Nihon Falcom has crafted the excellent Ys series over the years. It is easily one of the longest running action RPG from a Japanese developer with its origins rooted deep in PC. Despite being popular in Japan and Asia, it never made it big into the Western market until the release of the PSP. The series resurfaced again back on the PSP and has been since consistently released for the PS Vita followed by the PS4 and PC. One aspect of the series is its consistent quality despite the numerous games. Most of it is also due to retaining its trademark gameplay without much changes and the same applies to this recently released entry in the series.
Ys is the story of Adol Christin, an adventurer who has the opportunity to roam around the world exploring its mysterious landscapes while also saving the world in this process. While the games in the series are numbered and feature the same protagonist, the story in each game is pretty much self-contained so there is never any need to actually play them in release order. Of course, the gameplay elements are what separates each game from the other although most of the games usually carry on the same gameplay mechanics which has made the series popular so far.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is the first game in the series to be released for the PS4. It was originally developed for the PS Vita and then later enhanced for PS4 and PC release. Despite this, the visuals still show its handheld origin although the character models have received some nice upgrades along the way. Even if the look of the game feels a bit dated, the gameplay experience it offers is top notch and since it relies on reflexes of the player, the addition of 60 FPS for the PS4 version is a great improvement already over the PS Vita version of the game.
Ys VIII story begins with a journey by Adol Christin at sea in a ship called The Lombardia. He is the same red haired hero that the fans have grown accustomed to throughout the years. Don’t expect Adol to talk much, as he usually remains silent. His interaction with others will depend on what type of choice you pick during conversations. Adol might feel like an emotionally lacking hero but the game doesn’t really need it. The beginning of the story including the tutorial area is set in the ship where Adol is apparently a part of the crew for The Lombardia. He hears from the Captain about the legend of a mysterious Island called Seiren which no one is able to explore safely. Any ship that gets near to it is mysteriously vanished and the people on board are lost.
Of course, just like a predictable plot twist, the ship is attacked by a monster that sinks it leading Adol and a group of his fellow travelers to miraculously drift away to Seiren, the same Island that was supposed to be unexplored and considered a danger for ships. The developers attempt to use this basic story to set up the game properly so the player has to start from scratch. Adol washes up all alone and has now lost his sword. Of course, you will be able to discover a ‘rusted’ sword soon for the purpose of combat. You will soon come across your first party member and get to know the basics of the combat. The game slowly brings more party members into the mix while offering the players new skills, equipment and activities to perform on the Island. You will be searching for castaway survivors from the ship while bringing them to a safe hideout. The hideout acts as the central hub for upgrades, getting quests or crafting materials. Some of the features will be locked in the start and they are slowly unlocked as your bring more castaway survivors which start to utilize their skills to help others in the hideout.
The core of the combat still relies on the same action RPG aspects where you have basic attack mixed with a special skill. You can time your dodges or blocks to execute a ‘flash’ attack. There is also a special skill attack that can be executed to dish a large amount of damage to the enemies. The combat works well because it relies on your skills more than it does on button mashing. Sure, you can button mash your way to victory but it is entirely possible that you might start facing issues with some of the story or optional boss fights. You will have to be good with dodging in order to actually stand a chance with some of the tougher fights.
One great aspect of the combat is the seamless character switching which is also used for some specific enemy weakness. Flying enemies are weak to piercing attacks while tough shell enemies can be broken with a heavy weapon. If you kill an enemy with their weakness, you will also get some extra reward for your effort. Boss battles are a different story where you have to understand their pattern and moves and then attack them carefully. Healing is carried out through items which can be used seamlessly in battles with the press of a single button.
As mentioned earlier, there is a safe hideout for you in the game where you will have to return after finding any of the castaway survivor. As you explore the main Island of Seiren, you are tasked with building a world map for it as well. This mechanic should be familiar to those who have played any of the previous Ys games and the same map completion returns here. You will be rewarded after every 10% of map that you successfully discover in the game. Even if the map feels rather large, you have fast travel available at no additional cost and thankfully the loading is also rather quick, so you can easily fast travel to any of the location that you have visited previously through save crystals.
One of the aspect that I enjoyed a lot was how the safe hideout on the Island gradually expanded with each survivor. You start with the ability to create medicines in empty bottles but more facilities open as you bring some of the survivors. You will be able to upgrade weapons, change the look of the hideout by attempting quests and learn cooking recipes. Depending on if you tackle the side content or not, the game can take you 30 to 40 hours to complete which is a pretty good length for a Ys game.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is an action role-playing video game developed and published by Nihon Falcom Corporation and is the eighth installment in the Ys video game series. It was released in Japan on 21 July 2016 for PlayStation Vita and for PlayStation 4 on May 25, 2017.
Ys VIII marks the return of Adol Christin back to the big screen. The story might be lackluster in the game but the actual writing effort is solid with some great character moments in the main campaign. The combat is easily the best the series has to offer so far.