The long-running Ys series of action-RPGs grew to fame thanks to engrossing cinematic storytelling and fantastic music. Almost thirty years after it debuted, Ys continues to thrive thanks to the series’ willingness to dramatically evolve its gameplay while still delivering engaging drama and fascinating worlds. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is the newest--and biggest--entry in the series yet, and it delivers an immensely fun and memorable experience.
Ys VIII begins with longtime hero Adol and his friend Dogi on a huge passenger ship when, out of nowhere, the vessel is attacked by a gargantuan sea monster and destroyed. Adol wakes up to find himself on the mythical island of Seiren, a supposedly cursed land from which no person has ever returned. He soon bands together with a few other survivors of the wreck, and decides to help them explore the island to rescue other passengers and build a makeshift community while figuring out a means to escape. All the while, however, the ancient beasts that live on the island are not pleased with the human intrusion, and a deeper secret behind the island’s curse lies waiting to be uncovered.
Finding survivors and building a village on a deserted island is a pretty unique concept for an action-RPG, and the story does a good job of driving you to explore the island to seek out others. The eclectic cast of characters who come to live in the island village make for an interesting mix of talents and personalities, and it’s very satisfying to watch the capabilities of your island base grow as more people join and you help them out through questing. Ys VIII conveys camaraderie through hardship, making you feel happy when the village accomplishes a new milestone, sad when tragedy strikes, and fearful when a new threat emerges.
But even if you weren’t out rescuing other shipwreck survivors, you’d likely still feel compelled to explore the beautiful landscapes of Seiren Island. Ys VIII is a gorgeous game, filled with immensely colorful landscapes, dangerous yet captivating dungeons, and plenty of unique scenery to discover. Serene ocean vistas, fascinating geological formations, immense rainbow-casting waterfalls, and mysterious plant life are among the many scenic spots you’ll encounter in your travels. You even have the option to explore some areas at either daytime or nighttime, and the latter casts some familiar locales in an entirely new light. It’s easy to get caught up in a spirit of wanderlust and meander into areas that aren’t essential to the current story, but you want to explore just because you can. The kickin’, energy-infused progressive-rock soundtrack--an Ys series staple--helps a lot in driving you to explore further as well.
Of course, exploring the dangerous parts of Seiren wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if the core action-RPG gameplay wasn’t up to snuff. But Ys VIII delivers wonderfully in this aspect, giving players fast-paced, easy-to-learn combat with a surprising amount of depth. Chaining together basic strikes and special attacks while using your teammates’ weapons to exploit enemy weaknesses quickly becomes second nature. As you become more comfortable with fighting, you’ll learn to utilize skills like the Flash Move and Flash Guard: special dodges and blocks executed with precise timing that give you a huge advantage over the enemy. These skills come in especially handy during the game’s boss encounters, which have you battling against some truly strange and unusual island creatures. The smooth flow of fighting and ease of play makes the combat one of Ys VIII’s high points. Perhaps the only knock against the battle system is that the default controls are a little odd--but, thankfully, the combat controls are completely remappable to your liking.
From action to exploration, Ys VIII has a lot going for it--which, unfortunately, makes the times when it stumbles more obvious. The pacing is inconsistent, sometimes interrupting exploration for long stretches of plot development--and, occasionally, swapping the protagonist of the game entirely for extended stretches of story. The game also has an annoying tendency to deliver “interception” missions while you’re knee-deep in dungeon crawling, asking you to go back to town and play an annoying tower-defense style minigame where you guard the village against waves of monsters. While most interception missions are optional, you’ll feel compelled to do them anyway; they yield very useful rewards and raise the approval of Adol among the commune’s residents, which becomes key in the endgame.
The English localization also leaves a lot to be desired. While it’s certainly not the worst translation I’ve ever seen, it feels like a tremendous missed opportunity. Dialogue is often dry and uninteresting, or awkwardly stilted, robbing characters and story moments of some of their impact. With such a ragtag bunch of interesting castaways on display, it feels like these characters should have a lot more personality in their speech. Ys VIII’s localization also makes some very odd choices with terminology and phrasing, leading to strange moments like a companion shouting “somebody’s here!” in areas where the only things around are trees, rocks, and bloodthirsty monsters.
But even when it falters, it’s hard to hate Ys VIII for long. The feel of fighting your way through a big, beautiful island of untamed wilderness to save a group of people brought together by circumstance while uncovering an ancient mystery is an absolute delight, and will compel you to keep exploring for hours on end. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a newcomer to the exploits of Adol Christin, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in the exotic world of Ys VIII.