Growing up I remember reading nothing but praise for the original Ys and Ys II on the TurboGrafx-16. Numerous magazines gave it high scores and after being bitten by the RPG bug with Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy on the NES, the allure of “high quality” anime cut scenes and CD audio really enticed me. That’s why when the TurboDuo arrived at a discounted price with Ys Book I & II included I jumped on it and loved the story and music. The gameplay wasn’t that great – imagine The Legend of Zelda but always having your sword stick out so you just run into enemies over and over again, but I still had a wonderful time. Throughout the following year I really only played Ys III and then the series disappeared in a sea of a thousand other JRPGs that took up my time and money. So, I was very curious to see how the franchise has evolved after all these years with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana.
You begin your new adventure as the same hero found in the original: Adol Christin. You’re on a luxury cruise liner helping out the crew with various tasks when the ship comes under attack by huge monster with tentacles. The game does a fantastic job of working in a fight tutorial with this massive beast, but just when you think you’ve saved the day the monster leaps back out of the ocean and breaks the ship into pieces. You wake up on a tropical island, the legendary Isle of Seiren. Legend has it that no one has ever come back from this place alive. Once you being to explore you come across another castaway who joins your party. Eventually you locate the captain of the ship and he suggests we band together and make a fortified camp to keep out the beasts on the island. This place will serve as a safe living space for the other people we find scattered across the strange new world.
If you’ve ever played a Japanese RPG before, you’ll be right at home here with many of the game’s mechanics. You’ll be chatting it up with plenty of NPCs, finding tons of items, upgrading equipment, etc. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking this is another Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest title, and in many ways it does play like those games. The big exception is that this is an action/RPG, playing more like a Zelda game than anything else.
Unlike the first games in the series, Ys VIII has a fresh and fun combat system. Adol has a basic slash attack with his sword, but as he gains experience he will learn new special moves that can deal more damage with wider areas of attack. These special moves use up a gauge to prevent you from spamming them over and over again, but this can be refilled by killing enemies with regular attacks.
The most unique and exciting aspect of combat revolves around switching out your playable characters on the fly. As you locate more survivors on the island, some will join your team and you’ll be able to swap between them in the middle of battle. Up to three can be in your party at a time. This is advantageous because each person has a different weapon type, and each enemy has its own weakness. The changeup is instantaneous so you can literally be slicing into a monster, hit a button, and continue the attack with another character. At first this is a bit chaotic, but after a few hours with the game it becomes second nature and it’s a ton of fun to constantly switch out fighters. Similar to Xenoblade Chronicles 2, if you can deliver a series of attacks in the right order you can topple the enemy, causing it to take more damage. The ones not in your direct control continue to pummel away at the enemies automatically, so there’s always a united front. The battles are fast and fun and never got old.
I really love the story conceit of being marooned on a cursed island. It’s not that original (LOST and Tomb Raider say hello), but I can’t think of another RPG that has done this with as much success as this one. Pretty much the entire game takes place here and I love the idea of having to go out and explore a vast new island to locate other survivors. In the process the game tracks how much of the world you’ve mapped and rewards you for doing so. There are a lot of areas to explore and I really loved the discovery aspect that permeated throughout the experience. Much like a Metroid game, there will be areas of the island that are blocked off in some fashion, but as you acquire more villagers more options open up. For example, early in the game you’ll come across a massive tree that has fallen and blocked the only path to the beach. You’ll have to have amassed enough people so they can come and help move it out of the way.
Along your travels you’ll come across a wide range of collectibles. From fruit and ore to monster parts, you’ll constantly be picking up new items. These will often be used to craft new equipment or upgrade weapons and armor. As your camp becomes bigger and filled with more residents, more options will open up that allow you to customize and grow your character even more. I always felt the game was constantly rewarding me for my exploration and compulsive collection of everything I could find – so if you enjoy that sort of gameplay loop in your games you’ll love this one.
There are a couple of small issues with Ys VIII that make it feel a bit like a last generation game. First up, and this is probably a direct result of playing the masterful The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the world is not seamlessly connected. Much like most of the Monster Hunter games, the game map is divided into zones. This means that you’ll eventually reach the edge of a map and there will be a quick loading screen to move onto the next section. This breaks immersion, especially when you can literally see the next area, but the game needs to load. It’s not a game breaker by any means, but it definitely feels odd now that so many other games have figured out how to hide those seams from the player. Perhaps this is a direct result of initially being developed as a Vita game and then being ported to other systems?
The second very small quibble is just with the voice acting and some of the interactions with the other characters. This game falls heavily in the Japanese anime game territory. In other words, expect plenty of awkward story beats, strange dialog choices, and bizarre characters. This won’t be a problem for many gamers, but it did stick out a bit in this day and age.
Graphically the game performs well, with bright graphics and some great environments to explore. The characters look great and you’ll find the usual rainbow spectrum colors of hair here (bright reds, greens, blue – you name it). The character models seem a little low polygon, but again I think this stems from its Vita roots. The framerate seemed pretty steady for most of the game and it looks great on TV and handheld. The only small issue I came across was that there was some shimmering in some of the environments that really distracted me.
The game really delivers an outstanding soundtrack worthy of the Ys name. You’ll find the usual relaxing and somber RPG music here, but the game really shows its pedigree with some rocking tunes while exploring or fighting. The music is completely on-point and glorious to listen to. The voices, as I mentioned before, are a bit hit and miss. The entire game isn’t acted, so expect to read quite a bit as well.
Having skipped the series for the past 25 years, Ys VIII was a fantastic point to jump back in. The game features memorable characters, a compelling story, and a fascinating world to discover. The combat is exceptionally fun and I always felt a sense of progression throughout the adventure. This is yet another excellent title for the Switch that will most likely be overlooked by many. Don’t let that mistake happen to you!
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.