your gain rate and initiate other buffs from increased defense, to higher exp gain by equipping items and consuming drinks/ingredients. It all adds to this detailed real time combat experience. In order to get these equippables and items, you’ll need to explore a bit and occasionally engage in a bit of grinding. It’s actually not that difficult, since you gain items from near enough every enemy you defeat, and from plants littered about the environment, however chests often contain cooler stuff, so you need to keep an eye out for them.

This resource gathering is a very important facet of the game, and it contributes to multiple areas. As I’ve already mentioned, new residents to your village can offer certain services, from weapon improvements to healing items. Well, all of this needs to be paid for, or at least accommodated – it’s not like the people you rescue want to set up business and make profit from you (there is genuinely one character who does, though), but you will need to combine lesser resources to get the more valuable and rare ones, and of course to create anything of worth. A healing drink takes a few ingredients and a bottle, for example; weapon upgrades take iron ore and other resources, and so on. It’s quite a nice little system, putting to use all of the tat you hoover up for genuine improvements to yourself and your village.

Oh, did I not mention? You can also improve parts of your village as well. This is where the game really started to open up for me. It’s not amazing base-building mechanics or anything, but this aspect of improvement helps drive you forward, and keeps you invested in the goings on in your village. Initially these improvements come from side quests. These can be found on a notice board in your village. For example, the captain wants you to build a lookout tower, Laxia wants better sleeping quarters. The side quests also offer treasure hunts, culling of troublesome beasts, or simply finding resources for a character, and once completed, you are rewarded with some items and increased affection with the character in question – revealing things about them as well as bonuses to Adol and your party.

And then comes along the ‘Interception’ missions – or defending your village from beast attacks. These are very enjoyable arcade style enemy wave games. Essentially you just need to survive the waves of beasts and defend your village gate, stopping them from getting in. You are scored based on performance, and the higher score you get, the better the reward. But you can also bolster your chances by improving defences. Crafting barricades, catapults and other objects, while improving them and adding status effects. It’s the more open of the village enhancement options, and you will need to stay on top of it to have a good time in future attacks. On the other side of this, you can also raid enemy hot points yourself, taking out spawn points before defeating a boss – these are unlocked quite late in the game, and tend to require a high character level.

There’s just so much to the game, and so much to do with what you have. Even after the 30 hour mark I was finding myself still uncovering new things to do. There are even areas that are off limits until you reach a higher number of village members – so you will need 20 to move a boulder so you can explore, for example. The backtracking is fun and not obnoxious, with everything being marked on the map, such as percentage explored, how many chests are in an area, etc. If there is one thing to criticise about this area of the game, however, it is that the map can be confusing for finding your way around (which is pretty important for a map, to be fair), but you zip around so quickly that going the wrong way isn’t a major annoyance (though enemies may respawn).

As you progress in the game and unlock more of the island and its story, this Dana character from the title becomes more of a feature. I won’t talk much about this as its prime spoiler territory, however I will say I was very impressed with what comes from this – the story expanding in the way it does is highly engaging, and it introduces more content, and the world is opened up even further.

But there’s one thing I haven’t talked about (actually many things, but this review can’t go on for ever) that I’m sure Ys fans will be curious about, and that’s the boss fights. Well, you can rest easy, because there’s plenty of them, and they are all large and in charge. Each boss encounter has their own attack pattern and style. From monsters that launch at you, ones that fly, and ones that just simply do a heck of a lot of damage; each encounter is unique and exciting. The dramatic introductions to each boss, the awesome music (which is fantastic across the board, actually – there are some superb tunes in this game) and the frantic combat that ensues is all brilliant, and as you discover the more dangerous areas of the island, this only get better.

There’s not much negative I can say about the game that doesn’t sound trite or insignificant in comparison to what I’ve praised. The graphics aren’t the best, though some views in the game are still quite stunning. The dialogue was initially terrible and cringe worthy, however as you get to know the characters, there’s actually a lot of charm to them – and some genuinely funny writing to boot. There is a jump in difficulty after a certain stage in the game, however Ys games in the past have offered a choice to grind your characters to deal with later difficulties, so I’d say this is more on point with the series than a misstep. Perhaps the combat can get repetitive, but there’s so much character and skill variation that if it does I suspect you’re playing the game wrong.

Ys VIII is a triumphant return for the main series. The amount of content on offer is seriously impressive, from fishing to crafting, to cooking to killing, it’s all entertaining and valuable to the overall experience. The story goes in some very interesting directions, and honestly I wasn’t expecting to get quite so hooked on the narrative. Fair enough, the combat is exhilarating, but Ys has a history of flashy fighting, but I’ve never personally been so engaged by the narrative (again, bear in mind I only played two previous games, and finished neither of them). I think Ys fans will be very happy with this, and if you’re just in the market for an action RPG, there’s not much better than this on the market at the moment. What else can I say? I highly recommend it, and hope there’s more to come in the future.

 



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29