Ys VIII Lacrimosa of DANA is the latest installment in Nihon Falcom’s long- running series and the first one that offers an entirely new adventure in almost a decade. It follows behind Ys Memories of Celceta (one of my favourites) and revolves around adventurers Adol Christin and his faithful companion, Dogi, whose adventure brings them ashore a deserted island in the aftermath of a shipwreck–plus a few new faces. Our heroes become cartographers, ship builders, fishermen, survivalists, and defenders of a small community of castaways that they themselves assembled.
Your adventure begins after you’ve been stranded on a deserted island where, if what the rumours circulating about this mythical place are true, you’re doomed to die, never to be heard from again. Your task from then on becomes gathering the castaways from your voyage, establishing a castaway village so that you and your survivors are able to survive, and ultimately to escape.
Exploring the island automatically fills in your map, which starts out blank, and provides you with pertinent information like where resource nodes can be found and quest objectives. Periodically, you’ll find castaways who were onboard the Lombardia with you before it ran ashore and they’ll automatically be added to your village, which will in turn progress the story. Some areas will not be available to you until you have a certain number of castaways as they will help you to remove roadblocks, but rescuing villagers will also expand your town and its amenities. The blacksmith allows you to level up and even transform your weapons if you have the right materials, just as the clinic will allow you to make various healing items and the tailor will allow you to craft light armors and accessories. As you progress through the story, you’ll be able to upgrade these facilities and even incorporate new ones based on the castaways you rescue. You can also accept quests from the board near the village’s entrance. The majority are your typical side quest fodder (fetch quests, kill x-amount of monsters), but completing them not only rewards you with valuable resources, they also make your castaways a little more useful during interventions–which will help your final score.
While you explore, keep an eye out for the silhouettes of fish anywhere there’s water. Fishing enables you to gather materials in addition to the snagged fish, which can be fed to the Shoebill, a tall, strange bird that will stare at you until he’s had his fill. Feeding him one of every fish will net you some neat rewards! You can also find treasure chests in this way, though there are an abundance of them to discover on land. Treasure chests hold key items that will allow you to travesre the island more handily in addition materials and items like notes which help you uncover more of the story that went on before you crash-landed on the island.
Later on, you’ll unlock the ability to adventure at night–an action which results in a whole new map with new treeasure chests and resources made available to you. As useful as this sound, venturing out in the night time is often more trouble than it’s worth as the beasts that lurk in the night–namely the insects and their nests–require a key item in order to defeat them. There are also slumbering monsters that, once awoken, are not only much stronger than their daytime counterparts, but appear in far greater numbers. Thus, night exploration becomes a mad dash to avoid being slaughtered while getting whatever it is you need to get done before returning to your normalky scheduled exploration.
Adventuring isn’t without its hazards, of course. Beasts roam the verdant hills, steep mountains, and dense jungles that populate the surface of the islands and you’ll have to fight them in order to level up your characters and gather specific materials. The series’s combat system hinges off of this three-person system where each combatant has a different type of damage–pierce, slash, and strike–and you swap between them on the fly in order to take advantage of enemy weaknesses. Slash damage is effective against soft enemies, pierce is effective against areal enemies, and strike is effective against armored enemies. Failing to match up damage type to enemy type means your damage output will be greatly weakened. Each character has their own distinct feel, attributed to their attack type.
In addition to normal attacks, your characters can also use skills. You start off with one skill, which is hotkeyed to the face buttons, and vombatants learn more skills as you fight and gain skill experience by using them. Skills have their own levels, and mastering them will result in doing increasingly more damage. You also have the ability to dodge and guard. Timing either just before an enemy attack connects results in a flash move/guard, which slows down time and gives you a few seconds to unload damage onto an enemy without having to worry about retaliation, so it would behoove you to get your timing down to a science.
The game allows you to hotkey as you see fit, which was a definite plus because I found the initial setup (R1+a corresponding face button) to be uncomfortable.
Doing damage charges up the EXTRA gauge, displayed in yellow on the circle that shows you your skill icons in the lower right corner, that allows you to unleash a devastating special move. These are flashy and can turn the tides of battle if timed correctly.
You can use items at any time, in battle and out of it, by pressing R2. This allows you to heal on the fly, switch out your special equipment, and to view your stock of materials wherever you may be.
On occasion, you’ll be called back to town to defend it from invading beasts in a tower defense-esque type setup where you have to defend one point from being damaged over the course of a few waves. You can employ a variety of defenses to aid you, which can be upgraded using materials you find in your travels to make things easier on yourself as the difficulty of these interventions, as they’re called, increases with time. Interventions are completely optional, though taking part in them and doing well–you’re scored based on structural damage, monsters defeated, and the like–results in a host of useful materials.
Finding new survivors allows you to access places that were previously inaccessible and even fetch quests serve to either further your escape efforts or make your villagers more apt at fending off beast invasions during interventions. Interventions allow you to earn a lump sum of rare materials and even challenge your own scores should you not do as well as you’d like and return once you’ve bolstered your defenses. Fishing is a fun little mini-game that allows you to take a breather and perhaps find something useful. These elements mesh together incredibly well and make it so that there’s always something to do.
The story itself is your standard RPG faire and the characters fall into your typical anime archetypes–heroine with heart of gold, silent protagonist who is successful at everything he does, cold, sullen character who is a lot nicer than he gives away, and so on. Still, it’s worth viewing and will keep your attention throughout the duration. You’ll get closer to the characters as you learn more about them through interactions with each other, which makes you even more invested with seeing them to safety. The translation is a little clumsy in some places, but I didn’t find anything too off-putting.
- Great pacing. At no point did I ever feel too weak to face up against the boss beasts that marked a key point in progress.
- Weapon crafting. Not only does enhancing make a weapon stronger, it also changed their appearance entirely, which is reflected on the character model.
Vanity items can be crafted to give your characters an entirely different look if that’s your kind of thing.
- English and Japanese voice overs. I preferred the latter.
- Reconfigurable controls.
- The faux town building works well given the game’s setting. It’s rewarding to unlock new areas and facilities over the course of your exploration.
- An unusual setting. Deserted islands bring to mind survival games, so it’s interesting to see an RPG centered entirely around one.
- The Ys series has the best maps. It shows you depth and the location of all resources in addition to road blocks that can be cleared by calling for help, areas where you need a specific item to cross, etc.
- The ability to fast travel to any crystal on the map saves a ton of time when backtracking.
- Despite the awesome map, it’s still pretty easy to get turned around. A lot of the map is divided into an upper and lower floor and it’s easy to fall, meaning you’ll have to clamber your way back up again before being able to proceed. I’ve gotten lost because of the way the upper levels are designed: narrow walkways and even pitfall traps make for treacherous footing.
- Night time. What seems like a pretty cool idea swiftly becomes an exercise in patience due to the staggering amount of creatures that, once awoken, will be gunning for your blood. Night time also removes the ability to fast travel, so combat situations can quickly head south and result in a game over,
- The textures—particularly stone surfaces—are weirdly ugly, especially in comparison to the vibrant anime character models.
- In the un-voiced cutscenes, it’s difficult to tell who is addressing whom at times.
A must-play for those who enjoy JRPGs and even those who are partial to the free-roam, action style combat. Fans of Ys and newcomers alike will be sucked in by the story and fluid combat. It can get a little grindy at times, but that grind isn’t without its rewards and the host of different activities to take part in breaks up the monotony of fighting through areas and taking on fetch quests for your villagers. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is a fantastic addition to an already great series. I love this game and, if you’re still reading this, I think you will, too.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.