Last year, Nihon Falcom’s Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana came out on the PlayStation 4. I, for some reason or another, never got around to playing it back then. Now, after finally having played it on PC, I realize what a horrible mistake waiting this long to play it was. Ys VIII is, without a doubt, the best Ys game to have ever been released. It’s also literally one of the best action RPGs that I’ve played in years. It’s addictive, captivating, and enthralling, and just thinking about how much fun I’ve been having with it is almost enough to make me stop writing about this game just so I can go back to playing it.
Now, with that being said, the game isn’t perfect. Or rather, the PC version isn’t. I have a feeling that, had I played the game on the PlayStation 4, or if I were instead playing the soon-to-be-released Switch version, I’d probably be giving this game a perfect score. Because the game itself absolutely deserves it. Unfortunately, the gaming glory that is Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is finding itself somewhat undermined by the slew of bugs currently plaguing it. Fortunately, NISA has been trying their hardest to quash these problems. And they’re certainly making progress. But I can’t very well give a game a perfect score if it isn’t behaving like it’s supposed to be. Still, if you’re wiling to overlook the bugs while they’re being taken care of, the PC version of Lacrimosa of Dana is just as much a treasure as the over versions.
The vast majority of Ys VIII‘s two-tone story centers on none other than the series’ iconic red-haired hero Adol Cristian who, much to his delight, finds himself wrapped up in yet another adventure. After agreeing to work as part of the crew in exchange for room and board, Adol and his trusty pal Dogi find themselves aboard the luxury cruise ship the Lombardia as they head to the continent of Eresia in search of new adventures. Of course fate — as it always does in Adol’s case — had other plans. Partway through the journey the Lombardia is attacked, and subsequently destroyed, by a terrifying squid-like creature. Rather than ending up at their destination, Adol instead finds himself washed ashore on Seiren — a cursed island which no one has supposedly ever (willingly) ventured toward or escaped from.
Adol isn’t the only one facing a set of problems, though. Ys VIII also features a second protagonist named Dana — a woman whose journey seems to be happening in a different time and place entirely. Recently having been named the next Maiden of the Great Tree — a title only matched by the queen of her civilization — Dana finds herself dealing with the many trials and tribulations which come with her new role. Although not taking place concurrently with Adol’s, and not being featured quite as much, Dana’s story is no less important. I personally felt that the buildup to Dana’s story was a bit slow at first, as I had iassumed that she would have initially shared much more of the spotlight with Adol. Still, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it. Her narrative contributions were fun to watch unravel, and she greatly enhanced the story overall (which should probably go without saying).
Although alone at first, Adol soon finds company in other castaway Lombarida passengers. And it’s these fellow castaways who help set the pacing for the game’s story. Although Ys VIII is a game featuring a story about exploring an island, most of its actual progression takes place in and around its hub world, Castaway Village. The narrative is written in a way that, rather than encouraging players to rush ahead and never looks back, forces players to interact and bond with those around them.
In many RPGs this kind of frequent home base-returning, character-interacting focus could become tedious, but Ys VIII offers something unique to players; a comparatively small number of characters. There aren’t bustling cities with NPCs mulling about every which way (with the exception of a few small scenes). You’re marooned on an island with only a handful of other people to interact with. Because of this, the game makes sure to flesh every single character out. Everyone is important. And it’s that importance that helps Ys VIII tell a story like no other Ys game has done before.
Would you believe me if I told you that most of Ys VIII‘s gameplay revolves around exploring dangerous locations and killing things? You would? Good, because that’s precisely what you’ll be doing for 95% of this game. Chances are that you’ll love every minute of it, too. Not one ever rest on its laurels, Ys VIII takes its classic action adventure gameplay to all-new heights, presenting to players an experience which is both familiar and fresh. The game controls incredibly well, carrying over a control scheme similar to that of Ys Seven, and the re-inclusion of jumping adds light platforming elements that’ are very enjoyable but never overbearing.
As I’ve already said, adventuring is mostly what this game’s about. Those already familiar with the Ys series should feel right at home when exploring the alarmingly expansive Seiren Island, as not too much has actually changed when it comes to core mechanics. Game progression follows a very tried and true pattern of letting the player explore a new area, wander into and through a dungeon, and reporting back to the hub world to progress the story further. It’s an easy and incredibly simple to follow formula, But it doesn’t feel that way when you’re actually playing the game. Despite its linear and formulaic progression system, the areas in the game allow just enough exploratory wiggle room to let players (sort of) do their own thing while simultaneously making progress. This especially holds true for the field areas — most of which are expansive, and rife with secret items to collect and areas to uncover. Oh, and fishing spots. You can’t forget the fishing spots.
Dungeons, of course, are an entirely different story. Although still a step above past Ys games, Ys VIII‘s dungeons are much closer in terms of traditional “Ys-ness”. A counterpart to the wide-spanning field areas, most dungeon areas are more straightforward, feature unique gimmicks and challenges, and, above all else, are packed with monsters who would love nothing more than to make you their next meal. Fortunately, “traditional” doesn’t have to mean “repetitive” or “boring”. Ys VIII‘s collage of dungeons boasts a uniqueness and diversity that ensures you’ll never feel as though you’re playing through the same dungeon twice (except for a few of the caves, some of which are literally interconnected).
There’s also Castaway Village itself. While past Ys games have centered, at least in part, around towns and villages, Ys VIII‘s unique hub world is a creature quite unlike anything else the series has ever seen before. Along with being the driving force for most narrative progression, Castaway Village features any facility that an RPG fan could ask for, running the gamut from a trading post (this game’s version of a store), to more specific facilities such like the apothecary and blacksmith.
The most interesting thing about Castaway Village, however, is how it develops. As crucial as the many facilities within your little home-away-from-home are, most of them aren’t there at first. And those that are are pretty bare-bones. Instead, players are tasked with rescuing other castaways as they search the island. Although some of these rescued castaways do little more than stand around most of the time, a good number of them perform functions (like those I’ve already mentioned). What’s more, you can further improve a lot of facilities by deepening your bond with your fellow castaways by completing quests or giving them special items. The social elements are very light in comparison to the main gameplay pulls (you know, like killing things with a sword), but the extra bit of depth provided by their inclusion blends in with everything else very nicely.
Back to the Basics
Much like other gameplay elements, Ys VIII‘s combat mechanics remain relatively similar to its past few installments. Ys VIII once again brings frequent, fast-paced, real-time combat to players as they explore, thanks to Seiren’s overwhelming monster population. Attack types remain just as important as they’ve ever been, with each of the game’s playable characters being broken up into “Slash”, “Strike”, and “Pierce” damage types. Taking things up a notch, these attack are no longer solely used to play a life-or-death version of rock-paper-scissors with your enemies, but also boast unique effects as well, such as Strike attacks being able to reduce enemy Defense, or Pierce attacks being able to completely ground aerial enemies. Fortunately, not every enemy prescribes to these types. A fair number of creatures are simply “typeless”, meaning that players aren’t forced to constantly switch characters around — something which makes battles smoother overall.
Ys VIII also seems to do better when it comes to diversifying party members. Rather than throwing in 10+ usable characters with overlapping playstyles, the game instead features a smaller 6-character party (two characters for each attack type), with all characters involved controlling in their own unique way. By sacrificing quantity for quality — as it did with the characters involved in the story — Ys VIII manages to create a party that truly looks and feels diverse.
The only thing that tripped me up when it came to combat was the way the game handled defensive maneuvers. Along with basic guarding and dodging, the player can also perform what are known as “Flash Guards” and “Flash Moves” by performing either aforementioned defensive maneuver with perfect timing. Now, I know anecdotal evidence can only get so far, but hopefully you’ll believe me when I say that I’m normally really good when it comes to timing. Something about this game threw me off a little bit, though. I could never quite get Flash abilities down pat. After thinking about it, I realized that a lot of it comes from the way characters fight. Ys VIII doesn’t allow players to cancel in the middle of special moves, meaning that you’re locked into something once you start. And this is where a lot of my issues stemmed from. Fights generally don’t last long due to the hack-and-slash nature of the game, but Flash abilities sometimes contradicted that due to the fact that they could often times require a bit of waiting (thus slowing down the actual fighting). To the game’s credit, these did become easier to pull off the more I played, but I couldn’t help but notice how rough things were in the beginning. Still, my slight annoyance at this was never enough to actually make me enjoy the game any less, so I suppose that it doesn’t matter all too much.
Quit Bugging Me
I don’t think that I’ve ever made a section in a review specifically to talk about bugs before. But here I am, doing just that. I think that it’s important in this case, though. Primarily because, from what I can tell, a lot of people are up in arms about Ys VIII‘s PC release. I’ve pored over both comments from other Steam users on the game’s store page and announcements from NISA themselves. And, having done that, all I can say is that I’m glad that I played the game myself instead of taking everyone else’s word for it. Yes this game has bugs. I’ve experienced occasional lag, and there are a few dungeons where certain texture colors flicker in and out. These bugs are annoying, and they definitely shouldn’t be there, but it hardly dampened my experience.
The PC gaming community is unique in that there isn’t a single, uniform “PC” (as opposed to console gaming, in which everything is almost always uniform). Everyone’s computers are different and, because of that, people are going to experience unique problems. I’m not going into into detail for obvious reasons, but the PC that I used to play this game is a good 3 – 4 years old. It was good in its day, but it’s far inferior to what’s on the market now. Despite that, I never ran into any of the major problems currently being discussed on Steam. I even played the game on my laptop for a bit and, while it certainly didn’t enjoy running the game, I never ran into anything game-breaking. There was continuous (albeit minor) lag when playing it on my laptop, but it was stable lag at the very least. No crashes, no major issues. I’m not saying that NISA doesn’t have a long, bug-fixing road ahead of them — because they absolutely do — but I don’t know that this game’s bug epidemic is quite as bad as everyone’s making it out to be in the grand scheme of things. Not in my experience, anyway.
A Crash-Course in Fun
To put it simply, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is (at least in my opinion) near-perfect game trapped in a less-than-perfect gaming medium. The game itself is absolutely fantastic. It’s pretty much everything that you could ask for if you’re itching to play an action-adventure RPG, and the fact that it’s a Ys title makes it all the better. However, this is also the PC version that we’re talking about. And, as I’ve already said, this version currently isn’t on-par with its PS4 counterpart. Still, from what I’ve encountered, none of the current issues are too terrible. If you’re even slightly interested in this game, do yourself a favor and get it. I promise that the pros far outweigh the (hopefully temporary) cons.
FINAL VERDICT: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4 ; Publisher: NIS America, Inc. ; Developer: Nihon Falcom ; Players: 1 ; Released: April 16, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher