Ys VIII begins with a shipwreck. Adol Christin, along with everyone on-board the Lombardia, finds himself on a deserted island after a sea monster destroys the vessel. He soon finds some of the remaining survivors and they form a small village where they can take shelter and figure out a way to escape.
Over the course of the game, you will find two dozen survivors, many having some sort of impact on its many gameplay elements. As Adol and crew try to find a way to escape, they explore different parts of the cursed island; uncovering new mysteries and secrets. He occasionally has dreams where his witnesses the life story of Dana, a girl from an unknown time with seemingly mystical powers. Thus, the remaining survivors of the Lombardia find themselves trapped, yet intrigued by both the secrets of the island and reasons behind Adol’s dreams.
The main story of Ys VIII centers around Dana and it takes a while to get going. Literally nothing happens for the first 12-13 hours. You are mostly entrusted with exploring the island and finding new survivors. But soon after, the story starts becoming more and more focused. It moves at a steady pace and makes you feel like the answers are right around the corner. Adol’s dreams suddenly shift from moving images to the player actually controlling Dana. Without spoiling anything, Falcom plays with your expectations for the rest of the game. In addition to side objectives, she has her own multi-floor dungeon and she can freely switch between up to three styles of combat.
The execution of build-up, intrigue and payoff is extremely well done, which makes me question the length of the first act. The developers want players to feel isolated and form a bond with the survivors, but it was completely unnecessary since the remainder of the game does a much better job of doing exactly that, without actively trying to force it upon you. Nevertheless, the game presents you with many mysteries and does a wonderful job of slowly uncovering them. It understands that build up is wasted without payoff and excels at both. With so many questions and the complex nature of the story, it remarkably avoids being an absolute mess.
While I was consistently engaged and surprised by the main plot, the general writing and most of the cast isn’t great. The party members, save one, ranged from boring to annoying. This is because the game is filled with a lot of unnecessary dialogue and most of it is not well written or well-acted. It’s a striking contrast to how much I was invested in the main story. Similarly, your village constitutes of just too many survivors and while it feels rewarding to keep growing your establishment, most of them are just throwaway characters.
Many survivors set up businesses in the village. Some might open shops to craft armor and accessories while others will offer their services by mixing potions and other healing items. The more survivors you rescue, the more options available to you. The game revolves around a simple collecting and trading system – make sure to collect enough resources on your travels, look at what is required to get the items you want and then trade up to that item. This is also helpful in completing the many side quests you can undertake. They are mostly requests from other survivors and upon completion you not only get to know them better; it increases the quality of the services they offer. It’s a well-designed system that makes sure you are always exploring, questing, looting and finding secrets as everything you do is rewarding in some way.
Your village will get attacked by monsters on a regular basis and you can take part in a mostly optional wave defence mini-game. Before starting the encounter, you can set up and improve decoys, barricades, catapults and so on. Ys VIII also comes with an offensive mini-game where you must deploy candles at specific parts of the map and destroy enemy spawn points. I found the wave offense mini-game to be far more engaging than wave defence, but ultimately never saw them as anything more than a distraction.
You have a total of six members in your party and three are active at any given time. You can freely cycle through all active members with the press of a button. In addition to regular attacks, each character has skills mapped to the four face buttons. You will often encounter enemies weak to specific types of damage so do not except to play the entire game with just one set of characters. In addition to an ultimate ability, you can also utilize Flash Move and Flash Guard to help turn the battle in your favor. Mapped to L1 and R1 respectively, you must choose which one to initiate and must press that button right before getting hit. The former slows down time for the enemies while the latter makes you invulnerable and all hits do critical damage for that short duration. The equipment system is heavily customizable as all accessories and armor have different special effects.
The dungeons and fields come in varying sizes and designs, ranging from simple and linear to complex mazes filled with shortcuts. You will often encounter areas where you cannot get to other side without the proper adventure gear. Whether it is the ability to double jump, breathe under water or walk on a swamp; there will always be sections left unexplored because you did not have the right tool. In the beginning, you will only be able to equip one adventure gear, making it a hassle to keep switching them depending upon your need. But smart QOL decisions make sure that it’s easy to increase the maximum number of adventure gear you can carry. When combined with the painless quick travel and smart level design, it makes exploring the world an absolute joy.
Ys VIII has a lot of optional content, which unfortunately isn’t as optional as the game would like you to believe. The true ending of the game is locked behind Approval, which signifies how much the remaining cast likes Adol. While you will gain a lot of Approval by naturally playing the game, its incredibly time consuming and it basically ensures you cannot play through just the story. Even though the requirements of the true ending aren’t a factor until the very end, it would sting to know that you could’ve made life easier if you had been doing all of the available optional content until that point. You can gain approval by finding survivors, completing quests, getting high scores during interceptions, uncovering more percentage of the map and so on. I often wanted to just push on with the story because I was so invested in the mystery at hand, but had to complete pending side quests because they become unavailable at specific points in the story.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana offers an engaging story, fast paced combat and exciting dungeons. Although I failed to connect with a majority of the supporting cast, Dana completely steals the show. Its painfully slow start should not stop you from playing what I consider to be one of the best action-RPGs of the past few years.
- 4/5, 4/5