Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA for PC Review

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Ever since I played Ys Origin, I’ve been interested in the franchise. The fast-paced hack and slash style gameplay the more recent games are known for prove to be extremely fun. Even the bump combat system in the first two games proves to be fun. It’s different, but fun. At least I think so. When Ys VIII was announced, I was immediately interested and when the PC version received an update introducing an experimental co-op feature, my friend kept bugging me to play it with him. Developed by Nihon Falcom and published by NIS America, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA was released for Vita and PlayStation 4 in September, 2017, PC in April, 2018, Switch in June of that same year and Stadia in April, 2021. For this review, we played the PC version.

The story follows Adol Christin and a group of survivors that wash up on the mysterious Isle of Seiren after their ship is attacked and sunk by a giant creature. As Adol searches for survivors and assists the group in figuring out a way to get off the island, he experiences dreams of a girl named Dana from a different era which leads him to the discovery of impending doom. So he sets out on a quest to save the world.

Ys VIII is a very story-driven game and conveys a great a sense of adventure. There are multiple endings and the one you see will depend on your overall approval rating which is determined by numerous factors. My biggest issue with the plot is that it takes a while to really get going. A good chunk of the game focuses on the group’s efforts to get off the island. It took us just under forty seven hours to beat the story and I think it was around the twenty five or thirty hour mark before it was made clear what the big bad threat to the world was. And in my opinion, that’s when things really get interesting. Granted, we did complete side missions along the way.

Ys VIII features a lot of characters, a lot of exposition, a lot of cut scenes, a lot of content, and a lot of tropes. Most of the characters are fleshed out pretty well even if some of the personalities made my eyes roll like the stubborn Laxia von Roswell, especially in the beginning of the game, and the edgy and mysterious transporter named Hummel. The voice acting ranges from decent to good but some of the dialogue sounds “unnatural” for lack of a better of word although that may be the result of the English translation.

There are some things I find odd and annoying about how the story and dialogue is presented. Adol is a voiced protagonist but he doesn’t speak all that much outside of shouting one-liners usually during gameplay and he’s given one or two fully voiced lines during certain cut scenes. Many interactions in the game are not voiced and several contain a mix of voiced dialogue and text so characters may start a conversation fully voiced and then go silent forcing you to read text or vice versa and I admit that irrationally annoys me.

One of my biggest annoyances with the game is how some cut scenes are implemented. There are way, way, way too many instances where a cut scene ends, you progress forward which may only be a few feet and then another cut scene is triggered. Sometimes you have to travel a good distance to trigger the next cut scene but there’s nothing interesting or exciting to see or do along the way so it feels like you’re just running from one cut scene to another. That annoys me.

What really shines is the gameplay. It’s fast-paced and action packed. Ys VIII a single player experience but the PC or Steam version received an experimental local co-op mode. This means two players can team up and play through the story together. However, it does have some drawbacks. For one thing, there are several segments that are single player only. The second player can’t really do much except run around and attack enemies and the camera can become very problematic. With the two players active, the camera will often zoom out during encounters and it can be easy to lose track of your character or what’s going on and it can make some platforming frustrating.

As you progress through the story, you’ll discover new survivors, some of which can join Adol’s party. Eventually, you’ll control a party of three characters and can switch between them on-the-fly. Other characters you come across will be sent to the village your group setup on the island. You can equip your party members with different gear and utilize the resources you find in the environments to upgrade weapons, craft items and equipment, and brew potions. As you discover more survivors, you’ll be able to access more of the island.

The game will send you on numerous quests and you can take on side quests from the village. There is a quest board that will show you what quests are available, if any. There’s two things I don’t like about the whole side quest system. One; the game doesn’t alert you when new quests are available so you have to check the board frequently. And two; side quests can be missed. Also, the game only indicates how long you have to complete a side quest in the form of length conveyed as short, mid, and long which is not exactly clear. From what I understand, reaching certain points in the story will eventually eliminate certain quests but we never knew what points those were so we always completed side quests as soon as we could and as far as we know, we did complete them all.

The combat in Ys VIII is a lot of fun and does have some depth to it. Each party member wields a different weapon and can unleash unique skills which drains through SP and skills can be leveled up. When you land a skill, you fill up your EXTRA gauge and when that’s full, you can unleash an extremely powerful attack. Each party member inflicts one of three different damage types and some enemies are weak to certain damage types so it’s often wise to have a balanced team. Enemies do have their own attacks and can inflict different status effects and there is no traditional blocking. However, you can utilize Flash Moves and Flash Guards to defend yourself. These can be activated by evading an attack at the exact right moment and trying to trigger these can become addictive once you get the timing down.

Once a Flash Move is triggered, enemies will be slowed-down for a brief time and you’ll gain temporary invincibility. When a Flash Guard is triggered, you’ll also gain temporary invincibility, and all attacks will be critical hits for a brief time. If you can master these mechanics, you’ll do fine. The combat controls are easy to master and encounters can be very fast-paced. You’ll want to memorize enemy and boss attacks and patterns and evade and strike when possible. AI party members will attack on their own and I never really felt the need to babysit them. Health can be quickly replenished with potions, food, or by simply waiting for it to replenish by standing still when outside of a dungeon.

At a certain point in the story, Dana will join Adol’s group and she’s from a past era. What’s cool is you’ll be able to switch between Adol’s era and Dana’s era at almost any time. You will do things in Dana’s era that affects what happens in Adol’s era but the developers seem to be a little loose with the rules. For example, in Dana’s era, she can switch between different attack types on-the-fly, acquire resources, gain experience, and level up but none of this is carried over into Adol’s era when the group meets up with her.

You can grind for experience and levels but I can’t say we ever felt the need to do so at any point during our playthrough. I should mention we did play through the game on Normal. The island is segmented and most of time you’re travelling from one area to another, slaying enemies and collecting resources. New areas typically introduce new and tougher enemies and if you complete side quests as they become available, explore each area fully and slay all of the enemies you encounter, you should always be capable of defeating any new threats. Despite the island being big and open, you progress around it in a linear fashion. You can fast travel to any of the crystals spread throughout the island which also replenish your party’s health.

In addition to the typical adventuring and exploration are raids and hunts you can participate in and night exploration which can be triggered at certain campsites and feature different enemies and unique resources. Every so often, you’ll be alerted to a new raid. This is when enemies attack the village and it’s your job to stop them and you can spend resources to improve the village defenses. Most of the raids are optional but they are a good way to gain experience and obtain resources. Enemies typically arrive in waves and sometimes a raid ends with a boss enemy. You are scored based on your performance and part of your group is fighting additional enemies off-screen, or so it seems, because they’re scored as well and it’s never clear how their scores are determined because you never see them. This other group will also cheer you on and this means you receive temporary bonuses during the raid and different characters provide different bonuses. The better your score or rank, the more rewards you earn.

Hunts are similar to raids except you’re going after the enemies in different areas around the island. Beast dens will spawn enemies until they’re destroyed and you can place torches around the area which provide support bonuses, making it easier to defeat enemies. Hunts also come with a scoring system and survivors not in your party are battling somewhere else and will cheer you on off-screen, granting you temporary bonuses. The raids and hunts are kind of cool but also chaotic because enemies just spawn in, you’re typically outnumbered, you have no control over what bonuses you get and the other group’s score seems arbitrary. There’s just a lot of things going on during these events and it can be confusing at first.

As mentioned earlier, the island is big and open but you progress through it in a linear fashion. You can travel to any already explored area at any time and you are rewarded for exploration so it’s wise to explore every nook and cranny and collect every resource you find. The segmented nature of the island means that you’ll encounter a load time when moving from one area to another so you’ll see them frequently, but luckily, in our experience, they were always brief. The more survivors you have, the more areas of the island you gain access to. However, some parts are only accessible through the use of adventuring gear. For example, grip gloves let you climb vines, floating shoes let you walk on water, and the hermit’s scale lets you breathe underwater.

Unfortunately, not all of the adventuring gear can be equipped at once which seems stupid. You have a certain amount of slots and you can increase the amount but not enough to equip all of the gear at once. In certain areas you may have to switch gear one or multiple times and that can get annoying. We found that switching between gear adds nothing to the gameplay. It just becomes a nuisance. Instead, it would have been better if the benefits of most of the gear were simply features that would be permanently unlocked. I understand the need to toggle on and off the floating shoes, but the hermit’s scale for example should always be equipped.

Visually, Ys VIII looks dated, even for the time it released and even with the high quality texture pack installed. It does showcase a very colorful visual presentation and beautiful distant landscapes but, overall, it looks like an upscaled PS2 game. The audio is easily the best part of the entire presentation. Specifically the music. The sounds of slashes and hits are satisfying and the action is accompanied by a wonderful and catchy orchestral soundtrack with a lot of memorable tunes. On the technical side, we are happy to report that we encountered no major issues and the game ran smooth from beginning to end.

I really enjoyed Ys VIII. In my opinion, the story takes a while to really get going and it does get a bit weird at the end but the gameplay is phenomenal and a lot of a fun. The simple-to-learn mechanics, fast pace, and addictive evasion system makes for a very fun and engaging experience. The enemy variety is excellent, the world is large and diverse, the different playable characters with their different combat styles and move sets gives you plenty of options and allows for experimentation, and there’s plenty of content to keep you occupied in this very story-driven action RPG. We do kind of wish the co-operative implementation would be improved more but considering it was a free update, it’s hard to complain. Despite the fact Ys VIII’s visual presentation isn’t up to par with its contemporaries, it’s still pleasing on the eyes and it’s definitely a feast for the ears.

I would definitely recommend Ys VIII to fans of the series and action RPGs. As we were playing it, I would question some of the dialogue and story beats and my friend would sometimes respond with “anime game”. And even if that kind of thing turns you off, I would still recommend you give Ys VIII a shot because the gameplay is just so much fun. Definitely check it out.

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