8 years after our last adventure with the red-haired adventurer, Adol, the action-RPG franchise makes a glorious return on PS4 with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana! After a passenger liner called “The Lombardia” is destroyed at sea, the various passengers, including Adol and his longtime friend and ally, Dogi, find themselves stranded on the infamous Isle of Seiren. Long-rumored to host menacing beasts, and to sink any ship that dared to approach it, the Isle of Seiren is something of a legend – which of course makes it the perfect location for Adol to explore! On his journey, Adol and his companions will retrieve fellow survivors on the island, build up and fortify their own castaway village, and work to uncover the mysteries of the island.
The story of Ys VIII is fairly straightforward to start: rescue survivors and make attempts at surviving and escaping the island. As the game progresses, however, you begin to get glimpses into the life of this mysterious “Dana” character, slowly revealing her importance, as well as Adol’s need to intervene for the good of the planet.
What really adds flavor and dynamism to the plot, however, is the integration of your shipwrecked companions. The dynamics among the various castaways is probably one of the game’s biggest strengths. You have self-important nobles, selfless doctors, meek tailors, assertive and action-oriented laborers…each individual you recover is given attention as though they were a member of your party because, in a way, it really does take a village when it comes to Ys VIII.
As you discover these various castaways, different resources become available. Conveniently enough, one of the first survivors is a doctor, able to craft medicines and potions for you given the right ingredients. There’s a talented blacksmith, a tailor to craft accessories for you…the list goes on. In addition to their individual abilities, you also require castaways in your village to help remove natural obstacles that stand in your way and limit exploration as the game progresses. This is an ingenious method of gating later level content, while also rewarding those who are committed to seeking out some of the harder to find villagers.
As the game progresses, you’ll have the opportunity to undertake quests for the various castaways, improving your relationship with them and offering additional benefits to the services they offer. While some previous Ys titles have been solitary adventures, Ys VIII definitely turns the companionship up to 11!
Where Ys VIII really shines, and where it has for quite some time, is with its combat. Let’s dive in and take a look at the latest installment’s iteration of monster-hunting, weapon-enhancing and map-exploring.
An action/RPG through-and-through, Ys VIII keeps the combat flowing with an open-field, free movement battle system. Your party, made up of 3 members at any given time, engage with monsters by attacking (X), as well as utilizing one of 4 special skills that can be activated by pressing R1 + the assigned button (X, O, Triangle or Square). The threats on the Isle of Seiren are far from predictable, however, and the various monsters have unique weaknesses that can be exploited by utilizing the proper damage type:
Slash – Slashing damage is best against monsters with “soft bodies”, and is generally a balanced catch-all for most monster hunting. At the start of the game, this is Adol’s unique damage type, though later allies share this as well.
Hit – A heavier strike meant to crush armored foes, this is typically a slower attack that pays out with higher damage. Early in the game, this is Sahad’s unique damage type.
Shoot – Striking damage that is fast and furious – flying enemies in particular are weak to this sort of attack. Early in the game, this is Laxia’s unique damage type.
By switching the primary party members with square, you can cycle through the various damage types and exploit enemy weaknesses for maximum effect. If you play your cards right, you will trigger a “break”, which will render the monster vulnerable to all damage types – this usually makes quick work of the target.
The various skills that your party can learn also earns experience of its own, resulting in multiple levels of the various spells and “sparking” additional new skills after enough usage.
While all this attacking information is well and good, Ys is not content to just let you stroll through its fields and forests merely slashing away at monsters. No, you will need to take advantage of the dodge roll (L1) and guard (R1) actions as well. Timing these evasive/defensive maneuvers properly will slow your enemy down and allow you more thorough mastery over the battlefield.
With a wide array of skills for each party member to learn, factoring in their own unique damage types as well as the unique attack patterns of each of the monsters, the combat culminates into a frenzied battle of survival on this isolated island. After 8 installments, if there’s one thing Ys games have locked down, it’s the gameplay…and for good reason.
As you venture throughout the island, you may occasionally find yourself outclassed by monsters required for a quest or to progress with the story. The best way to overcome this, besides the traditional “git gud” method, is via grinding out XP. Don’t worry, you won’t be re-treading the same room 100s of times over, but the top-notch combat will make leveling up your party a fun and inviting exercise.
Once your “Castaway Village” is up and running, there’s one more circumstance that you’ll find yourself in: interceptions. Essentially, the monsters of the island will occasionally encroach on your well-constructed village, and so you may be summoned back to fight off waves of monsters. They’re not all mandatory, but the lure of bonus items and competing with other castaways for the top score when it comes to monster killing will no doubt bring you back home to defend your homestead.
In addition to the standard combat and interceptions, there is also a robust fishing mechanic/minigame that will allow you to collect ingredients for recipes, or just fish up random treasures from time to time. Unlike Final Fantasy XV, the fishing doesn’t lollygag too much: within 5-10 seconds you’re either wrangling a fish or it’s telling you there’s nothing there.
As you explore the Isle of Seiren, you will have the opportunity to discover adventuring items that allow you to breathe underwater, climb vines, walk on ice, and generally expand your ability to explore every inch of the forsaken island. It’s a big island too, so be prepared for some serious replay value in exploring every nook and cranny.
The world of Ys VIII is vast and inviting, and the 3D environments certainly do well in bringing the forsaken island and its unfortunate castaways to life. It’s certainly not the most polished project you’re likely to see, but what good is a monster budget and visual effects if the end result is a game that’s no fun to play? *coughSTAROCEANcough*
When it comes to the soundtrack, Ys VIII has some pretty big shoes to fill. The franchise as a whole has a robust library of amazing tracks, including one of my favorite battle tracks of all time, “To Make the End of Battle” from Ys II:
With that being said, Ys VIII continues the tradition of fantastic soundtracks, running the gamut from soothing atmospheric tunes to epic boss-battle anthems.
In my 25+ years of gaming, I know that there are a lot of video game franchises out there. Some are no longer with us (RIP Mega Man), some continue to evolve, much to their fans chagrin (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy). What I really appreciate about Ys, after 30 years of adventures with Adol, is that it knows exactly what kind of game it is. Ys VIII has taken the action/RPG formula that the previous 7 titles had, made some smart adjustments, and has delivered a polished and magnificent title that anyone is sure to enjoy. With a vast map to explore, multiple difficulty levels to conquer, and a rich cast of characters to meet, Ys VIII is a fantastically fun game. Buy it. Now.