Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana - PS Vita Review

It’s Pronounced eez

  • System: Playstation Vita, Playstation 4, PC
  • Publisher: NIS America Inc
  • Developer: Falcom
  • Release Date: September 12th, 2017
  • Pricing:$39.99 (Vita), $59.99 (Playstation 4)
  • Genre: Action-RPG
  • Rating: T for Teen
  • Players: 1
  • Official Website

Who it Caters to

You may not realize it, but Ys is as much of a classic JRPG franchise as Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Tales. It originally got its start as an overhead action-adventure game with light RPG elements ala Zelda on Japanese home computers, but became known to the world via the Turbografix-CD engine. It became widely known for its in-depth world building and snappy combat. It never hit the mainstream like the aforementioned series, but it carved itself a loyal niche throughout the years and has been a reliably great source of action gaming for the past 2 decades.

If you’re new to Ys and are intimidated by the fact that they’re connected by a cohesive story or recurring characters; don’t be. Each game is written like a new plot arc in a long running manga, where each new thread introduced is done with the expectation that there are new fans getting into it. Main character Adol is effectively a blank slate for characters to speak at and only shows flashes of personality in how you choose to respond to them. Each game covers an entirely new section of the world and rarely do old plot threads ever come back in any meaningful way that affects the current story. You don’t have to worry about missing out on extensive character building for Adol or getting caught up with recurring terminology.

What to Expect

While the mechanics and scope of the Ys series has changed, the heart of the original games remains in Ys VIII. You’re not running into the sides of enemies to quickly take them out, but most battles are resolved in just a couple of swings of your weapon anyway. If they have resistance to your weapon type (separated into Slash, Pierce, and Strike types of damage), no worries, just quickly switch your character to one with a more appropriate weapon with the tap of a button and you’ll take control of that party member instantly. There’s no delay or extended animation to convey this. It moves at a brisk pace and you’ll need to keep up with it.
For the enemies that don’t go down in just a couple of swings, you’ll need to master the art of Flash Dodges and Flash Guards. A successful Flash Dodge (performed by dodge rolling just before you get hit by an attack) will slow the enemy down briefly and let you rack up the combos. Flash Guards (performed by guarding just before an enemy hits you) will prevent you from taking damage briefly and make all of your attacks critical hits. You probably won’t be using this on many basic, run-of-the-mill monsters, but mastery is critical for bosses and bigger enemies.

There’s no longer an entire country to explore or nation to save. Rather, you’re stranded on the mysterious Seirin Island with several other passengers on the Lombardia, and you all need to learn to make peace with one another, help each other, and figure out how to get off the island together. There’s no one to tell you where you go next or how to make it to the next city in this entry into Ys. Seirin Island is a total unknown for both you and everyone else you’re stuck with.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana – “Mysteries of the Island” Trailer:

Story

Series’ mainstays Adol and Dogi find themselves working on the cruise ship Lombardia while traveling to the continent of Eresia. However, the Lombardia gets attacked by a terrifying Kraken and sends everyone on the barge overboard! Adol initially finds himself alone on Seirin Island, but along the way encounters Laxia, a noble and fellow passenger on the Lombardia, and Sahad, a boisterous fisherman from the Greek Islands who by coincidence also just got stranded by a Kraken attack. They work together along with the Lombardia’s captain Barbaros to establish a shelter for as many of the other passengers as they can find while they figure out how to escape from the island.

More importantly, however, is how this new setting is used to dictate the gameplay. For example, many RPGs have a crafting system where you need to use materials you find throughout the game to create better equipment or create more healing items. However, they often get undermined by the currency system in the game, where it’s generally just easier to buy new equipment with money and sell off your extra materials. However, this castaway set-up provides the perfect excuse to get rid of the monetary system while also making it feel completely natural to the world the game is trying to build. There is no currency in this game because there simply can’t be currency. You need to gather everything you need to make what you want. The story provides a believable reason for this change in gameplay without feeling ham-fisted or unnatural.

Stranding the cast on an island also provides an excellent reason to approach the plot structure from a different angle. This isn’t the first time that Ys has used a “sailing journey gone wrong” plot device to make an excuse for why Adol suddenly doesn’t have all the equipment he had in the prior game, but generally in that case it’s mainly to portray him as a fish-out-of-water in a new region of the world and for the player to learn about this area as Adol does. There are still aspects of that in Ys VIII, but Seirin Island gives the game an excuse to build up a smaller cast of characters and fit them into common roles normally delegated to uniform NPCs. Catherine is the blacksmith and will upgrade your weapons and equipment, Kiergaard is your pharmacist who’ll deal with your medicine, and so forth. Everyone has their own role in the gameplay as well as their own story, so it’s exciting to find a new character just to see what they’re going to add to the game.

If there’s one complaint to be had with the plot, however, it’s that it does take a while to get moving. The driving force of the narrative is escaping the island, so most of the game is spent wandering around, finding a new character, getting them to join your camp, then moving on to the next area. The sense of progress comes from what they add to the gameplay, but it doesn’t really feel like you’re advancing the overall goal of escaping the island that much. There is a bigger story that is hinted at throughout the course of the game revolving around Dana (as in “of Lacrimosa”), but the game takes an extremely long time to finally get to that point. The story has a bit too slow of a build for its own good, and it feels like the game is just meandering at times while it builds up your growing castaway village.

Gameplay

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is a rock-solid overall experience largely due to the pacing of its combat. It’s not just the speed of it either; it’s the rate of how it rewards you as well. Because of the need for materials for not just equipment, but basic healing, enemies will generally drop several items at once when defeated. Even if you’re getting the same item in bulk, you never feel like you’re picking up anything you don’t need, because you can still generally exchange them at your home base for better items (like 10 light bones for a single sturdy bone). Even if you don’t end up doing so, there’s always that mentality in the back of your head that you’re going to need them at some point, so it never feels like engaging in a battle is a bad idea.

Plus, it’s not like there aren’t other benefits to combat. You have special skills that get stronger the more you use them, and, quite frankly, you need to use them a lot in order to level them up. While this is not a unique concept in and of itself, what’s nice about this is that, rather than restrict skill usage to limited resources, the game gives you ample SP from fighting enemies and reduces the cost of the attack by half if you finish off an enemy with said skill. This keeps combat from feeling too repetitive because you’ve always got something you can work on. Go on, you can abuse your skills; you’ll feel like you’re accomplishing something while never feeling like you’re just wasting time.

All of this is thanks to the game’s zippy speed. Fighting basic enemies is generally a matter of a couple of seconds, but that’s not to say you can just run slipshod without repercussions. Since you’re generally fighting groups of 4-6 enemies at once, you’ll need to keep an eye on their attacking animations and make sure that you’re taking advantage of the previously mention Flash Guard and Flash Dodge abilities to let you attack wildly without worrying about getting ganged up on. Enemies will generally telegraph what attack they’re going to use pretty far in advance, so you’ll need to pay attention and learn their patterns. You want to avoid being forced into using healing items, as those are either limited to what you actually find around the world, or, in the case of the food you can make, the time of their added bonus effects. If you’re just in desperate need of healing and you can find a quiet space, you can just stand and wait to heal, but once your HP starts getting too high it’s not recommended you do this due to how slow it feels. Suffice it to say, for combat that only lasts seconds, Ys VIII gets a lot of mileage out of those few seconds.

The world design is fairly interesting as well, as it has a bit of a Metroidvania feel with how you need to remember to return to certain points when you enough people in your village to help you move obstructions from your path. This adds another great gameplay purpose for finding people in the game, as you have a tangible need for them to get through the game beyond just their service in the town. The systems feed off each other: you’re exploring to find the other survivors of the wreck, which in turn will open up the field of exploration to find more survivors.

There is one issue with the exploration, however. While the areas themselves feel fairly organic (largely due to being able to see adjacent sections of the map that you can eventually access without it looking any different from when you saw it), the map system can be somewhat confusing at times. You have two different types of maps: the world map and what can only be described as your directional map. If you check your world map, you can see the layout of the entire land while also checking each section of the map. The directional map only lets you view the section of the map you are in and the connecting areas to it. You will want to check the world map because it’s easier to see which way you need to go if your destination is far off. However, the directional map is easier to access and isn’t as cumbersome to sift through, so when you’re just checking where you are, you’re going to check that. The issue is that the world map will never not be pointing due north, while your directional map will always be pointing in the direction you are facing. You can change it to face due north as well, but you have to do so every time you open it up. This makes it feel like there’s a real inconsistency between the two different maps and can occasionally make exploring a real headache when you don’t realize which way you’re supposed to be going.

Honey's Gameplay Consensus:

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana will be a great experience for anyone dying for a great Action-RPG. It’s fast, it’s rewarding, and it’s a unique set-up that you won’t find in really other RPG. There are a few hiccups with the story-telling and with needlessly getting lost due to the confusing map system, but it still comes highly recommended for anyone longing for a classically styled JRPG experience.

Honey's Pros:

  • Unique setting gives it an identity all its own – even within its own franchise
  • Quick combat system that keeps you on your toes without feeling overwhelming
  • Rewarding currency system that forces the player to make due with crafting
  • Story that takes advantage of the unique setting and creates an interesting gameplay experience
  • Excellent soundtrack
  • Meaty game length

Honey's Cons:

  • Story takes a while to go anywhere and might be too slow-paced for some
  • Confusing map system that, while certainly workable, feels like you’re fighting it more often than not

Honey's Final Verdict:

Left cold waiting for Kingdom Hearts 3? Look no further than Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. Don’t let that “VIII” in the title deter you if you’ve never played any of the Ys games before; you really won’t miss a beat jumping into it. It’s a great, fluid action-RPG and might even inspire a new fandom in you! Want to recommend some other Ys games to newcomers? Let us know your favorites in the comments below!

Matt Knodle

Writer

Author: Matt Knodle

I come from Indiana, where I grew up near a video rental shop that proudly stated “The widest selection of anime in the state”, setting me on a course to enjoy as much anime as possible. I’ve devoted myself to over-analyzing various sports anime and video games probably more than they were ever intended. I currently co-host a weekly sports anime fan podcast called KoshienCast with my good friend, Matt.

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