Ys VIII – Lacrimosa of DANA Review – Easy Living on a Deserted Island (PS4)
The Ys series is a staple in the action-JRPG genre, and it’s one that will always have a special place in my heart. The games have relatively kept the same formula with a few improvements and additions to the combat here and there. However, they’ve all been from a top-down perspective, which has made them rather ideal for handhelds as they’ve re-released. Ys VIII – Lacrimosa of DANA has shifted that perspective to a third-person view, and that’s not all they’ve shifted. We may be looking at the future of Ys games with Ys VIII‘s changes, and that isn’t a bad thing. Once I got over how strange it was to see Adol from this point-of-view, I fell right in step with the red-haired adventurer, sat back, and enjoyed the ride.
Adventure on a Deserted Island
Ys VIII takes place before Adol reaches Altago in Ys VII. He and Dogi have found passage on a ship as security hands. When the ship is taken down by a giant tentacle monster, they wash up on the shores of the Isle of Seiren, a legendary island rumored to be inescapable except by death. Fortunately, they aren’t alone; quite a few castaways washed ashore, including the ship’s captain, a tough fisherman named Sahad, and a noble fencer named Laxia. They decide that the best way they can get off the island is they band together and work toward survival. The captain tasks Adol with combing the island for other survivors, and while he’s at it, why not create a map of the place? It will help them plan a successful escape.
Once he does find other castaways, they’ll often come to the Castaway Village and help with their trades. If Adol brings in materials gathered from exploring the island, a castaway can make him armor, or hone his weapons, or mix medicines. It’s honestly amazing how much they can build on a deserted island with only materials from the wrecked ship. It’s almost too convenient, but for the survival story’s sake, you have to let it slide.
That’s right folks; Adol isn’t saving the world this time. He’s just saving castaways and trying to find a way to get everyone off a deserted island. Kind of sounds mediocre for his usual line of work, doesn’t it? At least Seiren has plenty to keep Adol on his toes, such as dinosaur-like creatures called Ancient Species and weird dreams at night about a girl named Dana. He didn’t have them until he came to Seiren, so what’s her connection to the island?
Easing Into Combat
Those who have played the recent Ys: Memories of Celceta or Ys VII will feel right at home with the combat, even though it’s now from a third-person point-of-view. It’s still hack-n-slash with skills and of course the ability to unleash a powerful attack from a filled up EXTRA gauge. For those who aren’t familiar with the Ys combat, it won’t take long to get into a solid groove. Using regular attacks fills up the Focus gauge, and skills use up a certain amount of that Focus. Using skills, in turn, fills up the EXTRA gauge. Both the Flash Move (a successful last minute dodge) and Flash Guard (a successful last minute guard) have also returned, both slowing down time, protecting the character from attacks, and allowing a few seconds to get plenty of slugs in. As a word of warning, playing on the Normal difficulty was incredibly easy. I only died twice throughout my entire playthrough. Those looking for a challenge may want to bump up the difficulty a bit, and there are several options available. I’m fairly certain playing on Easy lets you walk through enemies.
Adol travels in a party of three, but this time all companions are with him helping him in battle. Each party member has their own types of attacks, and the player can switch which character they control at any time to utilize their skills. For example, Adol’s attacks are a slashing type and Laxia’s are piercing. Some enemies are highly susceptible to a particular attack, and by switching to a character who uses that attack, the player can activate a monster’s break point. The break point severely weakens enemies, making them easy to pick off. It would be nice if the characters didn’t say anything when you switched to them, as hearing Adol yell, “Switch!” each time is unbelievably annoying. I’ll delve more into the annoying dialogue later.
When you collect more than three characters for your party, you can switch party members out at any time during battle other than boss fights. So, if one falls and you don’t feel like using a revive potion or fruit, you can easily replace them with a standby character and carry on. When the party reaches a crystal, everyone is automatically revived and healed anyway. It’s best to save those potions for the boss fights, when you can’t replace fallen comrades.
Most of Adol’s time is spent exploring, which makes up most of the combat, especially in dungeons. But Ys VIII has a few breaks from the usual dungeon crawls. Every now and then, beasts gather together to storm the Castaway Village, and it’s up to everyone to fend them off. With these Interceptions, Adol’s party takes on the largest and most powerful packs on one front, while the rest of the village fights on another. When they have a small respite from fighting, one of them will drop in and help Adol’s team. Sometimes it’s an attack, sometimes it’s healing, and other times it’s repairing your barricades and other structures deterring enemy progress. There’s also Suppressions, which takes the fight to nests of enemies, to clean them out before their numbers are too dangerous. Unfortunately, the characters do not earn any XP during these events, but there’s a chance to earn rare items, depending on how well your team fought.
For most of the game, I wondered who really were the beasts, the creatures or the castaways. Sure, they need to try to survive to get off the island, but it seems like they’re hell bent on destroying the thriving ecosystems of the island. Before the first Suppression, Laxia even comments that by killing one of the Ancient Species in the jungle, it’s allowed the breeding of other dangerous beasts to go out of control. I like going on a murder spree as much as anyone in a game, but the elimination side quests and the Suppression events made me question the purpose of these particular sprees.
Head North by East
The exploration is fairly standard for an Ys title. Only certain paths are open at this time, but as Adol discovers more Adventure Gear, he can unlock new areas and return to old ones to collect treasure chests he couldn’t get to. Ys fans will be familiar with most of these adventure abilities, such as finding the gear to allow for a double jump or to breathe underwater. Since Ys VIII introduces a third-person perspective, there’s now the ability to climb vines once Adol finds the appropriate gear. Climbing vines doesn’t really add anything extra, but it’s a nice diversion from the usual platforming affair.
Well, no, I take that back; climbing does add in something extra, as in another bit of annoying dialogue from characters. I’m not sure who decided it was a good idea to have characters say the same two phrases over and over whenever one starts a climb, or when one notices a harvest point or a treasure chest. When you near either a harvest point or a treasure chest, the HUD map picks it up instantly. There’s zero need, at all, to hear anyone say a word upon finding one. I also didn’t need one of them saying they could catch fish there when we neared a river or coastline. I’m well aware of the fishing mini-game and its importance for side quests, cooking, and even crafting. I’ll fish when I damn well feel like it, thanks. I would have turned the volume all the way down so I wouldn’t have to hear them yammer, but it was always nice to hear them raise an alarm if a beast found us that we could not defeat at that time. At least during those few moments, they had unique things to say.
Another unique aspect of exploration relies upon how many castaways Adol has found. Since this is a deserted island, plenty of pathways are barred from fallen trees, landslides, you name it. Each barrier requires a certain number of castaways to help clear the path. Not all castaways are vital to the main story, so this gives a bit of an extra incentive to find them all for your Pokédex. If you want to complete your map to 100%, which will be a massive undertaking, finding all the castaways is crucial. Not to mention, the more castaways you find, the more help you can get during Interceptions.
Ys VIII isn’t Adol’s typical adventure, but it’s so well-crafted (aside from chatty characters) from its combat down to its methods of exploration and side mission variety. It may take a bit longer for newcomers than long-time fans to take the bait, but once you’re reeled in, you will be hooked. You’ll need to be hooked, because even with a crit-path strategy for completion, it will easily take over 40 hours to get through the mystery of the Isle of Seiren. Fortunately, any action-RPG fan, even those who disliked the Ys series in the past, will find plenty to lure them in and keep them on the line.
Ys VIII review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.