“She’s waiting for you.”
Even before my love affair with the Legend of Heroes series began, my first exposure to Nihon Falcom as a developer was “Ys: The Ark of Napishtim” on PC. I became interested in it, perhaps unsurprisingly because of the great music that accompanied the trailer that I had seen before, and once I was able to track down a full English fan translation, I imported the game and immediately fell in love with the lightning fast hack & slash action as well as its OST, which still stands as one of my favorites in the series.
Since then, I’ve played every new entry to the series that’s been released in the states to completion without fail, and have enjoyed them all. However, it’s been almost four years since the last time I took up the sword as Adol Christin, self-proclaimed adventurer, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I’ve had an itch that only a Ys game could scratch. With the merciful arrival of Ys VIII, I’m saved from my suffering, at least for a little while.
MSRP: $59.99(PS4) $39.99(PSV)
Platforms: PS4. PC, PSV
Played on: PS4 Pro (Boost Mode on)
Voice Acting Selection: JPN/ENG
Length: 45~ Hours
Stationed as a temporary sailor on the passenger vessel “Lombardia”, Adol is enjoying the open sea when the ship is suddenly attacked by a colossal unidentified monster.
He wakes up on the shores of a seemingly deserted island, infamous for being cursed- a place no sailor has ever escaped from, and vows to unravel the mysteries of this perilous land and return home with the rest of the survivors.
While Adol being shipwrecked and washing up in an unknown place is about as unexpected as a helicopter going down in flames in a Resident Evil game, what separates the story presented in Lacrimosa of Dana is simply that there just is a lot more of it.
Previously, Ys games have always put combat along with exploration first and foremost, with minimal dialogue to drive the player to certain objectives, but here there is a much greater emphasis in establishing character relationships and telling an overarcing story that kept my interest throughout the whole experience. Without going into too much detail, it’s a story that transcends multiple eras and chronicles the connection between Dana, the Maiden of the Great Tree, and Adol the Red.
Dana, the titular heroine of Ys VIII, is especially worthy of praise, as I found her to be instantly charming and her struggle to save her people and ultimately, our hero Adol himself, quite compelling.
Outside of the playable characters, there are survivors scattered throughout the island, and bringing them back to the makeshift village allows them to use their unique talents to open up a shop or provide other useful services to help Adol in his quest. All of the survivors have a story of their own to tell, and as I completed quests for them and helped them in their time of need, they opened up to me and revealed some interesting things about themselves as well as the places they come from.
The number of survivors Adol brings back safely to the village is also tied to number the areas he can explore, as having more hands on deck makes it possible to clear debris to open new paths or repair old bridges and the like, leading to the discovery of even more survivors or important landmarks.
As it’s not easy work to chart an unknown land littered with ferocious beasts, luckily Adol is not alone in his endeavor. He is accompanied by two other player characters with three more on standby that can be switched to at any time with a press of a button, each with their own set of skills, and more importantly, a type of damage.
Slashing, piercing and smashing are three different types of damage, and certain enemies have strong resistances to all except one of them. This promotes constantly switching between the three active party members to take advantage of their weaknesses. It didn’t take long for it to become second nature as I switched back and forth during the course of one encounter as I wiped out one enemy type at a time before switching characters to do the same with another.
The combat itself is fairly simple but nuanced as it greatly rewarded skilled play over just button mashing. Even though I was only really limited to attacking, jumping and dodging, I had access to a variety of powerful skills, four of which were assignable at the same time that would level up the more I used them, and by dodging or blocking at just the right time, I could trigger slow-mo or for a short period of time, I became immune to damage and all my attacks became critical hits. As those effects are quite powerful, the timing to activate them were fairly strict as well which drove me to quickly learn the attacking pattern of enemies.
After a little while, combat became a flurry of devastating attacks, punctuated by well timed blocks, and even up against a dozen foes at once that could kill me in two or three hits, I felt like I could handle them perfectly well with a bit of patience and proper timing.
Even though the combat engine itself is excellent, the lock-on system left much to be desired as it often focused onto the wrong target, making the camera shift behind walls and other obstacles that made it difficult for me to see what was going on. It worked fine against bosses where it’s most useful, but against an army of small fry, I found myself not using it at all.
Outside of exploring the island and uncovering its various mysteries, there are interception and suppression battles to help safeguard the village from looming threats.
Interception takes place just on the outskirts of town, where there are defenses that are built to stop beasts from getting into the village and works like a horde mode of sorts, as waves of enemies come trying to break through the gates and it’s up to Adol and company to repel them. While some of these battles take place during the story, most of them aren’t mandatory, but as they offered great rewards based on my performance and were fun to do, I did every single one of them. I was also able to spend resources to upgrade the various defenses to make the fights a little easier and I’m glad that I did, as the last few were quite intense to say the least.
Suppression takes place in a variety of areas and tasks Adol and his allies to destroy monster nests that spawn enemies infinitely, and ultimately take down the boss of the area to stop the infestation from getting out of control. This was done by lighting torches in the area to weaken the nests and destroying them while they were vulnerable. Even though there is no base building element to this activity, it was a fun distraction all the same.
Visually speaking, Ys VIII certainly looks like a game that’s also on the Vita and it’s a shame because I would love to see what a true current generation Ys title would look like, but Falcom has never been known for their visual prowess.
What they are known for is the use of their in-house music studio, Team JDK, and they once again knock it out of the park with a stellar selection of songs that range between great to god damn amazing, and I would know as I’ve been listening to the full OST while I’ve been writing this review.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is easily the most ambitious entry in series to date, with an expansive world map and a greater emphasis on storytelling. It carries the proud tradition of a skillfully satisfying and lightning fast combat engine, paired with a soundtrack that could only have been composed by the legends at Team JDK. It makes a strong case, not only as one of the best Ys games ever made, but also as a contender for game of the year.
Fun Tidbit – The standard default controls take into consideration that R2/L2 do not exist on the Vita and so I had to remap a lot of the buttons before I became comfortable with their the controls and I recommend you do the same. Also, after completing the game, there are many unlockables such as new game +, gallery, time attack mode and new dungeons and challenges to overcome by loading up the clear data.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.