Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Review
Few RPG protagonists in gaming withstand the test of time as much as Ys’s red-headed adventurer Adol Christin. Falcom has revisited this classic JRPG series again and again over the past 30 years but its newest game is undoubtedly one of its strongest titles yet.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is a spectacular entry into the Ys franchise. It brings forth the best elements of Ys and takes a few cues from Falcom’s Trails series to present a cohesive, compelling narrative.
Newcomers shouldn’t be discouraged by the number in its title. Much like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, the majority of Ys games are standalone and Ys VIII is no different. Outside of minor callbacks to previous games, Lacrimosa of Dana doesn’t require past knowledge to understand. You’ll quickly learn that Adol has an endless thirst for adventure and it’s your job to satisfy that.
Meanwhile, Ys veterans know that Adol is a ship’s worst nightmare and Ys VIII happens to start with him on the Lombardia passenger liner. I thought it was a neat touch having Adol explore the ship briefly before its inevitable conclusion. Most of it was interacting with NPCs, but it establishes Ys VIII’s commitment to making every single person feel important. A vast array of people from all walks of life are onboard and this actually feeds into its central plotline.
Yes, Ys VIII does start off with a shipwrecked Adol once again. This time he finds himself on the infamous Isle of Seiren and rumor says that no one has ever escaped it. Survivors of the Lombardia are scattered about. Ys VIII is not only another tale of Adol’s grand adventures - it’s also a valuable story about survival, camaraderie, and hope.
After establishing a base of operations in Castaway Village, I found myself freely wandering the Isle of Seiren in search of the other shipwrecked passengers. Ys VIII cleverly segments off portions of the island with obstacles that demand a certain amount of villagers to move. Some routes were also inaccessible until I found the right kind of gear to traverse it. Several may need a double jump or even the ability to breathe underwater.
This new Ys entry eloquently goes through the motions of building a community among strangers. Persevere when everything is lost; create something out of nothing. The first few hours of Ys VIII mark it as one of the stronger starts the series has faced.
Every survivor I rescued in Ys VIII felt significant. Some provide services like enhancing weapons or tailoring accessories, while others tackle minor duties necessary for survival. The real meat of these relationships manifest as their approval rating of Adol rises through quests and gifts. Higher approval provides glimpses of their side of the story and raises Adol's reputation value. Ys VIII's multiple endings are tied to this as well.
I wasn’t expecting much from the plot threads of Adol’s newfound community and much to my surprise, it was oddly one of the most endearing parts of Ys VIII. It’s charming to see a game present bits of life’s lessons through its supporting cast. These mini-stories are greater than the sum of their parts. They give life to the premise of Ys VIII.
Lacrimosa of Dana doesn't only revolve around Adol. As the name implies, Ys VIII features another protagonist - the beautiful Dana. Instead of choosing a character route like in Ys Origin, the game twines their tales in a slick way. When Adol drifts off to sleep, he dreams of this enigmatic blue-haired maiden. Her tale is integral to unraveling the mysteries surrounding the Isle of Seiren. Even though Adol's side is the main focus, the brief segments as Dana are substantial, yet never overstay their welcome.
Plus, Adol isn’t traveling alone in this next adventure. I met a handful of other party members throughout my journey all with their own unique set of moves and abilities. This new batch of characters accompanying Adol is a lovely bunch and Falcom has gone through great lengths to fully flesh out their characterization. Adol’s party in Ys VIII are not only mere strangers with a common goal - they come together like a family through thick and thin.
On the gameplay front, Ys VIII will feel very familiar to those who’ve engaged with the series before. It’s still very much a fast-paced action RPG that emphasizes positioning over mindlessly hacking and slashing. The Flash Move and Flash Guard mechanics return to reward well-timed dodges and blocks with brief spurts of invincibility. If things prove to be too challenging, players can toggle the difficulty at any time. Ys VIII also retains the familiar party systems from Ys Seven and and Ys: Memories of Celceta.
Each character has an attack type of either slash, pierce, or strike - most enemies will be weak to one of these. Airborne foes are typically vulnerable to pierce while armored opponents aren’t too happy with strikes. Locked-on enemies will clearly mark their weakness, so there's no need for guesswork. Enemies can eventually break from repeated attacks causing them to drop items and be susceptible to any attack type. Switching between my three active party members happened instantaneously. I could swap in reserve party members when freely roaming about.
Ys VIII accommodates all kinds of playstyles once Adol’s party is all together. Laxia and Hummel, for example, both have the pierce attack type; the former is armed with a rapier and the latter wields a bayonet. If a player wants to stab foes up close, Laxia is a better fit for them. I’m a Hummel guy myself.
Party member AI was great at keeping up a constant stream of attacks, though I could set them to evade if I didn’t want to attract more dangerous beasts. I love how the other party members took a lot less damage when I wasn’t controlling them. Instead of worrying about their health pools constantly, I only had to cure the occasional ailment here and there.
Above all, it simply just feels good to move around in Ys VIII. Snappy controls make dashing and jumping around a gratifying way to travel from place to place. Moving to a more traditional behind-the-back camera gives the Isle of Seiren a vast feeling of scope and scale. It’s easy to lose yourself in its variety of environments - from beaches to caves and jungles to ruins.
The in-house Falcom Sound Team jdk knocks it out of the park once again in the music department. Ys VIII is filled with excitable tracks that energized my inner adventurer. Boss encounters are rightfully intense, while dramatic key moments are tinged in a melancholic tune. It strikes a fine balance between Adol’s adventurous spirit and Dana’s reserved personality.
Wandering around the Isle of Seiren relentlessly gave me flashbacks of Dragon’s Dogma; it’s rather simple to end up in higher level areas early on. Getting a headstart on exploring these areas is risky for sure, but you never know what you might find beyond them.
This immense sense of wonder is the lifeblood of Ys and it continues to nail it once again. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is one of the most lengthy Ys games to date. Completing the main story will take roughly 30 hours; filling out Adol’s journal by discovering every nook and cranny of the Isle of Seiren can easily net over 50 hours. New Game+ in Lacrimosa of Dana contains a peculiar feature that will definitely appeal to fans of older Ys games.
While Ys VIII shines in many aspects, it’s hard to shake off its roots as a game designed around the PlayStation Vita’s limitations.
Though it exhibits some gorgeous art illustrations, the in-game character models are visually lackluster. Their shortcomings are more apparent in the PS4 and PC versions; intimate cutscenes fall a bit flat due to them. A few clumsy animations rear their ugly heads into scripted battle sequences within a few scenes too.
Environmental design constraints constantly irked me throughout Ys VIII. Dividing up the landmass into zones had me wishing that the PS4 and PC versions were seamless open worlds instead. Dana’s city, for instance, is strung together through an absurd number of smaller sectioned off areas. If it did away with them, it would’ve been far more enjoyable to traverse.
There’s also an excessive amount of invisible walls. I was irritated every time I couldn’t jump off a small ledge and instead had to go around it. There’s no consistency in what dictates their appearance in an area; just simply a trial-and-error process and remembering that it’s on that specific part of the map.
Exploring narrow cliffs and tight spaces terrified me in this game because of its uncooperative camera. It zooms in way too close to the action if that camera is riding against the wall. This led into situations where I couldn’t see what I was fighting against; I battled more with the camera than my foes at times.
Ys VIII’s technical performance feels great on the PlayStation 4. It can usually maintain a solid 60fps; I did notice weird jittering and frame-drops running around Castaway Village at times. I don’t know if this issue is in the PC version either. Meanwhile, the PlayStation Vita version runs at half the framerate and it’s still perfectly serviceable on that platform.
Be aware that Ys VIII on PS4 and PC has additional content over the Vita version though. Dana’s segments are greatly expanded upon with a meaty extra dungeon that provides a bit of backstory. She also receives new playstyles through her Gratika and Luminous forms. Adol, on the other hand, can undertake some new quests by revisiting dungeons at night.
Suppression missions are exclusive to the PS4 and PC versions as well. Normally, Adol and his party would fend off Castaway Village invaders through tower defense-esque Interceptions once in awhile. With Ys VIII on PS4 and PC, I could bring the fight to enemy nests. These small excursions were fun the first few times, but I grew weary of them as time marched on. Ys VIII’s fishing mini-game though - I’ll never get tired of that fun distraction.
There’s one last thing I’d like to address about Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. Previous Ys localizations were handled by XSEED Games and this new installment now comes from NIS America. Many folks in various RPG communities are worried about this change and what it entails for Ys VIII’s script.
While I think the English script is a bit stiff and on the dry side, I believe it’s fine for the most part. Sahad and Hummel are noticeably a step above others in their dialogue to me. I won’t deny that it is a little awkward for the cast to speak so similarly to one another, especially since all these people hail from different parts of the world.
This wasn’t apparent to me until many hours in, but NISA’s localization gets the job done - even if it may be a bit plain and straightforward. I still believe it’s a stellar game despite my qualms. Rest assured that the English voice cast does an amazing job amidst all this.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is an outstanding RPG that will easily capture the hearts of players. There is so much packed into Adol Christin’s biggest adventure yet. Thanks to the success of the Trails series, Ys VIII’s storytelling received a remarkable improvement over its predecessors. It’s not flawless, but that shouldn’t stop RPG players from missing out on the best Ys game in many years.