Beyond the sea, o’er crashing waves, a storm brews, and adventure begins anew.
The Ys series is a grand tapestry of adventures centered around the red-haired swordsman known as Adol Christin. Each is self-contained, but contributes to a larger picture, making them digestible piecemeal or as an extended all-you-can-eat buffet of loosely connected travelogues. The latest, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, is the first new Ys game in four years, and features the series’ largest scale yet in terms of sheer content volume. The Ys spirit burns brightly in Ys VIII, but this rollicking action RPG narrowly misses the mark for excellence thanks to a flat localization and lethargic pacing.
Confusingly, Ys VIII takes place between Adol’s fifth and sixth adventures, but its place in the chronology should have little impact on prospective players in terms of accessibility. This time, Adol finds himself shipwrecked (surprise, surprise) on the mysterious Seiren Isle, a place where no traveler has ever visited and lived to tell the tale. Over the course of this forty- to fifty-hour journey, Adol becomes intimately acquainted with the island’s history through his mysterious dreams of a girl named Dana who lived there eons before his arrival. Their destinies entwined, the two leap between past and present to find out what brought Dana’s flourishing civilization to catastrophic ruin, all the while looking for a way to help Adol escape the island alive.
A handful of interesting wrinkles aside, the story is fairly genre-standard, and twists are largely telegraphed ahead of time. I’d forgive this if the game had strong enough writing to elevate its predictable story beats; unfortunately, Ys VIII has a localization so remarkably bland that it can’t help but stand out as one of its defining characteristics. It is rife with bizarre utterances like “Yeah, I ate and took a shit. I’m feeling great today, as usual!”, which my eyes had to pass over several times before rolling back into my head. There were several points throughout the game where I felt like I should’ve been moved or surprised by what was happening on screen; instead I sat unblinking, indifferent to the cast’s struggles, waiting to wrest control back into my own hands. Its lax pacing does it no favors, either, with long segments (usually Dana’s) that drag on without any meaningful plot development. Ys VIII’s contribution to the overall series’ lore is significant, but its delivery lacks finesse.
With Ys VIII’s failings out of the way, I can move on to where it succeeds. Its signature party-based action combat, inherited from Memories of Celceta and Ys SEVEN before it, returns more or less unchanged. Each character has a weapon affinity (slash, pierce, or break) that does bonus damage to corresponding enemies, as well as a suite of special skills that expands as the game progresses. Flash Move, a Bayonetta-style slow-motion effect following a perfectly timed evasive maneuver, and Flash Guard, which confers a 100% critical hit rate and invulnerability for a small window after a perfect block, add further wrinkles to combat. These systems coalesce beautifully into a zippy battle system that feels like an elegant dance when you’re running, rolling, and slicing through hordes of island fauna.
The word “dance” is multipurpose here, too, as Falcom Sound Team jdk once again brings the goods; Ys VIII’s soundtrack overflows with passionate guitar, violin, and pumping synth beats. There’s an old-school, almost Mega Man X-adjacent vibe to some of the best tracks on the album that feel pleasantly familiar. The game’s theme song, “Lacrimosa of Dana,” is a delicate waltz that might just be my favorite main motif in Ys series history — it’s an unforgettable melody, and I feel my skin prickle every time it kicks into a track.
English-speaking players are receiving the definitive version of Ys VIII, with new features over the original version that released last year in Japan. These include “Interception” battles wherein Adol and his fellow castaways defend their makeshift village from intruding monsters, new items, and a “Style Change” system for Dana that allows her to switch between three distinct forms in the new Underground Sanctuary dungeon. These updates are present in both the PS4 and PC versions of the game, but not the Vita version. Its colorful visuals are a delight on either system; I prefer playing at a smooth 60FPS on PS4.
I admit my expectations were perhaps a little high for Ys VIII, particularly because I’m such a fan of this series and this developer. Its weak writing is a grievous misstep, one that stunts the emotional impact of its narrative and characterization by imparting a generic, been-there-done-that tone that is uncharacteristically underwhelming for this series. Those frustrations are mitigated by the joy of discovery, in combing Seiren Isle’s nooks and crannies for gorgeous vistas and missing castaways; it’s when the action grinds to a halt in service of tedious dialogue that I feel my most keen frustration with Ys VIII.