Nihon Falcom has experienced a well-deserved resurgence recently. With the release of Trails of Cold Steel II last year, and Trails in the Sky The Third earlier this year, it’s great to finally see the developer get the attention it deserves in the West. Ys is Falcom’s longest standing franchise, and the series turns 30 this year, so what better way to celebrate than by releasing the newest game in the series. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is the eighth main entry, but it is also the first new game in four years. Falcom has decided to buck many of the series’ trends, experimenting with both scale and length. With a playtime of over double the other entries in the series, and a boatload of content, Ys VIII might make getting shipwrecked seem exciting.
Adventurer extraordinaire Adol returns, again on another voyage, and again at the mercy of the rough seas. After washing up on the mystical Isle of Seiren when his ship is sunk, Adol has to rescue his fellow passengers and find a way to escape the island. At the same time, he experiences visions of the past and becomes acquainted with a girl called Dana, who lived years before his time. The two eventually work together to uncover the truth behind Seiren. Ys VIII’s story is much grander in scope than any other entry before it, and for a series that’s not well known for a strong narrative, it’s a big leap that doesn’t always pay off.
The first half of the game mostly sees Adol rescuing survivors and exploring the island, but the pace is incredibly slow. I didn’t engage with the characters’ plight until around 10 hours in. My interests were far more occupied with exploring the island rather than listening to the characters bicker. The second half does the complete opposite, thrusting exposition and action your way by the bucketload. I can see where Falcom was trying to go with this, but I think Ys’ charm suffers as a result. The balance between cutscenes and gameplay in Ys VIII is more akin to an entry in the Trails series, and that’s not what I’m looking for in this game. I went in expecting brisk and breezy action with drops of mystery, not predictable anime tropes and twists. It’s all the more difficult to swallow when you experience just what delights await you. This isn’t helped by an off-kilter localisation. NIS America has tried to make the game more accessible, but as a result, the magic and wonder of earlier Ys titles is missing. There are a few clunky phrases and expletives that just feel out of place in Falcom’s classic series. It definitely does the job, but longtime fans will no doubt spot the difference. Rather than experiencing a magical story book, it felt more like I was watching a Hollywood adaptation that simplifies things a little too much.
Those familiar with the series will know just how good Ys’ combat is, and Derek beautifully covers this in his review of the PS4 version. The party-based combat is nearly flawless, and even on the Vita’s small screen, you rarely lose sight of the action. You can swap between your party members on the fly to exploit an enemy’s weakness — some are weak to Adol’s sword slashes, while others crumble under the weight of fisherman Sahad’s anchor. It’s a real treat switching characters and seeing who fits your playstyle the best. Sadly, things can get a little finicky with the Vita’s controls. Using a character’s super move involves simultaneously pressing both shoulder buttons, one of which is the dodge button, while the other is the skill button. There was more than one instance where I was attacking hordes of enemies, and in trying to dodge an attack, I ended up using my Extra skill accidentally. This became incredibly frustrating, especially when it happened before a major encounter, but it didn’t stop me from ultimately loving each and every fight, especially the bosses. Combat is something that Ys has always been good at, and it’s a relief to see the series’ signature feature return with style.
Ys VIII also benefits from the pleasure of traversing the Isle of Seiren, which is a wonderful landscape and a joy to discover. I fell in love with just about every inch of the island; from diving into underwater caves to uncovering ancient ruins, I had a blast rummaging for loot and treasure. Your main goal is to rescue each of the ship’s survivors, and with every new member of Castaway Village comes a new person to make friends with, a new shop, or a new item to craft. One of the castaways is the daughter of a blacksmith, which makes her vital for upgrading your weapons and armor; another is a tailor’s wife who’ll create cute costumes for your party. Saving each of these characters is vital for your progression and helps you build up a relationship with your team. Most importantly, rescuing these people gives you an even bigger excuse to explore the island. And what better accompaniment do you need than Falcom Sound Team jdk’s amazing soundtrack? As with Ys Origin, I can’t praise their work enough.
Playing the Vita version, I was expecting the game to not be as crisp and sharp as the console and PC versions. Ys VIII’s gorgeous presentation, colour and art style still shine through; standing at the top of a mountain or staring out into the ocean never gets dull. When the action picks up, however, the Vita’s visuals suffer drastically. As the game’s combat is so fast and frantic, you’ll often be fighting five or more enemies at once, and the frame rate suffers as a result. Even just running around in some of these areas causes the character models to go blurry. It affects the flow of combat and makes dodging a little more difficult to time than normal as a result. This is a real shame, and it’s not a problem I’ve encountered with the PS4 version.
I’ve got some hang-ups with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, but ultimately it’s a beautiful and exhilarating little game that’s worth your time. Falcom has managed to craft a lovely series out of excellent combat, endearing characters, and snippets of story; that formula has worked well in the past, but some of the risks haven’t paid off in this entry. The Vita version is sadly missing all of the PS4 and PC additions, such as the extra forms for Dana, but what you do get is a beautiful adventure in the palm of your hands. Everyone should try at least one Ys game, and this is yet another entry in the series I recommend — just expect something a bit different this time.