“Lacrimosa” is a beautiful term for something tragic and sad. It’s a perfectly fitting term for Dana Iclucia’s unfolding backstory in Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, the eighth installment of Falcom’s venerable action RPG series. This game novelization explores this backstory to incredible effect, creating a compelling fantasy tale with some minute alterations that only those familiar with the game are likely to discover. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is a great, party-based action RPG. But would Ys VIII still be memorable if you took its interactive facet and fantastic soundtrack out of the equation, requiring that the story stand on its own merit? Lacrimosa of Dana is a testament that such a feat is possible when the book adaptation gets done well. Suffice it to say, I enjoyed reading the book’s hefty four hundred and fifty-three pages!
Ys VIII, the game, and Lacrimosa of Dana, the novel, start similarly with intrepid red-headed adventurer Adol Christin and his stalwart traveling companion Dogi setting sail toward new horizons onboard a ship called the Lombardia. Things are going well until the Lombardia sails near a reportedly cursed island called the Isle of Seiren. Those familiar with Ys know that Adol and boats never mix well, so naturally, the Lombardia is attacked by a mysterious sea creature and sinks, marooning Adol and the other ship survivors on the cursed island. The group bands together, forming a small Castaway Village to defend themselves from dangers lurking on the island while hoping to find an exit. Unfortunately, the Isle of Seiren is home to all sorts of dangerous monsters, and even amongst their ranks, potential dangers are hiding in plain sight. They must confront these dangers to find other castaways and survive.
On top of their pressing concerns, Adol begins having strange dreams about a young woman named Dana. Dana lives in a kingdom called Eternia and is selected to train to become the next Maiden of the Great Tree of Origins. The Maiden helps protect the land thanks to a phenomenal ability to use a magical resource called Essence. The more time passes on the Isle of Seiren, the more Adol experiences life through Dana’s eyes. What exactly is the connection between their two souls, and what disaster ultimately befell Eternia to change it so drastically in the past? By living Dana’s life, Adol might uncover the Isle of Seiren’s secrets and hopefully pave a better future for the present.
The central narrative theme in Lacrimosa of Dana is that Dana and Adol’s time and reality bleed together, each having a surprising impact on the life of the other despite their living in different eras. Adol catches glimpses and hints of what he might have to do next to help the other castaways survive by experiencing things as Dana does. Dana starts to see visions from Adol’s time that show her something horrible will one day occur in her homeland. She resolves to aid Adol in his quest to discover the truth and prevent Eternia’s future desolation. However, Adol and Dana’s shared experiences might not be enough to prevent further tragedy when mysterious forces begin working against them.
For most of the novel adaptation, the story shifts between Adol and Dana’s perspectives. In the beginning portion, the divide between their two tales is relatively distinct, with Adol occasionally dreaming about Dana’s life in Eternia. But, things ultimately get more complicated as Lacrimosa of Dana progresses alongside Adol and his comrades’ exploration of the Isle of Seiren. Eventually, the two storylines intertwine, feeding into one another in fascinating ways. For example, Dana notices that Adol’s progress is blocked at a specific location at one point, so she plants a prayer tree sapling at that spot in her timeline. The sapling becomes a mighty tree, helping provide an almost instantaneous pathway for the adventurer and his group. In another instance, thanks to a conversation between Dana and one of her friends, Adol learns of a particular type of ore that could modify his group’s weapons so that they can actively damage the hostile creatures they encounter. In another chapter, after spending countless days traveling from one location to the next on the island, Dana teaches Adol’s group about a fast travel option using Essence and unique crystals scattered throughout the island. Through a series of surprising events, Dana’s presence amongst the castaways eventually becomes alarmingly physical, signifying a looming mystery at the very heart of the island. Indeed, learning whether or not Adol and Dana can stay united despite the obstacles in their respective paths is one of the biggest draws of the story.
The pair aren’t alone on their respective journeys either. Dana has friends and allies she relies on in her time, most notably her two best friends: the serious-minded and always formal Olga and the kindhearted and wise Sarai. There’s also Rastell, a young man who trained side-by-side with Dana in combat when they were young, now aspiring to one day be the Maiden’s guard. Eternia is brimming with life and characters throughout the novel’s pages, making later story outcomes all the more tragic as the relationships there continue to evolve and develop.
Adol’s fellow residents of Castaway Village also share in the novel’s spotlight. First and foremost, the boisterous Dogi is Adol’s oldest friend and companion. Captain Barbaros of the Lombardia is equally memorable as a source of inspiration for the other survivors, with a lasting impact during Adol’s time on the island. Truthfully, it’s the others making up Adol’s search party who get the lion’s share of the attention: stubborn and knowledgeable noble-born Laxia; mysterious transporter Hummel; jovial family fisherman Sahad; and the energetic youngster Ricotta, who grew up on the island before the Lombardia ever arrived. It’s this core group where a deep bond of familiarity and friendship develops alongside Adol and Dana. They’re all likable enough characters that you can’t help but root for them throughout the story. Their interactions provide insightful highlights, such as when all three girls become fast friends when wanting to help a fellow castaway safely deliver her baby or when Sahad and (surprisingly) Hummel look out for Ricotta. The family dynamic between the party members gets believably interwoven throughout the novel’s significant plot events.
There’s even some wonderfully written and developed romance in Lacrimosa of Dana, if that’s to your liking! The deep bond between Dana and Adol is poignant and heartfelt, with a touchingly bittersweet yet hopeful outcome despite their circumstances. While Laxia and Adol’s relationship is developed and presented differently in the novel than in the game, I love its interpretation, given Laxia’s character development. The eventual romance subplot between Laxia and her dutiful butler Franz is also well-written and one of my favorite additions to this particular adaptation.
The fundamental differences, such as the Franz and Laxia subplot mentioned above, help differentiate Lacrimosa of Dana from a straight-up play-by-play retelling of the game. Given the novel’s impressive page count, I feared the book would get bogged down by tenuous, unnecessarily detailed accounts of dungeon exploration or base defense battles. You know, the things that drag out the plot and are boring to read. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how Anna Kashina cleverly bypasses this by condensing gameplay components and focusing on character interactions rather than long stretches of exploration. Traveling Eternia and the Isle of Seiren is still time-consuming amidst the novel’s pages. Still, they’re cut through with meaningful or exciting interactions to help keep readers engrossed. Narrative descriptions of action sequences and fights are as fast and fluid as the game, supplying the proper challenge for the characters to overcome believably.
The narrative pacing isn’t always seamless, however. Following the shipwreck of the Lombardia, Lacrimosa of Dana starts relatively slowly as Adol’s group gets their bearings, and Dana’s early chapters center on her living her daily life. However, in authentic Falcom RPG storytelling, the pace picks up at opportune moments, becoming much faster as the narrative’s intensity increases and the two storylines converge. When the truth about what’s going on with Adol and Dana comes to a head, I am very much hooked and invested in the ending!
Anna Kashina’s writing is clear and descriptive. It’s fast-paced when it needs to be and intentionally slow when that’s what the plot calls for. She extensively researched Ys VIII and the Ys series when writing this adaptation, taking great care to ensure Lacrimosa of Dana reads like a quintessential Ys story. There’s strong attention to detail with the characters and their development throughout the adventure, and I got particularly drawn into Dana’s character arc and its resolution, which is surprising since, at first, I felt her role in the story gets somewhat removed from the main plot of the castaways. This novel is a fantastic recounting of one of Adol’s many adventures, to the point of even having me smile when I read the epilogue.
That isn’t to say Lacrimosa of Dana is perfect. Of the three character perspectives the narrative gives us, Laxia’s tapers off in importance and frequency once Dana and Adol’s storylines merge, at least until Franz shows up relatively late to the party. Many side events from the game, such as Dana helping out spirits and gaining their gifts or finding castaways, get quickly glossed over to keep a faster pace. I was disappointed when Griselda, returning from Ys: Memories of Celceta, only gets a passing mention in this novel, even though I know it’s intended to keep the story’s pacing from getting too tedious. There are also some grammatical and spelling errors in the pre-release copy I read for this review, though they’re fortunately infrequent and easy enough to overlook. Hopefully, editing will catch most, if not all, of them before the official publication’s release.
Overall, Lacrimosa of Dana is a strong novelization of an enjoyable RPG experience. Initially, I was worried that the story would be a word-by-word retelling of the game and, therefore, relatively dry and uninteresting. However, I quickly discovered that Anna Kashina manages to subvert that expectation, creating a storytelling experience that helps hold the interest of those familiar with the game while also serving an excellent and readable stand-alone fantasy novel for newcomers looking for a compelling tale in the genre. Lacrimosa of Dana is an engaging, heartfelt read sure to enthrall those who adventure with Adol and Dana through its numerous pages.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the publication provided by the publisher. This relationship in no way influenced the author’s opinions.