Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is both the eighth title in the main Ys series, and developer Nihon Falcom's first numbered title in the series in eight years. Featuring smooth action combat, collectibles, crafting, and an adventurous story, fans and newcomers have plenty of reasons to give Ys's freshman entry on the PS4 a try, especially if you've finished Tales of Berseria, and need another action JRPG fix.
The Ys games have a history of good storytelling, and Ys VIII falls somewhere in the middle among the list of it's forebearers as to it's story quality. Like prior Ys games, the tale follows young adventurer Adol Christin as he gets into a scrape, and recruits friends along the way to his completing an epic quest.
In this case, the quest is to escape the cursed Bermuda Trianle-esque Island of Seiren, from which no sailor has ever returned. Having shipwrecked on Seiren's shore, Adol must find fellow shipwreck survivors, build up a functional town, and discover what his visions about a mysterious maiden named Dana have to do with the monster-infested island.
The story is told in a combination of spoken and written dialogue, in-game engine cutscenes, and a nice 2D animated intro. The story is present at all times, but not extremely complicated, so it doesn't get in the way of the combat and exploration that serves as the core of the game.
Ys VIII takes the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to it's gameplay system, and that's not a bad thing. Combat and movement is very much like the Dragon Age series, and almost exactly like Tecmo/Koei's hidden 2010 gem Trinity: Souls of Zill O'll; players control one member of their party at any given time in free-roam exploration and hack 'n' slash combat, and can swap control between members on the fly. Unlike Dragon Age, however, you don't jump from character to character wherever they are on the map, but actually teleport them into your immediate field of view when you swap (like Agents of Mayhem).
As Ys is and has always been a roleplaying game series, your characters gain experience points for defeating enemies and completing quests, and reaching certain levels unlocks new character-specific abilities. These abilities can be mapped to the face buttons, and activated mid-combat. This allows players to customize their attack patterns based on stylistic preferences. In addition to special character-specific attacks, each character has a damage type–crushing, piercing, or slashing. Crushing is best against armored enemies, piercing works well against flying foes, and slashing is good against just about everything else. Some enemies also have certain weak points, which can require jumping or elevated attacks to reach. A dodge/block system implemented into the R1 and L1 buttons allows for well-timed parries to trigger slow-mo and bonus damage modes, which adds some more fun to the combat mix.
The general movement and hack 'n' slash elements will feel comfortable for series' vets (both the 2007 Ys Seven and 2013 Ys: Memories of Celceta utilized similar systems) and series' newcomers, who'll relish the smooth and fast action on display. What will appeal a little less is the directing of the cut scenes, which are crisply rendered with the in-game engine. These–especially the initial 20 or so minute tutorial jaunt that takes place on a sea vessel–drag, and often consist of multiple long pauses between dialogue, and drawn-out pans across environment models that aren't comparable to Ys's more well-known JRPG competition, namely the Final Fantasy and Tales of… series. Luckily, players can speed on through these by holding the R1 button (wish the tutorial mentioned that), though it also skips right over dialogue, making it dangerous to utilize if you're interested in the story.
Ys VIII is semi-open world; you can wander freely around the island of Seiren, but in sections that are bordered by un-climbable rocks or deep waters. There are also blockages along certain paths, where you will need to call for assistance from your fellow shipwreck survivors to clear. These moves require different levels of manpower, and you'll need to find and recruit more survivors to progress farther into the regions of the island. You'll also need to stay on good terms with your fellows, lest you lose their support and can no longer can call on them to help you clear debris.
Most of the gameplay consists of Adol and his crew exploring the mysterious island and locating former ship's passengers. These passengers, once recruited, return to your home base, creating new crafting options and generating new quests. Most of these quests are fetch quests, requiring you to collect certain enemy-dropped or environment-harvested goods. There are also occasional defense or "Horde Mode" type quests, where you must defend your home base against waves of enemies in a restricted area. These enemies will try to destroy bait traps and the defensive gate leading to your makeshift village, and the speed with which you defeat them, coupled with how much you limit the damage they do your defenses,dictates what kind of score you'll achieve at the end of the waves. Get a better score, and you get better items and higher experience bonuses. These horde missions are also replayable at any time once you clear them, which injects some nice variation into the typical ARPG format.
Adol can also fish, which is a welcome feature for those of us who yearn to collect trophies, items, and discover that ultra-rare loot. Be warned, though, sometimes overpowered enemies will take your precious limited bait from beneath the waves, and maybe your life.
All in all, there's a lot to do, and both enemies and harvest-able ingredients regenerate every time you reenter a map, so there's never a lack of stuff to bash and collect. In addition, the load times are very brief, so you don't spend minutes during a play session watching a static screen.
graphics and sound
The soundtrack–good lord, the soundtrack for this game is frickin' brilliant. If you were asked to sum up the grandiosity of JRPG music over the decades, you could press play on any track of Ys VIII, and that'd be the perfect answer. And there's a lot of music, too. Each new locale theme is accompanied by a new track, and each stands apart from it's fellows. This is one game you won't regret leaving on in the background.
The graphics are not so grandiose. They aren't bad–the design, in fact, is quite crisp and pleasing. But they don't hold a candle to the FFXV or Tales of Berseria. They'd be right at home on the Vita, but we've come to expect a little extra oomph when we get a title on PS4, even if it does support cross-play. That said, the enemy designs are animal themed and completely awesome, and a little Monster Hunter reminiscent. The character models are also nicely designed, heavily driven by the style of the game's 2D character artworks (which are worth a Google).
Overall, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is fun, full of content, and complete with enough smooth-as-butter combat and varied goals to please the action JRPGer's soul. The beginning drags, but once it's past, there's tons of baddies to bash, special skills to learn and unleash, and components to gather and craft. Add into the mix a decent story, incredible soundtrack, and service-able graphics, and you've got a game well worth your time and hard earned cash-ola.
|+ Best soundtrack 2017!||– Pauses/camera pans in cut scenes are too long|
|+ Smooth controls||– First 20 minutes drag before the game picks up|
|+ Great monster and character designs||– Graphics are crisp, but not up to "Tales of" quality|
|+ Nice story vs. gameplay balance|