Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Vita Review
There Is No Dana, Only Zuul
Many of the series Falcom was making in the 80s haven’t seen new entries in years, but Ys keeps going strong. It may have taken decades to reach its eighth numbered installment, but Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana manages to retain the strengths of the series without veering off course. Some elements new to the series are attempted here, and the retention of key ideas from Ys Seven and Ys: Memories of Celceta ensures there is plenty of meat to the experience. While this is unlikely to convert those who disliked prior Ys games, Ys VIII is most assuredly worth playing for anyone seeking a quality action RPG.
Adol Christin and his frequent companion Dogi are taking a cruise on an ocean-going vessel, when a gigantic creature distantly related to the giant squid attacks and sinks the ship. Adol soon washes ashore on the Isle of Seiren and begins to encounter other survivors of the shipwreck, who collect in a sheltered location to form Castaway Village. Adol and companions take up the task of exploring the uncharted isle searching for additional survivors, along with a means of getting off the island in the face of a very unfriendly sea monster that has discourteously refused to leave the surrounding ocean. Adol also begins to have periodic dreams of a woman named Dana, who lives in the past within an unknown society called Eternia. There is a link of some kind between Adol and Dana, one that is gradually deepened as exploration of Seiren progresses.
The Isle of Seiren is an interesting place with plenty of unusual things to see. It seems that Falcom did not count on the setting of a band of shipwrecked survivors who learn the ancient history of former inhabitants being enough, and added additional extraordinary circumstances. Having Seiren be filled with Ancient Species, which are mostly dinosaurs by another name, is at least a recurring theme throughout the adventure. The intrusion of a serial killer among the survivors is a strange interlude, and a pirate ghost ship wandering the waters is also an odd story beat. Quite a bit of story material is here, but it wasn’t constructed in the smoothest fashion. The conclusion also grossly simplifies what initially seems to be a complex and ethically fraught scenario, though this is hardly a unique occurrence in RPGs.
More of an issue than the narrative itself is its presention, which is full of redundant dialogue and unnecessary repetition. Characters will often remind each other of things that they ought to know perfectly well, and take a lot of time to resolve upon courses of action. Aside from some lines that reflect sentiments more commonly expressed in Japanese than English, NIS America’s localization is well done — it simply has to account for poorly-structured material.
Combat in this installment is very similar to that in Ys Seven and Memories of Celceta, finding three characters simultaneously on the field. The player can instantly shift control between this trio, and entering the menu allows other available characters to be shuffled in and out of direct action as desired. Each protagonist has a separate life meter and type of armament, which is helpful when many enemies are resistant to certain methods of attack. Each character also has unique special moves that can be extremely useful, and the meter for charging these techniques replenishes very quickly so their prolific use is encouraged. The spirit of older Ys games continues to be captured via the speed and efficiency of combat, which remains entertaining throughout the game.
A difficulty select is available at the beginning, but this Ys brings plenty of enemies capable of slaughtering the overly-aggressive player even on easy. Seiren hosts a variety of dangerous fauna the player is encouraged to flee when they are first encountered, and picking fights wisely is an important part of survival. Plenty of methods to aid survival are also present to assist, such as dodging and blocking techniques along with multiple healing items. It is theoretically possible to dodge or block every enemy attack, though doing so with multiple opponents gets very tricky. Taking advantage of the mechanics makes this much more than a simple grind-fest. Bosses remain a series standout, featuring a menagerie of often-bizarre opponents such as the crossing of a hippo with a protist that require the player’s full attention to vanquish.
Memories of Celceta made cartography into a mechanic by which Adol is rewarded, and this Ys continues to incentivize the quest to document the unknown. Ys VIII also brings back jumping, which hasn’t appeared in the series when multiple player characters were present. Jumping lets the environments use the third dimension quite a bit more, though fortunately without much in the way of precise platforming challenges to annoy. Seiren is a sizable and rewarding landscape to explore, featuring a tangibly wide variety of locations and means to progress. The need to find other survivors also rears its head when obstacles are discovered that can only be removed with a certain number of other people to assist, some of which are optional and others mandatory. Seiren’s size is not so much of an issue thanks to the many warping opportunities, which remove the need to physically traipse back and forth every time.
As an assortment of people isolated from society, the shipwreck survivors do not use currency. Instead a wide variety of materials are bartered for commodities, including those needed to upgrade the player’s equipment. This method can induce some grinding, because the required component parts are often dropped by specific opponents that need to be slaughtered plenty of times. In other ways chatting with townspeople and using all the required functions of menus is efficient, so this hindrance stands out a bit more.
Optional quests have been a part of Ys games before, but Ys VIII goes further with material that branches out from direct combat. Castaway Village is periodically attacked by rampaging creatures, and the player needs to participate in fights against waves of enemies — but with fortifications and the assistance of the townspeople. Several optional quests can be undertaken in the past that operate under a strict time limit, and are necessary to completely explore Seiren in the present. Fishing has been introduced to this Ys, a quick and addictive quest to seek out piscine and less-predictable things that can be pulled from bodies of water. Each character also has an approval rating which Adol can influence by giving gifts and completing individualized tasks, which often take a great deal of time but manage to flesh out the cast much better. Each side activity is not equally entertaining, but since completing this particular Ys can take over forty hours due to its size, the goal of giving gameplay variety is accomplished.
The Ys series has consistently featured compellingly rocking soundtracks, and that has not changed with this installment. While rock with prominent electric guitar is the most often heard style in the music, other genres are tackled with similar aplomb to create a varied and entertaining soundscape. Vocal performances inside and outside of battle are strong as well, with the only quibble being that there are too few quotes heard in the heat of combat.
A lot of work went into making the various zones of Seiren, and it shows in the impressive details to be seen. Flora and fauna change quite a bit while exploring, and even though noticing the details of the things that are moving is a challenge when most of them want the player dead, the effort of Falcom’s development team is worth recognition. Events also move fast on a consistent basis, and the animations for the characters similarly evince quite a bit of detail. While the graphics are unlikely to impress those determined to have complete photo-realism at every step, they nevertheless do a superb job of bringing this place to life.
Anyone who’s a veteran of this series will find no reason to refrain from playing the latest title. Ys VIII succeeds at being a very enjoyable action RPG, and continues Falcom’s streak of quality titles. The game is a bit of a tougher sell to those who generally avoid action RPGs, but anyone on the fence should find plenty of material to make it a worthy purchase. Ys has had some lesser titles over the years, but this is certainly not one of them and I’m very happy to have experienced it.
Making enemies dead is fun
A big place with lots to do
Material gathering can be time-consuming