"Ys VIII exemplifies the core characteristics of the quintessential action RPG."
It may be melodramatic to state that we, as a society, are approaching the precipice when it comes to the state of our social discourse. The "us against them" mentality has reached a fever pitch, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that kindness and compromise are things of the past. Whether or not the timing of the overarching theme of fellowship is purposeful in Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA (hereafter referred to as Ys VIII), it aims to remind us that the indomitable human spirit includes the ability to put differences aside and come together when the chips are down.
That's not to say that the narrative themes of Ys VIII are overly complex, of course. Its story and collection of characters consist, by and large, of the most standard of anime and video game tropes. In fact, the game's prologue features the stranding of Ys stalwarts Adol and Dogi on a deserted island after their ship is sunk by a giant sea creature. The shipwrecked hero shtick is old hat in the RPG genre, but Ys VIII turns this hackneyed plot device on its head by leveraging it as the game's main narrative thrust rather than as shoehorned plot filler.
Adol, Dogi, and their fellow castaways resolve to work together to get off of the mysterious Isle of Seiren and, to that end, establish a village as a base of operations. While exploring the vast wilds of Seiren for additional survivors and a means of escape, Adol is frequently beset by vivid dreams of a girl named Dana and visions of the island's past. These dreams eventually evolve into Ys VIII's shared consciousness system, wherein players take control of Dana as she and Adol endeavor to understand the events that brought Seiren's once-great civilization to utter ruin.
The ability to experience the island's past and present also fosters a wonderful sense of exploration and discovery that's further enhanced by Ys VIII's exceptionally designed environments. As Adol and friends traverse Seiren's murky swaps, precarious ridges, and sandy coasts, the player is treated to breathtaking vistas and set upon by exotic beasts. Artificial obstructions and general game design mean that Ys VIII isn't as open world as it may first appear, however. Instead, advancement is quite linear, and new areas are generally only accessible after story-based events and the acquisition of the appropriate items. This event-explore-event structure becomes formulaic pretty quickly, leading to some pacing issues throughout the game.
There are several gameplay elements that are meant to prevent the experience from feeling prematurely stale, and most of them tie into Ys VIII's overarching "reputation" system. The most notable are castaway side quests, beast raids (wave-based survival events), and hunts. Reputation is incredibly important here, as it affects which of the game's three endings you'll receive, so you'll want to take the time to complete as many of these diversions as possible. Unfortunately, beast raids are more annoying than fun, hunts feel like a waste of time, and side quests are mostly extermination and fetch quests.
Ys VIII's patented action-combat system will feel familiar to fans of the series and remains largely unchanged from its most recent iterations. Battles occur in real time with a party consisting of three members that the player can switch between on the fly. Each character has an attack type that corresponds to an enemy weakness and an array of skills that can be learned through various means. Battles are fast-paced, frantic affairs where the ability to trigger perfect dodges and blocks increases the chances for success exponentially. It's amazing just how smoothly all of the components of the battle system work together, and the fluidity with which the player can go from dashing through an environment to dispatching an enemy and back again attests to its well-oiled simplicity.
Ys VIII has some visual problems, and it's tough to tell whether that has more to do with the Switch hardware or the port itself. The environments and character models look good up close, but the resolution of objects degrades dramatically at even seemingly negligible distances. There were also many instances where objects in the background seemed to "refresh" or "reset," for lack of a better term; this occurred both in handheld and docked modes, and became quite distracting during cutscenes. To top things off, the frame rate is generally poor throughout, and the game literally went out of focus on multiple occasions when I played in handheld mode (though it came back into focus fairly quickly).
Additionally, it's disheartening to see so many errors still present with the localization after the uproar the original incited last year. Beyond poor grammar and rogue characters within dialogue and tutorial screens, there are several instances where both text and voice dialogue were simply repeated. I even experienced a handful of instances where voiced lines were spoken over top of each other, resulting in a garbled mess of sounds. NIS America has stated that these issues will be fixed through day-one patches, but it's clear that the carelessness that resulted in a complete re-localization of the original release of Ys VIII has not quite been nipped in the bud.
One of Ys VIII's strongest features is without a doubt its phenomenal soundtrack. Comprised of thunderous guitar riffs, catchy and booming synths, soft pianos, and delicate strings, Ys VIII's music is snappy, beautiful, and somber in equal measure. The best of the area themes become familiar and almost feel like a fourth party member that joins you as you're passing through. The voice acting is hit or miss, as tends to be the case with video game dubs, though as a whole, it's mostly solid beyond the aforementioned glitches.
At its heart, Ys VIII exemplifies the core characteristics of the quintessential action RPG. The battle system is fun and fast paced yet easily accessible, the environments are well designed and a joy to explore, the characters are likable if stereotypical, the music is great, and the story ties the setting together so organically that it brings the game's world to life. It's a shame, then, that what has been marketed as the game's definitive version is marred by issues that may simply stem from questionable quality control. I wholeheartedly recommend Ys VIII to any and all RPG fans regardless of your experience with the series. I cannot, however, recommend that you opt for the Switch version until the kinks have been fully ironed out.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.