Developer Nihon Falcom has grown in prominence in recent years, but their most smashing hit, especially in the West, is Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. Even amidst troubling launches on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Switch, and PC, this action JRPG managed to resonate with fans new and old thanks to its dense content and well-realized ambition. Now, the game is making its way to PlayStation 5, and while it doesn’t necessarily warrant a full re-purchase, it is undoubtedly its definitive iteration.
In Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, protagonist Adol Christin and his traveling partner Dogi find themselves on the passenger ship, the Lombardia, following their adventure in Kefin, which is where Ys V occurs. However, a ferocious sea beast attacks the vessel, causing its many riders to become stranded on the fabled Isle of Seiren. Adol initially finds himself by his lonesome, but after meeting a few crucial individuals, they find the fittingly named Castaway Village, where all former passengers of the Lombardia can reside. The cast’s initial goal is to obviously escape the island and head back to their homes, though what begins as a classic deserted scenario morphs into a supernatural quandary involving an ancient civilization.
Ys VIII is the third game of the franchise’s party-based combat system, meaning multiple characters are playable. Adol eventually meets five party members who fight alongside him, and all boast different skills and attack affinities. The latter is divided into three categories; Strike, Slash, and Pierce. Each character embodies a single attack affinity, and the player character must be swapped in the midst of combat to defeat correspondingly weak enemies. As for skills, they are learned via standard fighting progression and finding manuals throughout the island.
Combat itself is exceptionally straightforward to parse. Aside from skills are regular attack combos and two significant techniques; Flash Guard and Flash Move. These processes are triggered when guarding and dodging, respectively, with Flash Guarding being a more risky endeavor as it’s the only guard functionality present. Not every party member feels enjoyable to utilize, at least to me. Still, that’s all solely dependent on player preference.
Various difficulties are selectable as well, with Hard being my recommendation for first-timers since lower modes simply comprise foes that are too frail, and Nightmare difficulty isn’t exactly all that enjoyable on a first playthrough because of how tanky everything becomes. Nevertheless, players will rapidly grasp the fundamentals due to their simplicity, making this entry exceptionally newcomer friendly to those unfamiliar with the genre.
Ys VIII is also an ideal entry point for those unfamiliar with the franchise at large since, besides a few references, its narrative is self-contained and does not require any previous entry knowledge to comprehend or fully appreciate. The newly found setting and hot pot of castaways with varying backgrounds grant Ys VIII an entirely unique and ambitious identity incomparable to the rest of the series. And while the lack of overt connective tissue between these games can make each title seem isolated, it aids in their self-sufficiency. The narrative takes its time, not truly picking up until a few chapters pass. Some patience is required, but there’s more than enough intrigue to hook new players from the start, such as Adol’s strange dreams and the beginning mysteries surrounding the island.
One area Ys VIII excels in is providing a sense of visual progress, primarily evident by the gradually filling Castaway Village and the map’s completion. Regardless of repeated playthroughs, simply seeing more friendly faces occupy the home base helps alleviate the severity of the cast’s situation. Moreover, each castaway has their own affinity level that’s increased by granting them gifts, rewarding the player with more scenes detailing their histories and characterizations.
This isn’t the first Ys title to have focused on its cast so heavily, but that doesn’t negate how splendidly it’s done. Adding to the sense of community is the job board at the base, which essentially equates to the game’s sidequest system. Each castaway has their own quest(s) to complete, usually ranging in type, and they are always worth seeking out for practical and sentimental benefits. Still, they do have time limits, so prioritizing them when possible is usually the way to go. Another significant benefit bolstered by a stronger sense of unity is the obstacles loitered around the Isle of Seiren that require a certain number of castaways to remove.
Further gameplay facets include cooking, crafting, forging, and trading. They’re all quite self-explanatory, serving to enhance the cast’s raw stats and provide related boons. There’s a constant and consistent reward loop that makes the journey a genuinely gratifying one when they’re actively pursued. Though, my favorite has to be fishing; it’s unlocked relatively early on and can be performed anywhere near a body of water. The fish you catch have multiple uses, and there’s a whole menu dedicated to your catches, making this a reasonably pleasant activity to embrace to break up potential monotony.
While Ys VIII’s combat and exploration are addictively conjoined, one implementation of the former that sticks out as the weakest has to be the raids. At certain points throughout the story, Castaway Village becomes under attack, and you can choose to help out by battling waves of foes. This idea sounds thrilling in concept, and it’s mostly optional, so one doesn’t necessarily have to complete them, though they offer terrific prizes as compensation. Unfortunately, the way they’re paced isn’t exactly stirring. At the end of each wave, a tally is shown depicting the numericalized combative efforts of the villagers, and it’s a needlessly lengthy presentation. Ultimately, this is all minor, but I do happen to feel slight dread for end-game raids because of those tallying segments in between waves.
Around roughly halfway through the story, a brand new playable side of the game is unlocked, where the titular heroine, Dana, traverses her own dungeon. It’s an extensive area that opens up more the further one is in the narrative, and they’re more puzzle-centric than the main story’s dungeons. Dana gains distinct elemental forms for use here as well, all boasting differing speeds and skill applications, greatly amplifying variety to an extent where Dana alone feels like a condensed form of various characters.
Soundtrack-wise, Ys VIII is near the heights of Falcom’s library, with countless memorable, ambient, and hype-inducing songs identified in tandem with mere mention of the company. No extended details are needed regarding that trait. However, what does need emphasis instead are the PlayStation 5 inclusions.
Every equippable cosmetic from previous releases of the game is in this version, alongside several performance updates like an upped framerate, enhanced resolution, further draw distance, swifter loads, and more. Admittedly, unless you’re a diehard fan, these add-ons are not significant enough to warrant an additional fully-priced purchase. Still, this also marks the only smooth Western launch of the title, finally putting a polished capstone on this title’s troubled history. Keyboard controls are also implemented, which is cool, I guess. I didn’t personally use it, though.
Although, there is one bizarre glitch I encountered. When giving a gift or performing other menial tasks, like submitting a new hallmark of map completion, the background will entirely vanish while the zoomed character’s portrait and textbox remain present. The background is meant to be around but just blurred. This issue is inconsequential yet worth pointing out since I don’t remember experiencing this visual oddity in any of the titles’ prior versions.
It feels absurdly surreal that it’s been over six years since Ys VIII first launched. We’ve seen many ports and efforts for optimization, not all of which were cleanly inputted, putting this title through a seemingly endless mire. Thankfully, we’ve finally reached a point where the game has received the just treatment it deserves thanks to its performance upgrades and neat add-ons like the compiled outfits.
If you’ve never played this defining entry of the franchise, the PlayStation 5 port is the best way to do so. Alternatively, if you’re a veteran fan or achievement hunter, this release has a separate trophy list, allowing for another Platinum if that’s your jam. Ys IX is also scheduled to receive a native PlayStation 5 version next year, and while the improvements probably won’t be as substantial as with VIII, I hope it turns out as well as what’s happened here.
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