Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was first released on the PS Vita back in 2016, before moving on to the PS4 platform less than a year later. Both versions were highly praised among critics, which is why the controversy surrounding the quality of the recent Steam release had me more than concerned for the upcoming Switch port. Additionally, it should be noted that I am not a fan of the Ys series, but that stems from a lack of experience with the franchise rather than an actual dislike for it.
Before this game, my experience with the series consisted of a brief time playing Ys Origin which, at the time, didn’t really set my world on fire. You could say that I was cautiously optimistic going into Ys VIII for Switch, and that the success (or failure) of it could skew my perspective of the entire series in either a good or bad way.
Ys VIII begins with Adol (the staple male protagonist from most of the series), who is aboard a ship that is attacked by an enormous sea monster. These events lead to him washing up to the shores of Seiren, an island notorious for being cursed according to pretty much anyone that knows of its existence. It is understood that those lucky enough to come upon its shores have never returned to their homelands (or anywhere else, really) to tell of their tales.
Luckily, Adol is able to find survivors from the same ship on Seiren. Together, they establish a castaway camp in hopes of surviving long enough to learn the secrets necessary to ultimately escape the island. If all of that doesn’t sound like a plot that J.J. Abrams would conjure (*cough* LOST), then you weren’t paying attention in the 2000s. In fact, it shares a lot of similarities with the hit TV series, right down to betrayals, unexplained monstrosities, and mysterious happenings. Needless to say, the stakes are always high on Seiren and, as a result, there is never a dull moment in Castaway Village.
The mysterious island setting did all kinds of things for me, and being a die-hard fan of LOST doesn’t help either. Despite the entirety of the game taking place on a single island, you always have this desire for discovery due to so many questions and secrets you’ll uncover along the way. And since Castaway Village serves as your one and only hub, you really get to know the survivors that you befriend. There is a level of intimacy at play that is sort of lost in games that don’t have a similar, singular hub setup.
Although the plot and setting easily gripped me from the very beginning, the spotty translation and voice acting left a little to be desired. The english voice acting and the script itself aren’t downright bad, but they aren’t of the highest quality either. Certain individuals (particularly characters that are billed as the strong but silent type) come off as incredibly awkward at times due to their questionable wording choices. There are also a couple of instances where words or phrases missed the translation boat altogether, and are still written in Japanese.
The biggest offender is a single side quest that suggests a conversation between two people erroneously. Apparently, the English script has already received a rewrite from the PS Vita/PS4 days, but it could still use a bit of cleanup to really make it great. As for the voice acting, I am very judgmental on JRPGs that offer English voiceovers. I’ll admit that my expectations for voice acting quality may be too high, but I always hope that a game like this will just take it to the next level. Fortunately, you can turn off voices altogether, or opt for the Japanese ones instead. A bonus for turning off voices that I appreciated greatly was also the silence of in-combat grunts, which are often really excessive in these games.
Side content is handled exceptionally well in Ys VIII. On the surface, they utilize standard side quest fare, such as fetch tasks and escort missions. But when you dig into the meat of it, you find out that often these tasks follow smaller, individual storylines per character. You really get to know the ins and outs of each castaway when you complete this content. Ys VIII has multiple endings as well, which is driven from a reputation system primarily sourced from side content itself. So, get your side-questing boots on if you care to achieve the best ending (note: it has WAY more closure than the normal and bad endings).
If the relationship aspect of side quests don’t suit you, the other rewards just might. Often times, completed side quests unlock brand new crafting stations (ie. ways to craft certain items you couldn’t before), new crafting recipes for previously unlocked stations, and more. It really gives meaning to the side content, because you see things transform at Castaway Village before your own eyes, and solely due to your engagement in those various activities.
Granted, one could argue that this is easily achieved due to the nature of the setting. But it doesn’t change the fact that side content is usually rewarding from both a gear/item progression and a relationship-building perspective. If you are like me, you will find it hard to resist the urge of completing all of the optional stuff due to its inherent design (outside of the village raids, but we’ll get into that later).
Graphics and Performance
This very well may be the most contentious point of the review. The graphics, as a whole, will probably be viewed as hit or miss, leaning towards the latter for most people. It’s very obvious that Ys VIII was originally a PS Vita game, so take that for what you will. Regardless of the limitations set by previous versions, the game still has a way of captivating the beauty of the island and its various landmarks in a way that I was not expecting initially.
The art style and textural limitations actually remind me a lot of games like FFXI and FFXII, both of which were from the PS2 era. I’m not one that demands cutting edge graphics, so the outdated look overall doesn’t really bother me. My only disappointment graphics-wise stems from the framerate. While it stays at a pretty consistent 30FPS, I’m a bit surprised that it doesn’t perform a little better than that.
Taking it off the dock doesn’t really help either and, in ways, makes things worse. While I couldn’t help but notice a bit smoother framerate at times, the tradeoff is a very strange dynamic resolution adjustment that seems to occur more than it should. Basically, the game will go from sharper textures to, what I can only assume is, a lesser quality (or interpolation) depending on seemingly unknown factors.
If I recall correctly, a similar process was used in Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but there it was at least consistent. In Ys, you will notice it in instances where you are literally standing still, taking in the view. Since I almost exclusively play in docked mode, it wasn’t an issue for me. But portable lovers beware, as it could prove to be really distracting if that is your desired setup. I imagine this kind of problem could be resolved before release in the form of a patch, but who knows. Graphical anomalies aside, the game will still find ways to take your breath away. Most importantly, I experienced absolutely no hiccups or crashes during my 40 hour playthrough.
Economy and Crafting
Items and gear progression work about how you would expect it to on a remote island. A universal form of currency is replaced with a robust trading system, where you will eventually be able to downgrade and/or upgrade to get almost any type of material native to the island. You will end up using this system a lot, whether it be through the actual “currency” trader or for services rendered by craftsmen.
Yes, luckily for you, skilled artisans washed up along with you and are just waiting to be rescued. Once you find them, they will offer their services in exchange for various materials. Although some items and equipment can be found naturally or in treasure chests, you will want to familiarize yourself with the trading system if you want to excel. But it is important not to let the sheer amount of materials available (and needed) overwhelm you, as there are a generous amount of respawnable gathering nodes around the map, waiting for discovery.
Anything that you need that isn’t from one of the harvest nodes will be found from the large family of monsters you will face on the island. This is a good thing, as combat will take up the largest portion of your time (thus, you should have all the materials you need if you make killing and exploring a priority).
I found the combat in Ys VIII to be very satisfying. Coming from primarily a PC gaming background, I was not sure what to expect from an action RPG that doesn’t run at 60FPS. I realize that many console games are capped at this rate, but it is something that is unfamiliar to me and PC gaming. It turns out that the framerate doesn’t matter because the combat still feels really nice.
Each party member can equip up to four skills at a time, and you will learn (aka spark) them naturally over the course of your journey. Skills can be used to form combos with your regular attacks or other skills as you see fit. There is also a vertical aspect to take into consideration, as combat in mid-air is possible by simply attacking or using a skill mid flight.
Different enemies are susceptible to different weapon types as well. Each individual party member specializes in a specific weapon type, whether it be slashing, piercing, etc. Dealing damage with a slashing weapon to something that is weak to piercing will result in reduced damage dealt to that enemy.
That is, until you break their defenses, which is done by assaulting the enemy with the weapon type they are weak against. After a certain point, a BREAK banner will appear on the screen, meaning that particular enemy will take full damage from any weapon type. If you are concerned about how to take advantage of enemy weak points when each character only specializes in a single weapon type, fear not. You can have up to three active party members at any time, and are able to freely swap between them with a simple button press.
Each hero has access to an ultimate ability of sorts, that is fueled by your EXTRA gauge in combat. These abilities are best suited for taking down more difficult foes, but don’t be afraid to use them as they become available. Your EXTRA gauge will refill over time (from being active in battles), by resting at a camp, or by restorative potions.
Almost every enemy, including bosses, can be exploited by a stun mechanic. A stun bar will fill up as you wail on an enemy. When it reaches its maximum state, they will be stunned for a short time, unable to deal damage while also receiving increased damage for the duration. Your powerful EXTRA abilities have the chance of doing an insane amount of damage if you line them up to use within a stun window, so keep that in mind.
There are some interesting defense mechanisms that are at your disposal called Flash Move and Flash Guard. Dodging an enemy attack at the proper time will grant you Flash Move, which will increase your speed and make you invincible for a short period of time. Flash Guard makes all of your attacks a guaranteed critical strike and gives you invisibility for its duration, and is granted when you parry an opponent’s attack at the right time.
Both of these abilities are essential to master, especially when facing those more difficult enemies. Speaking of difficulty, Ys VIII has five different difficulty settings that can be altered at any time (outside of the hardest difficulty, which you have to permanently choose at the beginning of the game). Having no real experience with previous Ys games, I opted for the middle difficulty (hard), and found it more than doable for the most part.
Back to your available defensive techniques, they prove to be useful in virtually any situation, as they make it that much easier to dispatch an enemy while conserving your limited restorative items. Needless to say, you have a ton of options at your disposal in combat at any given point, which makes for an engaging combat experience.
So, what is there to actually do on the island? A lot, actually! Your main objective for the majority of the game is to uncover the map of Seiren, while rescuing other castaways and gathering items essential for survival. Of course, no shipwrecked story goes without a boat building objective, though this doesn’t come into play until much later in Ys due to certain circumstances.
As you fill out the map, you will come across various waypoints that can, from that point on, be used as fast travel points. While this only applies to crystals in the beginning, later on you can fast travel to the landmarks that you discover as well. I appreciate that they are generous with this system, as you will do A LOT of backtracking in this game. The Island of Seiren is massive, so abusing fast travel points is only advantageous to you. Don’t worry about the load times associated with frequent zone changes either. Even though load times are common, they are literally 2-3 seconds long in most cases.
As mentioned earlier, rescuing survivors often unlocks new features at Castaway Village. Even if a particular individual doesn’t contribute much at the camp itself, they usually can be borrowed to unblock various paths around Seiren. These blockades will require a certain amount of people to clear, and you usually don’t have enough manpower to clear them upon initial discovery. Fortunately, the game will mark that place on your map for future reference. Again, you will be doing a lot of backtracking anyways, so it’s easy to come back to it later.
During your adventure you will discover equipment called Adventure Gear. Think of them as relics from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night where they, upon equipping them, will give you additional abilities like double jump. This feature and the blockades mentioned previously make Ys VIII play a lot like a Metroidvania game, seeing as you will be coming back to certain areas once you have the proper abilities to traverse them. You will find that there can be a level of verticality to maps as well. While any single map may not be particularly large width-wise, there is plenty to explore when you look up and down as opposed to just left and right.
The only gameplay feature I really disliked in Ys VIII was the Raid system. Occasionally, your home base will be attacked by monsters. Most of the time, these encounters are completely optional while others are essential for story progression. These raids require you to defeat waves of monsters while ensuring that they don’t breach the defenses laid out to protect your base. You are rewarded for your efforts based on multiple variables, but essentially, you should aim to complete these as quickly and pain-free as possible in order to reap the maximum benefit.
In theory, this is a sound idea, and a believable one at that. As a castaway on a remote, mysterious island, there should always be that sense of urgency in what could be beyond that next hill. But the design of the raids themselves really just make for a dull experience that pulls me completely out of the game.
The banter amongst your companions while your town is being raided is unbelievable to the point that you question whether they really care about the situation or not. I’m not suggesting that everything needs to be serious in an already dire situation, but things could have been tweaked to make for a more enjoyable, non-immersion breaking experience. At the very least, I feel the current system could have improved vastly just by shortening up the time investment they require. But again, they majority of them are optional unless you are shooting for the best ending (in which case you’ll want to make sure you do them all).
In my opinion, Ys VIII falls just short of being a masterpiece, but is still an amazing game despite its shortcomings. I found the island of Seiren to be an absolute blast to explore, as it is chocked full of action, adventures, wonders to explore and mysteries to uncover. Ys VIII is my favorite Switch RPG to date, and has made me a fan of the series to boot. While it may not have the same performance quality as its PS4 counterpart, it is still an excellent version all around. Be right back while I install Ys Seven on Steam.