Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Switch Review
Don’t let the JRPG-sounding title fool you: the Ys series has historically been closer to Zelda than Final Fantasy, albeit with a more coffee-infused spurt of hyper action than either franchise. While Zelda has always balanced itself with slower-paced puzzle solving and skill-based skirmishes, the Ys games have always placed an emphasis on fast, often arcade-like action. Enemies are plentiful and persistent, bum-rushing players while serving up as exp fodder for quick level-grinding, and bosses are often as tough as they are towering, requiring quick reaction times and a whole lot of button mashing to bring down, all to the beats of a rocking soundtrack that almost precedes the franchise in infamy.
Lacrimosa of Dana is the title of the eighth entry in the Ys franchise, not counting the numerous spin-offs and remakes that almost double the total count of games (though it’s thanks to those remakes that Ys has now grown into a more recognizable brand in the West thanks to the cult success of the PC releases). Originally developed for the Playstation Vita, Ys has now fully embraced the open world 3D nature of most modern JRPGs, while still maintaining the same fast-paced action and butt-rock soundtrack that defined its legacy…with a few additional RPG mechanics for good measure.
Despite the same recurring protagonist for each game (minus the prequel story Ys Origin), there is hardly any shared continuity between games other than Adol being a guy who really likes adventure. So much so, in fact, that one could almost spot a twinkle in his eye when his passenger ship is suddenly attacked, its crew marooned on a mysterious island known as The Isle of Seiren. With no way out and plenty of hungry wildlife, Adol and his companions must band together and slowly rebuild their resources while also exploring the island in the hopes of finding a way out (and while solving an ancient mystery involving prophetic dreams about a girl named Dana).
While most of the Ys games involve controlling a single character, Adol actually has a party in this latest outing; there’s the stubborn, bratty noblewoman Laxia, the good-hearted and loud-mouthed fisherman Sahad, the silent gunman Hummel and a whole host of familiar JRPG/Anime clichés. While A.I. controlled, the two additional party members follow one of two simple commands: kill everything or don’t. In addition, players can switch between characters instantly, an invaluable tactic as every enemy has a specific weakness to a character’s weapon-type and will thus suffer significant damage as a result. Each character also have their own attack skills that can be customized, and they all share the ability to dodge and/or block enemy attacks. Players who perfectly time either of the two evasive maneuvers will also trigger a short window where time slows down, Bayonetta-style, allowing for longer attack strings. While the distinction between traditional RPGS and action RPGs gets smaller by the day, Ys continues to demonstrate the most frantic and satisfying example of the latter.
But Ys VIII is also not afraid to add more slower-paced RPG elements. Utilizing a part of the island as a temporary base, the castaways who have been found throughout the island will take up shop and offer their own expertise to further assist Adol and the party. This includes a blacksmith who can strengthen weapons and gear, a doctor who can brew medicinal items, a tailor who can craft new armor and outfits, and so on. The usefulness of the NPCs don’t end there, as certain areas of the island are blocked off by large debris requiring a set amount of people to help clear the way. Have enough of a given amount of folks to move over a boulder or a tree, and another path of the island will be made available. There are also moments where the group’s camp must be protected by hordes of beasts: players will take out the enemy waves with Adol and his party, while the NPCs will offer support from the sidelines such as increased damage, healing, or a random screen-clearing attack from Adol’s wall-breaking beefcake BFF, Dogi. Completing the countless side quests requested by NPCs will raise their affinity, thus leading to more buffs, thus leading to higher rewards from earning higher ranks in the beast raids.
Speaking of rewards, it wouldn’t be an RPG without a ton of items to collect, action or otherwise. Ys VIII is chock-full of materials to collect from enemies, gathering points like trees and rocks, and even fishing. These materials are then used by NPCs to create new shiny things for the party to use as well as traps and barriers to protect the camp during the beast raids. The better equipped the party is, the easier it will be to clear the massive amount of enemies found in dungeons. The dungeons also have several areas of interest that are inaccessible without the right kind of key item, such as climbing gloves in order to climb branches or a stone that illuminates dark places. There are even higher difficulty versions of the dungeons which are accessible at nighttime, which usually yield even stronger enemies and, of course, greater rewards.
As presentation goes, Ys VIII reach that nice middle-ground where it fails to reach the big budget visual trappings of a modern Final Fantasy, but looks good enough that it doesn’t necessarily have to. Of course, it does need to be mentioned that NIS America originally received a lot of complaints for botching the localization of the game during its original PS4 and Vita launch. The Switch version thankfully features a significantly more polished translation, though the occasional-but-inconsequential typo exists here and there. More disappointing is the framerate, which is smooth on the Switch but lacks the 60 frames per second of the PS4 version.
Simply put, everything in Ys VIII feels real good. The controls are tight, the action is blazingly-fast, and a lot can be accomplished without succumbing to the usual grindy affair of most RPGs. As a middle-ground RPG, Lacrimosa of Dana carries a hefty amount of content and a ton of addictive gameplay as well as challenge. Anyone looking for the polar opposite of the genre’s turn-based gameplay need not look further, as the Ys series remains the undisputed champ of the thinking man’s button masher.