Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA - Switch Review

For fans of the Ys series, and they are numerous and for very good reason, there is a great deal to enjoy about the familiar gameplay and outstanding overall presentation. However, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is a very approachable game for newcomers as well, and anyone with the itch to play an action RPG in a fantastic world should give the game a try.

I actually missed this game the first time around, but PY was a tremendous fan of it in his PlayStation 4 review a little less than a year ago. So while I have experience with prior games in the series, I was coming into Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA with pretty fresh eyes. The end result? This is the most fun I have had with my Nintendo Switch in months.

If you are new to the franchise, it might seem a bit disconcerting early on to know that this is a series that has followed same primary character for nearly three decades now, but rest assured, this game stands on its own two feet. Adol is our primary character, and while he is a 'silent' protagonist (his character makes sounds but does not really speak - you frequently choose dialog choices along the way for him), his exploits are tied to the current situation and don't make tons of callbacks to prior entries in the series.

Things start off pretty predictably in terms of story, as Adol is introduced to a cast of characters that early on seem like typical archetypes from the RPG genre. You have a prickly female companion who gives Adol an earful early on, and a gruff fisherman who is more muscle than brains and so on. However, as the game's tale unfolds and the characters get more and more time to develop, I had a great deal of fun in watching their layers get peeled back to reveal more about them than first meets the eye. Take the ship captain for example. In many games, this is a gruff, tried and true seaman who leans towards the pirate's way of life. Here however, he is revealed to be a loving father, a warm mentor of sorts to Adol and others who certainly loves the sea, but is more interested in making sure that survivors of their unforeseen shipwreck are taken care of first and foremost.

Admittedly the pacing is my biggest quibble in the beginning. It makes sense as the game tries to teach players the basics, and this should make Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA pretty approachable even to newcomers of not only the Ys series, but action RPGs as well. Movement is pretty standard as is interacting with the environment or NPCs encountered along the way. Combat is also pretty easy to pick up, as the series has a JRPG / anime visual aesthetic, but in fact plays out not in turn-based combat but actions based around timely movement and button presses. There are multiple levels of difficulty to choose from, further giving more seasoned players an opportunity for a challenge while offering a less difficult option for those who are more interested in the story than challenging enemies. The controls are pretty straightforward in combat as well, with jumping, dodging, blocking, attacks and special attacks all mapped to buttons in easy to manage ways.

There is a nice if thin layer of strategy to the combat built around a sort of rock-paper-scissors damage type, as enemies are going to be weak to one type of damage (smash, slash or pierce) and strong to another. You can quickly switch between characters with a quick press of the Y button, but your AI companions are actually pretty handy even without taking them over. Sure, it is just a small thing, but I did not find them getting stuck on environments, ignoring enemies, things like that which have a tendency to annoy in games where you rely on your companions for help. Heck, they even walk over and pick up nearby loot items on the ground left over from combat or breaking items in the environment. 

However, that is not to say that Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA lacks depth. In fact, far from it. You still earn experience and new skills, which you can map out however you like on the controller. There is plenty of new gear to be found along the way, lots of secrets to be discovered and a suvivor's village that Adol and his team are responsible for. A good chunk of that responsibility involves performing quests and providing upgrades to the village that provide even more ways to tweak and customize Adol and his team for the challenges ahead as Castaway Village becomes a fully fleshed hub brimming with those aforementioned interesting characters.

Over time the game develops a really interesting gameplay loop in venturing out into the world to make greater discoveries and finding the right balance with completing quests against making sure that the village itself is safe. You will find more castaways that open up new options within the village and the ability to work as a team and remove obstacles that are blocking your path in certain places (such as moving a large fallen tree of a pile of large boulders that block a passageway). Progression through the environment feels pretty organic, even if it really is just a series of connected passageways and rooms of varying width and length along the way.

There are a few minor quibbles to note along the way, despite all of the glowing things I have touched on so far. The story itself is decent if somewhat unspectacular and struggles at times to get away from the tropes that the characters themselves manage to safely avoid. Big dangerous world, character with holes in their memory on a grand quest to save the everything is all somewhat overly tried and true, but thankfully the fantastic cast of characters draws most of the attention and the story itself never really bogs down because of them.

In terms of the presentation, the Ys series has long been known for fantastic music and sound, emphasized by the fantasy-meets-rock soundtrack, and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is no different. The visuals however, are a bit mroe of a mixed bag. I appreciate the vibrant colors that help the dinosaur filled island come to life, but the character models are pretty ordinary and the landscape looks great at a glance, but upon closer inspection the textures can look a bit off. I suppose that is to be expected since I believe this game was originally designed with the PlayStation Vita in mind, but graphically this title can be a bit underwhelming at times from a technical standpoint, even if I enjoyed the actual art design of it all.

I recall when Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA first released, much was made about the occasionally sketchy translation, but credit to the team that had it re-localized. While there are still a few moments here and there where a piece of dialog seems just a bit off or stiff, by and large this title seems to have benefited from the delayed release. That said, some things have still gotten missed. I noticed a couple of oddities along the way, and there's been several posts on social media about it. One good thing - there are a handful of patches coming including day 1 that should help with some of these issues. They are not show-stopping, but it is an unfortunate set of rough edges that you would like to have seen get caught by the QA process earlier.

My last concern actually became a strength later in the game, but it took me some time to warm up to it: pacing. During the first few hours, there is a lot of talking. Many times when I was just getting into the groove of my exploration, I was forced to return to the village or camp, which broke my momentum. However, the longer I played Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA, the more things evened out. The exploration segments became longer and the interruptions less frequent, and even when they did come, they provided welcome respite in the form of variety that kept the gameplay fresh and helped this title avoid the kind of repetitive grind that plagues similar games.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is a fantastic game for a host of reasons. The characters are charming, the gameplay is entertaining and there is a solid gameplay loop that kept me exploring just a little further each time. Fans of the Ys series owe it to themselves to explore what this latest chapter in Adol's adventures has to offer, but the gentle learning curve and various options provided make this an approachable title for those new to the series or the action RPG genre as well.

Game Information

NIS America
Action RPG
Single Player
Other Platform(s):
PlayStation 4
PlayStation Vita

Provided by Publisher

Article by Nick


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