Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
Nintendo Switch version
A fantastic RPG getaway! Book your trip to Seiren today!
* Great combat
Lengthy, engaging story
Lots and lots of gameplay, exploration, and visual variety
* Graphics are behind the curve, even for the Nintendo Switch
A couple of disappointing characters
The Bottom Line
Despite its long-running status, the Ys series has remained firmly under the radar for most gamers. Blame it on the strange, not easily pronounceable name, blame it on the weird platform choices, or blame it on the relatively limited distribution and releasing, but despite its influence on both the action-adventure and RPG genres, the Ys series has never really caught on with a mainstream audience unlike, say the Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda series. And that’s too bad, because these are all solid games, with fun combat, engaging (if a bit cliched) storytelling, and excellent music. Ys 8, the first to hit a Nintendo platform in over 20 years, has been arguably the most popular game the series has had since its early Turbografx CD days. While you may not hear this one get talked about very much, I can say that this is easily one of the best RPGs you will find on the Nintendo Switch, or any other platform you choose to play it on.
Ys 8 begins as most games in the series do: with the series’ red-haired protagonist Adol sailing towards a new destination. When the ship that Adol is riding on is attacked by an unknown monster, him and the rest of the ship’s passengers and crew wash up on Seiren Island, an uncharted, mysterious place thought to be cursed. With no easy way off the island, Adol must work alongside his new-found allies to start a village, gather the survivors, and uncover the deep mystery surrounding the island’s strange monsters. Eventually, Adol begins having dreams of a blue-haired girl named Dana in a seemingly unrelated part of the world. Ys 8 starts off simple and relatively slow, but it isn’t long before you realize just how wild Seiren Island is. From serial killers and dinosaurs, to ghost pirates and ancient civilizations, the stakes just get higher and higher as the storyline drags on, with your band eventually teaming up to stop a full-blown apocalypse from occurring, as the game delves into ideas of evolution and destiny that you would have never anticipated from its rather humble start.
Ys’ combat design has gone through several variations from the early bump-combat titles to the later combo-heavy button-mash gameplay of the Napishtim titles. Ys 8 inherits the three-character party system introduced in the prior game, 2009’s Ys 7. Rather than controlling Adol as a single character, instead you swap between three different characters in a party, each with their own unique skills to use and their own weapon attack types. Most enemies can be quickly dealt with by swapping to the character with the matching weapon type: insect enemies are susceptible to piercing weapons, while armored enemies are susceptible to blunt weapons. The other two party members get controlled by the AI. The ally AI are competent fighters, and you can order them to either hold back or attack as you see fit. This can be useful for backtracking through a zone while running past several difficult enemies - your partners won’t initiate a fight you didn’t intend to start.
Each character is able to learn and assign different skills to the four face buttons. The player can then utilize the Spirit Gauge to fire off these individual skills, which allow for stronger damage, or better break and stun potential. They’re designed to be used constantly since the spirit gauge fills up relatively fast, so it’s easy to fire them off with reckless abandon. Each skill can be trained up to three levels, which makes them stronger. Eventually, you’ll be able to use EXTRA skills, which are the strongest attacks every character has to offer and work off of a separate gauge that fills much more slowly as you land hits on enemies. The other wrinkle to the combat comes in the form of Flash Moves and Flash Guards. By dodging at the last second as an attack is about to hit the player, you’ll slow down time, which will allow you to catch your breath or get in some easy hits. Or, you can block just as an attack hits to Flash Guard, which grants you increased attack strength for a few seconds, which can really help with taking out the enemies with bigger health bars. Learning how to utilize both of these is crucial for surviving even the toughest combat encounters.
The three party system effectively gives you three health bars to work with, while the ability to immediately open up your inventory and drink a potion or eat a meal makes surviving slightly trivial compared to the older games, where you had to be able to fight a boss with one health bar and no option to heal. This system isn’t as overpowered as it could be: bottles are relatively scarce for much of the game, you’ll need to find the formulae and recipes for the most useful potions and dishes, and you will need to spend several minutes in real-time digesting a meal and using its effects before they can eat another one, or wash it down with some vegetable juice, which is quite expensive to produce. Still, even on Hard mode, Ys 8 was at times challenging but never truly overbearing - even if certain bosses and activities would kick my butt, I always had the option to come back with a stronger party or better weapons to overcome these difficult challenges. While most of the game utilizes the three-party system, there are also several boss fights as well as entire chapters which are completely solo, which make for a much more hairy experience in the vein of the older Ys games.
Ys 8 is a very, very long game. You can expect to spend anywhere in the 40-60 hour range exploring Seiren, and there is just so much to do during that time. The map is utterly sprawling, littered with secret areas around every rock and tree. While it is not a true open world since it has been broken up into zones separated by loading screens, that doesn’t stop it from feeling utterly massive in size. There’s plenty of variety, too, from beaches and caves to the highest mountain peaks and the depths of the ocean, along with even more esoteric locations that you’re going to have to discover for yourself. Several zones can also be visited at nighttime, which brings a very different atmosphere, not to mention stronger, more aggressive enemy types. Ys 8 isn’t just a large game, it’s a deep one too: there are so many layers to not just the story but to the game design as well: you’ll be discovering new features, characters and mysteries, 30, 40, even 50 hours deep into the adventure.
Key to the experience is the village itself - building it up from a small survivor’s camp to a self-sustaining entity is a wholly satisfying experience. At the start of the game, you will only have a few surviving shipmates, and must work to explore the island to find more survivors and gather materials to build out your camp. As you locate more characters, you’ll be able to open up more sections of the island, although you will face occasional setbacks as characters sometimes die or disappear altogether. Most villagers have their own functions that you’ll unlock: there’s a blacksmith, a farmer, a chef, a tailor, a trader, and many more. These characters have their own little arcs to engage with, as they turn from frightened survivors into hard-working and productive villagers, although this is somewhat less effective for villagers which show up far later in the game. These stories can be progressed by completing quests and giving characters specific gifts, which increase their affection towards Adol, and their effectiveness in their individual functions. Not every one of these side stories lands - I thought the stuff with the nun was a bit awkward - but most of them are satisfying enough to watch and really make you feel like a part of a group, rather than a single player. You may find it hard to want to leave by the journey's end.
The other key element of the village has to do with raids and hunts. Your village gets routinely attacked by Seiren’s monsters, with attacks growing in frequency and danger as the game stretches on. You can use the materials you gather all across Seiren to fortify your village’s defenses and add traps to stave off monsters. At specific points in the game, you will be able to go on raids and fight off these monsters as they attack your village in waves. You’ll be alerted when this becomes available, although it seems like you’re free to put off certain raids for a pretty long time. Hunts, meanwhile, allow you to clear out areas filled with excessive monsters, requiring the player to plop down torches over a small area to slow down the enemies, eventually leading to a boss fight. In both modes, villagers can help out by providing additional support effects and buffs, which only increase as Adol’s affection towards them increases.
The voice acting has that typical anime dub feel, but the cast generally fits their roles nicely, apart from only a couple of cringy characters. Considering the large number of characters that are voiced, the fact that only a couple stand out as weak is impressive. There are plenty of cutscenes with voice acting, but much of the game is not voiced, which does seem a bit inconsistent. The music, however, is almost uniformly fantastic. Many songs induce a peaceful, quiet state with chilly synth melodies. In the field, string-laden themes give way to crunchy guitars and heavy metal tempos. Every track fits the situation perfectly, and none of it ever feels out-of-place or jarring.
This Switch port has gotten a bit of a mixed reception online, but I will say my experience with it was generally positive. Falcom has never made the most technically impressive games, and Ys 8 is no exception. While the game has a generally appealing aesthetic due to its tropical setting and distinctive, if strongly anime-influenced character designs, its visuals would have barely been considered cutting-edge 15 years ago. There’s a fair amount of enemy pop-in, clear dynamic resolution drops (especially when playing undocked) and shadows in particular looking extremely fuzzed out and janky. There are also occasional choppy moments, but these drops are generally isolated to cutscenes and hardly impact gameplay in all but the most intense moments. I ended up turning off the auto save feature when moving between zones, as the hit to performance was a bit too much to take. Thankfully, saving is quick and easy and you can do it literally anywhere. I was unfortunate to experience several crashes during my play time. Some of the later hunts in particular can cause the game to lock up - while I was able to power through these eventually, I was never able to find the cause as to why these issues happened. Still, they were rare enough during this long, long game that I could forgive it somewhat. Considering this originated as a PlayStation Vita game, Ys 8 makes perfect sense for Nintendo’s hybrid platform - it’s a game that can be enjoyed equally at home or on vacation.
It’s easy to underestimate the kind of journey Ys 8 takes you on. Its graphics are behind the curve, and the story starts out relatively slow. By the time you’ve reached the end, you’ll have developed bonds with characters who are difficult to forget, listened to some great music, fought your way through some grueling battles, and explored the deepest and darkest places. There’s a whole lot packed into this adventure, and I enjoyed virtually every second of the experience. Players who are looking for a meaty RPG to sink their time into on Nintendo Switch should consider playing Ys 8.
by krisko6 (813) on August 23rd, 2021