[Review] Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana - Nintendo Switch

The Ys games have an unfortunate legacy of being overshadowed by the colossi of the roleplaying genre. Fortunately for them, however, they have always been solid entries into the genre, and ever since they found their true footing in the Playstation 2 era, have definitely been steamrolling in popularity. At least, steamrolling by JRPG standards. Each subsequent release has been warmly welcomed and praised, but the majority have been on handhelds the last two generations (most notably on the PSP and Vita).

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is another such entry. It was originally designed for the Playstation Vita, then released later for the Playstation 4, PC, and now the Nintendo Switch. It is quite obvious from the game's graphics that it was developed for a lower powered system, but very rarely do these somewhat muddy graphics affect the gameplay. The draw distance isn't great, and the enemies will appear on screen at a fixed point, but instead of pacing back and forth, they are locked in place and kind of wiggle around until the player is close enough to trigger their full movement routines. While this isn't game breaking, it definitely breaks the immersion of the game, and somewhat takes away the menace of larger enemies in particular when they appear a short distance away, glued to one spot but jerkily dancing around. I mention this all first because it really is the game's only shortcoming that can't be overcome, and I wanted to get it out of the way first. This is a Playstation Vita game. While it is technically and very visually impressive on it's original platform, not much has been done to improve the experience on a more powerful device. My understanding is that the PS4 version is comparable(with better visuals), and the PC version is actually worse.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana begins with Adol on a boat ride across the ocean, and when they get near the fabled Island of Seiren, the ship is attacked by a giant sea monster and is sunk. Adol washes up on shore nearby a few other key NPC's, and shortly thereafter meets his new party members. The ship's Captain, Barbaros, and Adol's acquaintance Dogi begin to construct a castaway village to act as home base while Adol goes out to explore and map the island while also searching out survivors of the shipwreck. Those familiar with Ys games will recognize immediately the all too familiar mechanic of being tasked with filling out the map and being rewarded for your progress. While out exploring, Adol and Laxia, your first party member, run across a man being chased by a T-Rex! You assist this man, Sahad, and after the dinosaur(?!?) runs off, he joins the party. You learn from Laxia that her father is a researcher, and what you have just witnessed is probably an example of an ancient animal known as a primordial. What other secrets could this isolated island hide?

While exploring the island, ostensibly combing for survivors, you will be filling out your map, unlocking warp points, and encountering obstacles that require more and more man power to move out of your way. In addition to needing to locate and rescue more and more castaways to clear larger and larger obstacles from your path, you will also have to obtain specific accessories called "Adventurer's Gear" to give you the ability to overcome environmental blockades. This will include things like gloves to climb vines, and boots that allow you to walk on water.

Generally bosses must be defeated to obtain these items or to get to the areas where survivors are located. Thankfully, almost everyone you rescue has seen someone else, or has been to an area that was unoccupied, so you can easily be pointed in the right direction to make some more progress. In addition, finding certain landmarks scattered throughout the map will then unlock points of interest for you to try to navigate your party to. Unfortunately, the map is not a very exact representation of the areas you are exploring, In game, your interest point will be marked to the northeast on your map, and proceeding east and north according to the onscreen compass will take you in that direction, but you will have to double back to the west and south often to try to actually find passage to the northeast section. Sometimes you will be better of going west for a few areas and then heading north before cutting back to the east. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell this until you're already hip deep in the wrong area of a marsh.

Occasionally, you'll be pulled away from your exploration when you receive word that you are needed back at the village. Often, this is just because there is a raid going on at the village of wildlife, and these are usually optional and can be ignored. Other times, you must return to camp to move the story along, but this can be annoying because you haven't explored a new area enough to unlock an easily accessible warp point to make it easy to pick back up where you left off. I indicated earlier that the game has some shortcomings that can be overcome. This is the first of them, and I suspect that most people out there have a better sense of navigation in game and can just get used to the way the maps twist and turn in the game, and are better able to navigate the areas. This leads me into the next shortcoming that you just kind of get used to, which I'll discuss below.

The game utilizes a live combat system, and to make it as intuitive and functional as possible, there are many buttons used for shortcuts. L rolls, ZL pulls up the map, R is tapped or held to bring up the skills commands (you can assign four skills at a time to the ABXY buttons), and ZR is the item shortcut. A is attack, B is jump, but if you're in the heat of battle, you may sometimes hit the ZR button for a skill command and accidentally use an item that you didn't want to use at the moment. Sometimes, you'll be trying to roll away from a strike and open up the map, instead. While this isn't always detrimental to the combat itself, these moments do lead to many frustrating situations until you get used to the buttons again. To activate a super skill attack, you press both of the shoulder buttons at once, and as can be predicted, mis-presses happen often enough that you wish they had thought of something else. It's definitely preferable that you roll over, or merely pull up the item menu in this situation, but both can happen if your timing isn't just right. Combat is still a fun and enjoyable experience, but if you take a break from the game, I highly suggest getting yourself familiar with it's quirks again before jumping from filler creatures to a boss fight to reduce the likelihood of mistakes.

As you gather villagers, you not only improve your ability to move obstacles, you also increase the functionality of your village. You gain different types of storefronts and means of ugrading/crafting various items. You will gather materials and resources on your quests, and you can often find side quests at the village bulletin board to find certain materials necessary to make the village function better. There is a basic fishing system in place to help you harvest the waters for aquatic life and treasure chests, and there is a cooking system you can use to make your own restorative items. These are the best items to make, since they restore HP for all of your party members, and also provide a bonus or cure a status effect.

Ys VIII, like it's predecessors, has an amazing soundtrack. The songs are well composed, and of a sufficient length that their looping in the same area never gets repetitive or tiresome. Credit for the soundtrack is just given to the Falcom Sound Team, but I hear definite influences from Michiru Yamane's run with Konami.

Laced throughout the early game will find us with another trope of the series- Adol will have visions whenever the game makes you rest for the evening. These visions, of course, eventually intersect with the main narrative, but I don't like to spoil beyond the introduction. We learn through these visions that there is a religious group (presumably natives of the island of Seiren) that are preparing for some kind of massive event, and shortly into our game we encounter a surviving member of this ancient race.  This is where the main plot really starts to pick up, and I'll leave us there on that aspect.

After having explored all of that, I insist that any fans of Action RPGs, or the Ys series in general, pick up Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana as soon as possible. It is an excellent entry into the series, and it's only drawback is not having been developed for or optimized for more powerful consoles. That's a hard thing to hold against such a marvelous game.



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