Ys on Switch Scratches that Handheld RPG Itch
I’ve become quite familiar with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana at this point. Less than two months ago, I found myself reviewing the PC version of the game. Surprisingly, it went better than expected. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect. I ran into several bugs throughout my journey, and my PC seemed to be adverse to running the game smoothly for some reason, but it wasn’t that bad. Still, I found myself wanting more. I wanted a YS VIII without bugs, and without slowdown — and wouldn’t you know it, that’s precisely when the Switch version of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana fell into my lap.
I’ll say it loud, and I’ll say it proud; Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana for the Nintendo Switch is, in my humble opinion, the definitive version of Ys VIII. Sure, sure, it’s not exactly on part with PC and PS4 graphics. Especially when you’re playing it in handheld mode. And no, it doesn’t run at a silky smooth 60 FPS. But, do you know what it does have? Portability (and DLC costumes). In the 70+ hours that I’ve played this game, I’ve only spent around 5 (at most) in console mode. Being able to take Adol’s latest and greatest adventure with you wherever you go is an absolute treat for players and a boon for the Switch itself. And, naturally, the game holds up just as well now as ever before.
Oh, and this review might have a few light spoilers sprinkled about. Only a few, though. You’ve been warned!
Ys VIII begins in a rather memorable way, with exploration-hungry protagonist Adol and his faithful sidekick Dogi not beginning a new journey or making an exciting discovery, but, rather, aboard luxury cruise ship the Lombardia. The two adventurers, although overflowing with spirit, aren’t particularly well-off when it comes to finances. Fortunately, their physical prowess and boundless energy landed them jobs as temporary Lombardia workers and guaranteed passage to Eresia — a land in which Adol and Dogi hope to find countless adventures. Not surprisingly Adol, merely by the fact of being himself, can never get anywhere without incident — whether he likes it or not (I’m banking on him liking it). Partway through the voyage, the Lombardia is attacked by a giant squid-like creature and Adol, though try he might, isn’t able to stop the beast before it tore the Lombardia into shreds — sending our red-haired hero and the rest of those aboard the ship onto the uncharted sands of the nearby Seiren Island. Additionally, Ys VIII also features a second protagonist (a Ys main series first!), Dana. A young woman hailing from Eternia — a country which rose and fell far before Adol’s time — who was just recently appointed the next Maiden of the Great Tree (a position only rivaled by royalty) for her country, Dana soon finds herself battling to save not only herself, the entirety of her people.
The Ys series has been around for quite a long time now, and the decision to add a second protagonist to Ys VIII might come as a surprise to some — especially considering the fact that most Ys games don’t even have party members — but it quickly becomes apparent that Dana’s inclusion at the forefront of the game’s story is perhaps the best single move that Nihon Falcom could have made for the game’s narrative. Adol is a classic, silent hero — and he is also a hero in modern times. This unique duality puts him, as it does for all other RPG protagonists in his situation, at an impasse. You can either break that silence by fleshing out Adol’s character — which did occur in this game, albeit not enough to truly change him — or you can continue keeping him as a silent protagonist but risk telling a less detailed story. Well, Nihon Falcom apparently found a third way — and that way was with Dana.
As a narrative piece, Dana is everything that Adol isn’t; a perfect compliment, if you will. While Adol serves, as he always has, a stalwart and progressive force — consistently moving forward Ys VIII‘s story no matter the adversity he faces — Dana, from the very beginning, finds herself entangled in a deeply engaging narrative web. Can she find a way to somehow stop the destruction of Eternia? Who is Adol person that she sees in her dreams? And, later on in the story, how did she end up in the same time period as him? Dana’s unique circumstance within the story lets players, for the first time in a main series Ys game, play as a protagonist who both fearlessly cuts down enemies and actively engages in tumultuous, dialogue-heavy story. So, yes, while adding a second protagonist to Ys VIII was a bold move, it was one that more than paid off in the form much more story-driven Ys experience.
Old and New, Tried and True
It isn’t just this game’s story that takes a step into the modern world without sacrificing its original nature — Nihon Falcom did their darndest to make sure that Ys VIII‘s gameplay would receive the same treatment (and they pulled off flawlessly!). Sporting an unmistakable modern-yet-classic feel, Ys VIII features the same high-quality, exploration-based gameplay that series fans have come to enjoy while adding in just enough new features to keep things fresh. At its core, Ys VIII is very much a typical Ys game. It follows the same, largely linear, progression as its predecessors, guiding players through a cycle of fields and dungeons (complete with treasures and bosses!), as they explore the ever-imposing island of Seiren.
Of course, things aren’t exactly the same. It would be kind of bad if they were. Ys VIII may follow a very familiar formula, but it does so with such an amount of detail and fluidity that ensures that players won’t even realize that they’re following the standard Ys format. Although there a number of reasons behind this fluidity, I would attribute most of it to the inclusion of 3D exploration. In contrast with past titles, which feature a more top-down, style of gameplay, Ys VIII’s third-person, semi-platforming centric gameplay effortlessly sews together each of the game’s areas, while simultaneously ushering the series into the modern era.
Another thing that helps Ys VIII stand out from the crowd is Dana. What? I already talked about her? That was just in terms of the game’s story, geez. I’m talking about gameplay mechanics here. Technically speaking, there are two Danas. Now, that might sound confusing but just stick with me. Remember how I mentioned that Dana was from the past? Well, you play as Dana in the past… but later on, she also joins your party in the present. And that’s while you’re still playing as her in the past. They’re two separate characters, each with their own levels, stats, and abilities. The “present” Dana plays like any other party member. She, like Adol, is a slash-type character and can learn a variety of unique skills. “Past” Dana, however, plays more akin to how Adol did in the older Ys titles — namely due to the fact that she’s all on her own. Fortunately, the Past Dana has a few unique tricks up her sleeve. As you progress through her portions of the game, you eventually begin rescuing stray spirits — some of which bestow new forms upon Dana for players to use. Eventually, this leads to Dana essentially becoming three different characters — each with their own skill variants, attack types, and unique attributes — which, in turn, cleverly morphs her segments into something very different from those in the rest of the game.
Skirmish in the Sands
Based on everything else that we’ve talked about thus far, you probably think that Ys VIII‘s combat system is noticeably different from past titles as well, right? Well… not so much. In fact, I’d probably say that it’s changed the least out of everything in this game. For the most part, Ys VIII functions exactly how it did in Ys Seven. Each character once again uses one of three weapon types (slash, strike, and pierce) based on the weapons they’re using and, by using the correct weapon type against a monster, players are able to deal additional damage and plague their opponent with unique attack type-based status effects as well. I can happily tell you that the game doesn’t rely entirely — or even primarily — on this, though. More often than not, monsters are “typeless”, leaving players to use the character of their choice to take their enemies to Beatdown Town. But, when you do run into an enemy with an attack type, it’s smart to go with what works best. Especially when you’re fighting monsters like Primordials (or is it Saurians?). Seriously, dino dorks are a real menace.
As with Ys Seven, weapon type isn’t the only things to keep in mind — it’s important to consider each character as well. In total, Ys VIII has six unique party members — two for each weapon type. In case you were wondering, yes, the total number of party members in Ys VIII has shrunk. But that decrease in quantity has been more than made up thanks to a sharp increase in quality. Each of Ys VIII‘s party members feel incredibly distinct from one another. From Sahad’s slow, powerful swings, to Hummel’s unique mid-range gunplay, and even to Dana’s rhythmic, dance-like attacks, each of Ys VIII‘s no two characters play the same. Nihon Falcom also did a great job of making each character highly viable. No matter which formation you go for, so long as it works for you, you can make it work in this game.
It Takes a Village
Another new, and incredibly important, feature in Ys VIII is the inclusion of Castaway Village. I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise, but Seiren Island doesn’t have a whole lot going on in the ways of towns and cities. Rather, it’s up to players to make their own civilization-away-from-civilization in the form of Castaway Village. The primary way of improving things around the village is — you guessed it — finding your fellow castaways scattered throughout Seiren. Due to the game’s linear nature, many of these castaways are mandatory finds, but there are a number of castaways who are completely missable — something to most definitely keep in mind when you’re out and about!
Castaways serve a number of functions. Certain castaways, mainly those found through story progression, set up useful facilities after settling down in Castaway Village. These facilities are fairly standard, consisting of a shop, a doctor’s “office”, a smithy, and more, and are each paramount to your survival in Seiren. Each villager also issues out a number of quests for players to complete. These quests vary depending upon the person, with successful completion always resulting in some kind of reward and an increase in villager approval rating. Quests add a lot of flavor and fun to the game, but their imposed time limit can be kind of a hassle. Fortunately, it isn’t too hard to miss anything so long as you check the quest board consistently.
Being in the middle of an uncharted, monster-filled island and all, Castaway Village isn’t entirely safe. From time to time, monsters will conduct raids on the village. And, naturally, it’s up to you to help beat them back. Mechanically speaking, raids aren’t terribly different from normal fights. Waves of monsters (usually anywhere from 3 – 5) will attempt to storm the gate, and it’s up to you and your companions to stop them in time. Although engaging with them in combat is the only way to kill them, you aren’t entirely on your own. Players are able to use materials they’ve gathered to (permanently) erect lures, barracks, catapults and more to aid them during raids. Additionally, rescued castaways will lend their aid to Adol & co. in the form of abilities. Each castaway has their own unique support ability, with higher approval ratings resulting in stronger effects.
Later on in the game, players are also able to conduct hunts. Acting as an opposite of raids, hunts allow players to travel into dungeons and destroy monster nests — thus lowering the overall monster populations. Truthfully, neither raids nor hunts have much of an impact on anything. Despite what the game tells you, they’re almost all optional. Still, I found them to be very enjoyable overall. And the rewards that you net for completing them are nothing to laugh at, either!
The Best of the Best
Any version of Ys VIII that you play is going to be a good time (especially now that the PC version’s up to snuff), but, in my opinion, nothing beats the Switch version. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was already an incredible, intricately-crafted modern-day classic of an RPG, and the ability to play it on the go with the Switch only further enhances its greatness. If you own a Switch, this is absolutely a game that you’re going to want to pick up — whether you already have it on PS4 or PC, or not!
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC ; Publisher: NIS America, Inc. ; Developer: Nihon Falcom ; Players: 1 ; Released: June 26, 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