Have you ever had one of those mixed up days that just didn’t go as planned? I think everyone that’s had one knows what I’m talking about. For some people it’s the end of the world, for others it’s a minor inconvenience but for Adol Christin, it’s just another chance for an exhilarating new Adventure!
Genre: Action, RPG
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: NIS America, Inc.
Release Date: 16 Apr, 2018
Jumping into the Ys series
If you are new to the series, you can still pick up and play Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana without really feeling like you are missing anything. While Adol Christin has been the series main protagonist throughout the series, his adventures are pretty much isolated to each game. Every game builds on the elements of the previous game and adds new features. In Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Adol isn’t actually seeking out an adventure, the adventure found him.
About the game
I won’t get into too many story details as it could spoil a lot of things, however, I have to spoil something just because it adds a bit of humour. It explains why this review is taking a different direction than some of the others you may have read while contemplating Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. The game starts out with Adol working on a ship and ends up getting shipwrecked on a cursed island. Why is this humorous? Because, like the ship, Adol was on, the game was a bit of a wreck shortly after it launched. Thankfully the developer quickly patched the game up so it now runs much more stable and smooth. Unfortunately for Adol, he is going to have tough it out on his own rather than having the developer jump into the fray to save him.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is set on an island which is rumored to be cursed. It is said that no one who has set foot on the island has ever survived to tell the tale, any ship that comes close to it is sunk, and that making an escape from its shores is impossible. In other words, a new adventure awaits on this uncharted land! Speaking of uncharted, much of your time will be spent exploring the map and finding your way through the various zones. At the same time, you will be trying to get into every nook and cranny you encounter to help fill out your map and to collect treasures and resources. For the most part, you are free to explore the island as you please. There are quest markers that need your attention and side quests that need your aid, but if you wanted to, you could wander aimlessly through the areas too. Both of these strategies actually work out well for you. If you push the story along you will unlock more content in the game. If you explore freely you will encounter more survivors from the shipwreck as well as plenty of resources to help aid your survival. To help bar your passage, early on you will encounter obstructions that require you to seek help from the castaways you have rescued. If you have enough of them you can have the castaways help clear the way, otherwise, you will have to find somewhere else to explore. You will also encounter environmental issues as well that will bar your passage until you have progressed the story enough to unlock the needed adventuring gear to counteract it. You will also find the enemies in areas you are not supposed to be in yet can be downright mean.
At any given time, you can have up to three active party members assisting you in battle. Battle is in real time and directly in the field, there is no special screen for combat. You will be in control of one character and it is your responsibility to dodge the enemy attacks and deliver your own blows in return. You can do so with your weapons or with abilities but you must make those decisions on the fly. One thing you need to pay attention to is the weakness of the enemies as some of your attacks will be highly ineffectual if you can’t deal the correct type of damage to the foe. You are forced to switch on the fly in combat so that you are always controlling the character that can do the most damage through your own targeting priority. The bosses in this game are all quite challenging but probably none so bad they will cause you to throw your controller in rage. They have patterns and attack tells that will aid you in figuring out how to win the battle. Some of the bosses even have unique elements to them, such as pods that open briefly to reveal a weak point and closes again to protect it.
To aid you further in combat, the various items you scavenge in your adventures can be used to enhance or upgrade your weapons and armor. This means the game pretty much forces you to have to collect every resource you possibly can just to ensure you will have the materials needed to craft what you need. You can swap certain items for other items if need be, but still, your best source of materials will be in the field exploration as you wander around the island.
There are a decent number of themes for each of the areas, at least enough to keep it interesting anyway. Sure, some areas look the same as other areas, but that makes sense too as it isn’t exactly a large island. Having a ton of different ecosystems simply wouldn’t be feasible, however, some of those ecosystems have their own unique set of challenges attached to them. You will encounter such difficulties as the inability to see around you in that well underground in the dark without a light source, the inability to jump or move fast in a swamp or a thick fog that obstructs your long-distance vision. I actually liked these various zones as they helped make each area feel unique and interesting to explore. Another thing that is refreshing is that each area usually has some of its own more unique monsters and they are not just palette swaps either, they are actually different! Typically the smaller ones are easier to dispatch than the larger ones. Sometimes the larger ones are too strong for you when you first encounter them so you are better off acting the coward and just running for your life. One might argue that stuff like that could be classed as inconsistent difficulty, but in this game’s case, it is more along the lines of realism. Humans are not the apex predator on this island! You must tread carefully until you have geared yourself up well enough to take on these tougher challenges. Other than bosses that are needed for the story, these large monsters cannot halt your progress so I have no complaints about them and think they were a nice added touch.
Speaking of nice touches, each of the castaways you rescue has their own unique personality for the most part. They come from various walks of life and not all of them are keen to get their hands dirty to help the others in the camp. I actually find it a bit refreshing that they went to the bother to give all these secondary characters their own unique charms and personalities and pulled it off in a way that isn’t annoying. There is a character that the others refer to as the “Stuffed Shirt” who is a pompous and arrogant man that won’t lift a finger to help others and expects to be waited on simply because he is wealthy back home. He is used to that lifestyle and does not like living in what he considers such deplorable conditions. There is a spoiled child who doesn’t want to work because it is boring to work. There is a regal lady who has extreme modesty issues and insists the women’s quarters have curtains and beds rather than the hammocks or ground space like the men have. There is even a bird that takes up residence in your base of operations that will eat one of each of the fish you catch and periodically give you items in exchange.
While we are still talking about that base of operations, let’s talk about it in a little more detail to give you some more flavor. While you are off adventuring, the world doesn’t stand still back at your village. Monster raids can occur which leave you with the options of stopping your current adventure and head back to base at once to help out, or just ignore the plight of your base and keep on exploring. Should you return, you will be sent to a special staging area where you will face off against a few waves of monsters. Your goal in the raids is to prevent the village from being attacked and to try to defend the fortifications around the base. The fellow castaways will pop in periodically to lend a hand as well. You will be ranked on how well you did overall and your rewards will be adjusted accordingly. Due to the fast travel network, there really is no reason not to warp back to base, lend a hand, and then warp back to the nearest crystal and continue on your adventure.
Another diversion you can take from your adventuring is fishing. The fishing mini-game is actually not so bad. Some games have just plain terrible fishing mini games, others do it kind of lazy where you just have to hit a single button during the quick time event to catch the fish. In Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana you will either be met with a simple multi-tap to reel in method for the small fish, or a mini-battle style quick time event where you have to keep tapping to reel in while at the same time fighting against the fish using the prompted motions on the screen. It makes fishing feel like a challenge when it is something interesting on the line, but easy and quick if you have nothing special. I rather liked that system.
One thing that I did find mildly annoying, was I was finding myself frequently getting myself lost. The in-game map is definitely useful, but it doesn’t exactly show you the correct path to get where you want to go unless you have already been there. Sometimes it will look like there is an obvious route, but it ends up not going anywhere near where you want to go. This may be because the route to get to the destination marker is actually not even on the map of the area that is showing the marker but off another area instead. Another reason could simply be the way you need to go is blocked and you simply can’t progress to the next destination yet. Since there are a number of blocked routes early in the game, it’s hard to know if you should keep exploring to find the back routes into the area, or simply to explore randomly in the hopes of finding enough castaways to clear the obstruction… and sometimes finding that that obstruction wasn’t actually blocking your progress at all and that you are venturing into a whole other area now. Mind you it is also possible it was blocking your way and you will eventually wrap around back to the area. The key point being, you have to map the island anyway and you need to collect resources and castaways anyway, so just sit back and enjoy your wanders around the island. Just don’t try so hard to push the story forward. It isn’t like you are carefully reviewing it within a narrow time window now are you!
Crafting is a pretty big deal in this game. Sure, you can find items laying around, but most of the ones you will use likely will come from crafting. I mentioned earlier about crafting armor and upgrading weapons, but you can also craft accessories, healing items, fortifications for raids and other things too. It’s quite a busy game in that regard so that helps keep it interesting as you are now having to strategically decide what you want to spend your limited resources on. One thing I found myself doing is simply ignoring my backup characters and upgrading their weapons last and giving them my hand-me-downs. It’s not that I didn’t want to ever use those characters, it was more just they had a lower priority over the ones I currently was choosing to use. Luckily sitting out fights still nets them experience points so I wasn’t completely kneecapping their usefulness.
Let’s talk about the story a little, it’s incredibly long, likely 50-70 or so hours to complete the game. I don’t want to give any spoilers here, but I do have a few words. There are actually a couple of stories going on in this game. The first one is, of course, finding your way off the supposedly impossible to escape from island. The second are Adol’s dreams of the titular Dana. These dreams happen while Adol is camping out in the field after unlocking a new campsite. They slowly tell an entire story differently than the main story of the game, but they also serve a purpose besides the bit of interest they give as you go. The other pseudo story involves getting to know the backstories of your comrades. Each of them has their own secrets and past that they will sometimes share with you as you get to know them. During most dialogue sequences you have the ability to make a dialogue choice, but other than the reaction by the character you are interacting with, it doesn’t really do anything.
Since we are speaking about talking to characters, let’s talk about the audio in the game. The game has a mix of voice acting and text onscreen. The voice acting usually happens in cutscenes with a few odd words or sounds tossed in during the rest of the game. Adol seems to have the same kind of speech skills as Link from the Legend of Zelda since he doesn’t say much. Adol does speak from time to time but it is pretty rare, he mostly communicates through grunts. I’m not entirely sure what that is but it seems a little odd that Adol has a lot of text in the game, just not much of it is spoken. When there is voiced dialogue in the game, each of the characters sound natural and suitable for their personality type. Each of the voice actors and actresses seems to be able to put the right nuances on their words to make them feel like living beings and not just fictional characters all while ensuring their speech patterns stayed true to form for the character. The soundtrack of the game really helped keep you in the spirit. It seemed to back the gameplay quite well and felt like it belonged there, not just shoehorned in.
Graphically the game looked quite good. The characters were all colorful and wearing heavily accented costumes. Each of the characters had their own fairly unique body shape too. The environments all were quite detailed and all things considered really looked quite remarkable. As you progress through the various biomes, they each have sufficient details that they look almost nothing like the previous zones you had visited (unless of course it is the same biome, then they will look fairly similar!) The weapons change in appearance as you remodel them. You also have the ability to change the clothes the characters are wearing in order to change up their looks.
The controls in this game worked decently well, except for one little caveat. The button prompts in the tutorials were hardcoded to the PlayStation 4 controller and the game didn’t always tell you the Xbox 360/One controller equivalencies without looking it up in the settings. It’s a minor quibble, but still, something that was a little disappointing and annoying. Another minor issue I had was the default binds for the controls were different than I was used to so I often ended up pushing the wrong buttons. I’ll take the blame for that, but it would be nice if there was some kind of universal button layout that all games used for similar things rather than jump and attack randomly floating around the controller.
Now for a small thing to note. When I first started playing this game, it was a crash fest. It even crashed loading a save that I was only loading because it had crashed moments earlier. With that said, that appears to be fixed now. In a conversation with my editor, I was laughing about the crashes due to how frequent they were. That perhaps the two-week deadline wouldn’t be long enough to get out the prologue due to how unstable it was. However, the next day all crashes seem to have gone away. The game does a little micro-stutter every now and then and I think to myself, uh-oh here we go again, but so far it has run smoothly.
I commented earlier that this is an epic length long game, and I happen to really enjoy those. I estimated around 50-70 hours based on how far into the game I am at the time of writing this and my estimation of how close to the finish I am. I could be off the mark a bit, but I’m sure with all the backtracking to previously impassable areas, getting lost as you try to find your way to the next marker, foraging for supplies, practice raids, fishing, and other non-progress related time sinks, that the game likely will take roughly that long to complete. When a game takes a while to beat, I usually feel it earns its price tag a little better than a higher priced game that can be beaten in a few hours. With that said, if a game wastes your time with monotony to pad itself out then it really isn’t worth sinking entire days’ worth of time into it. I didn’t really get that feeling from this game despite all the backtracking simply because the fast travel network was widespread enough that it didn’t feel like that big of a waste, plus it let me forage a bit on the way. With that said, you will find yourself spending a lot of time trying to find every last item and fish, etc. in the game in order to get the best ending with 100% completion. The in-game map will help immensely with that task though as it shows landmarks, and details on the map that helps you find the right area for whatever it is you are looking for, as well as tells you how many castaways/chests/etc. are still in the zone for you to find. I really appreciated that element!
So, should you pick up Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana? First things first, don’t let those launch reviews scare you off. All their complaints seem to have been fixed now in terms of the crashing and bug related issues as far as I can tell. There are a few story pacing issues here and there, and yes, you will find yourself revisiting the same areas repeatedly as you move through the game, but all in all, it is still a pretty decent game. If you liked the previous Ys games, this is a natural progression up and you will likely enjoy the new elements in the game. If this will be your first Ys game, then you will be able to jump right in and enjoy it without knowing the history of Adol. Overall, the combat in the game is quite enjoyable, even if it is a bit button mashie against normal creatures while wandering though zones. The music has always been one of the stronger points of the series and that holds true again in this one. Overall, I’ll give it a Save now that it has been patched up. The developer right now is still attempting to improve the game so the after release support has been quite impressive, it’s just a shame they released it in the state it was in in the first place. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is a game with a lot of potential and playability.