Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: June 26, 2018 (NA,) June 28, 2018 (JP) & June 29, 2018 (EU)
Welcome to Jurassic World!
Last month, something truly incredible happened. NIS America didn’t just bring any RPG to the Nintendo Switch, they brought Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA. Although Ys VIII first released in 2016 for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, it is the latest instalment in the Ys series, an epic role-playing saga that dates back all the way to 1987.
In a lot of ways, Ys as a series, is a lot like Final Fantasy. It was never as popular as Final Fantasy due to never having the chance to properly take off like Final Fantasy did, but as a franchise that is actually a few months older than the Square Enix creation, what Ys has been able to do for the last three decades, is nothing short of incredible.
Pronounced “eess” (think “Geese” but drop the “G,”) Ys was never the most popular of franchises and yet with a developer dedicated to the franchise and loyal fans, Ys is a story that has yet to fade away into obscurity. Unlike the video game series’ Ys is often likened to because of its story-telling and gameplay, (The Legend of Zelda & Final Fantasy,) the main series features a reoccurring protagonist, who is the same person throughout. (Although Link is always the Hero and main protagonist in every canon Zelda game, it is not always the same Link.)
Leading the charge for Ys, is a skilled swordsman named Adol Christin. With red hair, an adventurous spirit and a habit of turning up at the right time as things are about to fall into ruin, for more than 30 years, Adol has been the silent swordsman protagonist, who knows how to get the job done. From making friends, seeing the wonders of the world and bringing malicious grand schemes to an end, Adol has lived an incredible life and now, after many, many years of the series is being solely available on Sony platforms, a touch of Ys has come to a Nintendo platform.
Given the number of years the series has stood the test of time for, and the number of instalments and remasters it has received, newcomers would be in their right to question which Ys game they should play first? It’s a fair question, but that’s the beauty of the Ys series. Although there will be references you will miss if you play Ys VIII first, instead of Ys: Memories of Celceta, unless you are in it to experience the full story, you can get stuck into any game of your choice.
Any Ys game can be the first one you play, much like any Ys game can be defined as the best one, in the eyes of those who play it. But if you really want to get into it, there are 3 different ways you can get into the series, with one being you play the games in the order they released. Another is based on gameplay, whereas the third is the chronological order of the games, which will first introduce players to a 17 years old Adol and end with a 23 year old Adol in Ys Seven.
For the purposes of this review, as much as I would like to go more into detail with Ys’ history, I do need to move it along and actually talk about Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA. But it is a fantastic series that has something to offer most gamers, so if you find yourself wanting to know more about it, I’d recommended heading over to Digital Emelas. As a Ys dedicated website, it is the best place to go for all your Ys needs and know how.
So, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA. Being an RPG game developed with the PlayStation Vita in mind and released on the PS4, don’t go expecting absolute perfection when it comes to the visuals and design. Compared to other more modern games that have released, with an open world aspect to them, Ys VIII, dare I say it, can look a little dated. Not underwhelming and unenjoyable as I do love the visual style and taking in the many sites that Ys VIII has to offer, but there were a couple of mildly off-putting things about it. (Namely, the proportions, especially fingers and hands compared to the person they belong to, but hands are not the easiest things in the world to draw and design.)
When playing in handheld or table-top mode, things like the proportions mentioned above, aren’t as noticeable when playing the game whilst docked, but docked does have some benefits as it makes reading all of the game’s text a lot easier to read and the battles feel more immersive. One negative with docked gameplay though, is the slow-downs are more noticeable and when paying attention to the enemies in the distant background, you can’t help but notice how clunky the movements are.
Yet, despite the fact this port isn’t as flawless as it could have been, especially since a series of patches are being released for it, to improve the quality and localisation, to correct grammatically incorrect text, that’s no reason to turn your back on Ys VIII. The fact of the matter, is that even in 2018, Ys VIII is one of the better RPG games you could spend your time playing. It’s also one of the most emotional.
You see, with Ys VIII, what you see is not what you get. When it comes to the game’s story, although broken up by 6 chapters, a prologue and an epilogue, Ys VIII is a game of two stories. In the beginning, it is a cruise gone wrong. A Kraken-like monster attacks the Lombardia, a ship Adol and best friend Dogi, just happen to be on and before you know it, Adol is waking up face first in the sand on a deserted island. But the island is not your typical land mass.
Known as the “Isle of Seiren,” the island is often feared as those who have gone to it, have never returned and there’s a good reason why. Anyhow, the earlier chapters of the game detail Adol’s initial exploits on the island. While he wakes up all alone, some fortune is on Adol’s side as he is able to find other castaways and together with their aid, builds a village. As an ever-growing collective of survivors, Adol and all those he finds, have a simple goal, survive.
They wish to leave the island and will do anything to see it happen, only Ys VIII is not just a story about a bunch of castaways, as there is a far deeper story at play than the one we’re served as a starter. For starters, there is Dana. Dana is a blue-haired girl whom Adol sees in his dreams, during his earlier days on the Isle of Seiren. He does not know why he is dreaming of her, or about the life she lived, but in time he soon well, for Adol and Dana share an incredible connection and it is only by working can the secrets of the past be uncovered and a terrible fate can be avoided
I would love to go more into detail, but regardless of the fact Ys VIII is 2 years old, it’s still a new game to those who would buy it for their Switch, so I do want to avoid spoilers wherever possible. It’s because of that reason that I’m actually choosing not to explain the meaning to the game’s subtitle (Lacrimosa of DANA.) To explain it, is to spoil one of the game’s biggest twists, so let’s just say it’s relevant and leave it at that.
There is one aspect to the game’s story that I do need to bring up though and that is the pacing of the story. As both a gamer and a writer, I do approve of how the story developed in the later chapters, but in the beginning, Ys VIII took a bit of time for me to invest into it. The prologue was just plain slow, the initial two chapters crawled along at a snail’s pace and there was one particular scenario in the game that just felt forced in to add some drama. But staying the course does pay off, so as long as you are in it for the long haul, (28-35 hours to beat the main game/40-60 hours to fully complete it in a single playthrough.)
As emotional as the game can be though, at some points, especially thanks to the cut-scenes that feature voice acting, for me, it was not the circumstances or twists that got me, but reality itself. During Adol’s journey, he will find both castaways, and allies, who will help him explore the island and do battle against the local wildlife, which includes the prehistoric-like creatures that are referred to as Primordials (or Saurians if you’re an Eternian like Dana Iclucia is.)
Adol and his allies (Laxia, Sahad, Hummel, Ricotta and Dana) will endure so much together and yet, as a gamer who got to watch them grow and band together, I couldn’t help but think about how much they were destined to go their different ways. Once their efforts to escape come to fruition, each character would return to the life they led/take the new path that awaits them. Sahad will return home to his wife and daughter, Laxia would pick up where she left off Adol will continue to have new adventures that none of his new friends turn up in.
Because of the sadness I felt that Adol will not be reuniting with his fellow combatants, it did put a bit of a damper on the game, as it made me want to savour my time with it more, as opposed to rushing my way to the thrilling conclusion. I really liked the character I fought alongside with and didn’t want to bid farewell to them. Sure, there’s a New Game+ and certain things can carry over, but I can only suffer through this kind of heartbreak the once, okay. But, because I knew a happy ending could never be, it did compel me to enjoy each moment of the game more than I normally would and that’s quite the impressive concept to have in a game. (Not to mention, successfully pull off.)
Talking of endings, Ys VIII does have 2, with one being the True Ending, which is happier than the other one and lets you know what becomes of certain characters after they successfully leave the Isle of Seiren, but there is a requirement to getting this ending. All you need to do, is make sure Adol’s Reputation is as high as you can get it (on Vita, a Reputation of 150 is required, whereas PS4 and PC require a Reputation of around 196.)
As long as you have more than 200, you should be golden but there are plenty of ways to improve it, which range from completing side-quests within specific chapters, as side-quests can be missed if you don’t complete them in time. (Time in this case being within a certain Chapter.) You can also do missions for Dogi, which are a lot of fun. Although I have yet to touch on the game’s combat system previously, I will now, since they do go hand to hand with Dogi’s missions, but I will be providing a full combat gameplay explanation first.
Although Adol’s adventure starts with him battling alone, with a total of 6 playable characters, Ys VIII does have a party system at play. Players might only be able to fight with a team of 3, but the other 3 will remain close by and even if they’re not fighting themselves, they will still gain Experience and level up. So, even if you find yourself having favourites, when forced to play as another character, they will at least be almost as tough and high levelled as the characters you do like.
Battles against monsters, take place in real time, so whenever you’re exploring the Isle of Seiren, all enemies are visible and battles can see you battling multiple threats, if you’re not careful. There’s also no taking things in turns, as players are free to spam the A button, as long as their character is still standing. Should you wish to dodge, you press L, whereas R is used in combination with A, B, Y, X to pull off Skill attacks.
Each character has many skills they can learn, which can be levelled up the more you use them and require a different quantity of Skill Points. But, even though you are restricted to which Skill you can use with your Skill Points, there is no limit on how many you can use in a battle, as SP is generated by attacking, as well as using charged attacks, jump attacks and dive attacks. There’s also an EXTRA gauge, which when filled, can be activated using L and R and triggers a special attack that deals far more damage than the usual attacks do.
Attacks aren’t everything though, as like with any RPG, not all enemies share the same weakness, so sometimes it’s all about switching characters for the most effective one. This can either be done by pressing + to access the game’s menu and change your turn to allies who can get the job done, or you can do it yourself, when you have the right allies attached and press Y. Y will allow you to switch characters any time you like, as long as they are in your team of 3. So, in the event you take a dislike to Adol, you can actually spend the majority of the game playing as someone else, like Laxia. It won’t change the story in any way, but it is a nice feature nonetheless.
With the right characters attacking, Break states can be inflicted on enemies, allowing more damage to be dealt and better materials can earned. But as an extra feature to make battles easier, as well as using X to focus on specific targets, you can give your allies orders. With the – button, you can toggle your team to go on the Offensive, or Defensive. With the former, your team will stick to your chosen character and prioritise attacking, whereas the latter will have them cease attacking and focus on evading enemy attacks.
In the event you do all the right moves and use all the right characters, but still can’t catch a break, there are a few things you can do. The first is to see your character equipped with the right accessories. Just because you’re washed up on an island, it doesn’t mean Castaway Village is without the right amenities to see your character strengthen and upgrade their weapons, acquire armour and stat boosting equipment. There are even stat boosting items that can be brewed that permanently boost the stat you wish to enhance.
As for the other thing you can do to make things easier for yourself, is change difficulty. With 5 difficulties supported (Easy, Normal, Hard, Nightmare and Inferno) there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to overcome every obstacle and play Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA, all the way to the end. Especially when there is a difficulty setting for players of all ages and skills, which can be changed at any time in-game and not just chosen at the beginning when starting a new game.
Now with all of that out of the way, let’s return to Dogi’s missions. During Adol’s exploration of the island and search for survivors, there are instances where Castaway Village will come under attack. During these segments, when Adol returns, players will control one team in their efforts to defend Castaway Village, whilst your fellow NPC’s will defend the village’s other approach. Monsters will come in waves and players must do whatever they can to push them back or kill them all.
Points can be earned on how you do, with a Rank given at the end of the raid, based on your overall performance. A rank will also be rewarded on the performance of the NPCs as well, who by the way, can use skills to assist you, with the effects being stronger due to the Approval you have with them. Rewards are given based on the ranks you are given and completed Raids can be replayed at any time, should you wish to improve upon your ranking.
Something you can do to give yourself a fighting chance, is improve upon your defences. You can do this by talking to Dogi and using materials to build new lures, barricades and even a catapult. These defences can then be improved and have a status effect added to them. As for Beast Hunts, this is where the hunted become the hunters.
As a village, you will all invade a specific territory and work together to build torches, destroy nests and take down bosses. The NPCs may only assist you with skills, but it is still a team effort and just like with Raids, there are ranks and rewards that can be earned. You can also replay them as well.
Still, these aren’t the only things you can do together, during Adol’s exploration of Isle of Seiren, there will be instances where his path will be blocked and he can’t advance. Well, not on his own. During these times, a Help Request can be sent out and as long as you have enough Village Members, the obstructions can be cleared. I absolutely loved this feature as it was a means of having the village banned together and it was even more particular enjoyable when one particular character, refused to help during these moments.
With regards to the actual exploration itself, with Ys VIII being an open world title, although Ys VIII is restricted to just a single island, there is plenty of landmass for you to traverse, with varying terrain as well. As a cartographer, it is down to Adol to search and chart every last nook and cranny of Isle of Seiren. For every 10% he completes, he can earn a reward and by venturing everywhere, players will be able to find not just new areas, but new locations that can be later used as warp points, dungeons and treasure chests.
Unlike the outside landmass, when in a dungeon, when your character stands still, they will not regenerate health, so they do add a sense of danger, but you can avoid battles if you need to and there are items that can be found all over the island, that can restore health and revive your fallen. There are also crystals that will fully restore your health and become a fast travel warp point.
Be warned though, a crystal in a dungeon can be a sign of an impending boss fight. These battles are unavoidable and highly rewarding as some will earn you Adventure Gear, which when assigned, allows your characters to climb vines, breath underwater and even defeat the risen undead. Whether outside, in a dungeon, or adventuring through the past with Dana, there is a lot to see and do and with three different map sizes available thanks to pressing the left analog stick, to change between them, you should be able to uncover secret that awaits you.
You will however, want to make sure you go to every harvest spot, open every chest and leave no stone unturned as it all counts towards completing the map and game completion. It’s not a small task, but with a world map being able to be brought up, via the press of the button, players can check their progress in each and every area and dungeon, so if you’re ever unsure about which areas you have and haven’t completed, it is dead easy to check.
Personally, it is the exploration I enjoyed the most, as I highly enjoyed the segments where I was able to explore very specific areas and see them for what they were and what they have become, thanks to the time differences between Dana’s and Adol’s eras. Not only are Dana’s segments highly enjoyable and a great means of learning about the game’s epic story, but they can be returned to and played, in the event you failed to do one of Dana’s quests that can help her advance through a dungeon that was previously accessible as DLC.
Talking of DLC, whether you buy the game physically, or digitally, it does come with all the main DLC, which can be accessed right from the beginning. So, should you ever wish to have your characters wear another attire from the get-go, you can and there are other outfits you can acquire in-game, as long as you have the materials to fabricate them. (Just because you’re on an island, it doesn’t mean everything is for free.) But, as long as you harvest everything and collect everything defeated foes drop, you should be able to acquire everything. There is also DLC that you can purchase, but they’re not a necessity as the majority is just item sets.
But, all work and no play makes Adol a dull boy, so if you ever feel like relaxing, why not take up fishing? As well as small fry fish that can be caught, as can Master fish and being a food group, you can cook them. Of course, you will need specific recipes before you can cook meals, but the recipes are available, as long as you’re willing to look for them/earn them.
If in the event you feel there is too much to keep track off though, what with Quests, character approvals, monsters and everything else, Adol just loves to keep a journal. He doesn’t just chronicle his exploits, he chronicles everything and it is really easy to access. Ys VIII isn’t just a great game, it’s an elaborate and well thought-out game that does offer something for everything, even if the jumps are wonky, as you can’t jump off every ledge and are forced to take the long way almost every time. Plus, when you do beat it, there’s a Time Attack mode for taking down bosses, and it includes a Boss Rush and a gallery that will allow to view any cut-scene and event you have previously unlocked.
Ys VIII may not be the absolute superior port it could have been and does have some very minor issues, but so what? No game is absolutely perfect and as my first Ys game, it is utterly fantastic. It is a great game to just jump into. It’s a series I can see myself caring very much for and it compels me to play more Ys, be it via the New Game+ for Ys VIII, an earlier title, or whatever Ys game that gets a Switch release, provided Ys VIII is the success it needs to be, to that makes it happen. So, let’s cross our fingers and open our wallets, because Ys VIII does deserve to be a success on Switch!
THE VERDICT: 9/10
*Review Key Provided by NIS America
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Tags: Feature, Nihon Falcom, Nintendo Switch, NIS America, review, Ys, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa Of Dana
This post was written by Jack Longman