Review: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

Adol Christin and Dogi have a knack for stumbling into adventure where ever they may travel. While most of us live mundane lives where the slightest triviality may generate excitement, these guys walk out of the house and end up being thrust into some sort of adventure, like visiting Dogi’s hometown for a peaceful homecoming only to end up being recruited to put a stop to a great evil. In more recent times they have taken to sea travel, which has ended but being a no less adventurous choice for them. While Adol and Dogi are traveling on the ship Lombardia, disaster occurs on the night of a grand party. Things start out normally enough with Dogi doing strongman manual labor below the deck while Adol patrols the ship in his sailor suit. But then some giant sea monster attacks the ship and after battling some giant tentacles from the sea, the ship wrecks on what is believed to be the dreaded island of Seiren and Adol awakens alone, which begins Adol’s latest adventure in Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana.

After exploration, Adol’s eyes widen and his pulse rises as he encounters Laxia, a young woman who is almost as skilled with a sword as Adol and survivor from the wrecked Lombardia, though her stuck up demeanor suggests she may have lived in apartment 23 prior to her seafaring event (editor’s note: we suggest this is just a front and she is really a nice person at heart. We condemn this writer’s implication otherwise). Her piercing attacks compliment his slashing attacks, and while Adol might be better suited for ground-dwelling baddies, Laxia excels at dispatching aerial foes. After the two reluctantly pair up out of necessity and take out some of the fearsome beasts that inhabit the island, they gradually stumble across other survivors like Dogi, Sahad and Captain Barbaros.

This is where Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana starts to take a turn away from the established formula it has been following. Instead of stumbling into a new town that is plagued by myriad evils, the Ys gods saw fit to send Adol and Dogi to some desolate wasteland filled with powerful beasts to kill, lest they bring about the misfortune under the guise of heroic adventuring to innocent civilizations. This doesn’t work out as intended since Barbaros enlists the help to Dogi to build a town, while Adol is tasked with Sahad and Laxia to put his cartography skills to use and seek out other survivors and bring them to Castaway Village

Without the normal cast of merchants allowing the player to trade cold coins for items and weapon upgrades, Dogi crafts some stations to emulate this trope in a moneyless society. Mixing stations, storage facilities and blacksmithing stations are set up. The player harvests various items from the island and from defeating enemies and can trade them in for items or weapon upgrades. It dresses the commerce up to look like they are foraging for materials and living off the land, but in actuality it is the same: kill things, collect currency and trade it for money.

Adol and the assorted castaways need to eat and they subsist off a fish-heavy diet, which has high protein and healthy fat in the form of non-encapsulated fish oil. The fish are caught by taking the trusty fishing pole out to where fish shadows can be seen and reeling them in. This is probably the easiest fishing minigame I have ever encountered, so stocking up on fish is not going to be a dreadful grind. These fish can be combined with other ingredients to prepare recipes that will recover the party’s hit points and bestow some temporary status effect that will be removed through use of an item or by sleeping.

Being as this is a journey with Adol and Dogi, simply being marooned on some deserted tropical island filled with gargantuan beasts isn’t enough. There has to be some greater purpose to all of this, especially with all the folklore and dread surrounding Seiren so Adol has a weird dream one night where he dreams of a blue haired beauty. This clearly must be the lacrimatory Marge Simpson Dana who’s existence is hinted at in the title and cover art, though all other aspects of her remain enigmatic until later on in the adventure after building her up through Adol’s dreams. Ys is a series that was never known for having fleshed-out characters or deep storytelling, and while Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana doesn’t exactly change this, it put more effort into making the supporting cast come alive and have memorable personalities. The story, while not straying too far from familiar Ys territory, is also developed in greater detail, though a trade off that comes with this is lengthy dialog scenes at the beginning of new chapters or at key events. At times some of these may feel excessive in length, but for the most part it is nice to see this series go in this direction.

The gameplay of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana continues in the style we found in Ys Seven. The player controls a party of up to three people that can be switched by a simple push of a button. Like Ys Seven, and as briefly mentioned above, different characters have different fighting styles that work better against different monster types, and these styles include variations of slash, pierce, and crush. Characters will learn special skill attacks over time that can be assigned to different buttons and activated for a cost of skill points. Since having options is fun, the player can choose to save up the skill points and instead of using them on weaker skill attacks unleash a devastating power attack. Even though the character attack animations are different, they all feel similar when controlling any of them with the main difference being how much damage they are able to inflict against an enemy type. In the typical Ys style, having some caution is a good idea when fighting general enemies but provided the player keeps an eye on the health gauge button mashing may not get you through most areas gracefully or unscathed but it will get you through most areas. This statement is one hundred percent untrue in regards to boss fights. If you go into a boss fight thinking you can beat them without a strategy formed from learning their attacks and behavior, you’re going to feel like you french fried when you should have pizza’d, meaning you’re going to have a bad time (odd, I’m getting a feeling of déjà vu).

The island of Seiren is enormous, especially when we factor in the scope of typical Ys world sizes, but one should expect an island that is home to gigantic beasts to be gigantic itself. Early on we see signs of areas we want to get to but are currently inaccessible for various reasons, like a giant tree blocking a path that requires the combined strength of many people to move. Exploring a deserted island, building a village and bringing found castaways to it while harvesting various ingredients and materials does not sound like activities one would expect to be doing in an Ys game but despite these deviations Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana feels like a proper Ys title, as the element of exploring an ever growing world and unraveling the secrets of a greater tale are what fans of the series have come to expect, and while the details of how these events unfold varies, the style and pacing is in tune with classic Ys.

Music has always been a strong point of the Ys series and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana keeps this tradition going. The familiar style of rock influenced music is included, but compared to previous titles, the music composition seems to have matured and features more subdued tracks with a dreamlike and ethereal quality to them. It’s a welcome change and puts this on my radar of game soundtracks to keep an eye out for. It’s been several years since a new original Ys title and nowhere is this more apparent than with the graphics. The anime art style and character designs are consistent with past titles, but the quality is much higher of both the cutscenes and gameplay. As good as this game looks and sounds, the control response is equally as impressive.

Closing Comments:

Ys is a series that has never been a triple A level spectacle, but has consistently put out memorable games for close to three decades. As a long-time follower of the franchise having first been introduced to this world in Ys III: Wanderers From Ys on the SNES (later remade in 3D for PSP called Oath in Felgana), this is quite possibly the best Ys title to date. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana doesn’t deviate far from what Ys games are known for, it just takes what they do and expands on them. The story isn’t Shakespearean, but it’s more developed and interesting than what was shown in previous titles, and while the characters are still trope-based, they have more depth than seen in previous entries and this is on top of improvements in graphics and music composition. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana shows the series maturing a bit but without deviating too far from what made us fans in the first place.