Ys 8 teaches us not to relax even if we managed to get out of the water after a shipwreck. The heroes of the game allowed themselves such luxury and everything almost ended with a cataclysm of planetary proportions.
The game was a temporary PSVita exclusive, later ported to PS4 and PS5, but in 2018 it was released on two of the most important platforms today: Switch and PC. The last version was used for my review and it is the most interesting because it was technically the most problematic on release.
“How playable is it now?”, “Why is it one of the best in the action-RPG genre?” and “Can I start playing the series from it?” – you will find answers to these and other questions in this review or in its video version.
You are probably worried about the serial number of the game, so first of all, I would like to reassure you. Despite the fact that the main character of the series was and still is Adol Christin, the player does not have to know what happened in the past.
Nihon Falcom company is, in my opinion, better known for the ambitious saga The Legend Of Heroes, one of the most story-rich JRPG series. Some of her arcs are important to play chronologically, and maybe that’s why Adol’s adventures have always been their complete opposite.
Firstly, until the eighth part, it was always more focused on dynamic gameplay than on any rich plot. And secondly, apart from the main character, these parts are not connected in any significant way. There is no overarching narrative in them, and each of them is a separate fully completed story from the diary of a chronic adventurer who was destined to die at the age of 63.
In Lacrimosa Adol is only 21, so it is obvious that he will complete the task again and all three available endings of the game will be canonical and, so to speak, successful, despite the fact that they are traditionally divided into Bad, Normal and True Ending. The only difference between them is the completion of the story, so I advise you to go for the latter. It’s not hard to get it on the first playthrough, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. At the moment, it is more important what kind of trouble Adol got into this time, how the story is built, and what it reminds us of.
I like to work on the last question in my reviews, in order to prepare the player as much as possible for the spirit and ideas of the work that awaits him and at the same time to minimize spoilers. So, there are vibes of The Lost World novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, Pirates of the Caribbean, and, most important – Lost.
Warmed up by the aperitif of the ancient Greek myth about sirens, the player witnesses a shipwreck, after which Adol, together with other passengers, begins a struggle for survival on a mysterious island. Find a place to live, provide yourself with resources, protect yourself from dinosaurs that were thought to be extinct long ago, and eventually find a way to escape. For this, each of the residents of the camp draws their part of the common picture: someone is a doctor in the past, someone is a weaver, and someone is a surprisingly physically developed grandma who has a big, cool, and beautiful…sword.
In general, the glorification of the characters’ bodies here is clearly at the level you expect from the Japanese. The women were of course more attractive than the guys, so it’s not surprising that out of the six main characters in the combat group, I had mostly girls.
In addition to the 6 main characters who are the drivers of the plot, there are about 25 supporting characters in the game and that’s it. That is, even soulless NPCs are minimal here because the island is deserted and there is only one settlement on it, not counting flashbacks. At the same time, most of the supporting characters combine both a source of additional story content and the usual gameplay functions, such as a store or pharmacy.
Thanks to this, the story becomes more personalized, and the whole game becomes more cozy and compact, despite the huge size of the map. At least the player is not overloaded with either extras or stores, as it was, for example, in the second Xenoblade. I still remember the claustrophobia from the number of merchants there, who were thrown at me all at once, in the very first city.
In Lacrimosa Of Dana, everything appears gradually: a forge, a small vegetable garden, additional defensive structures, etc., and as the village grows, so does the concern: something is clearly wrong with this island. That is, the fans of Lost will be delighted.
The game can offer almost the same thing that the cult series once impressed with, just in a different setting and with two important differences. First, the characters of the game are psychologically healthy and friendly. And secondly, instead of the past from the lives of each of the passengers, the player in the role of Adol sees flashbacks of Dana – a girl with whom they are not yet familiar, but with whom they definitely have something in common. Thus, the main plot is divided into two parallel paths: one about survival and escape from the island, and the second about the investigation of its terrible secret.
The side quests mechanically remained in the spirit of “do it and don’t think too much”, but even they very successfully play into the hand of the story: they have a lot of plot content and, what is no less important, humor, without which the story would be too boring. Since the game becomes significantly more serious towards the end, it is especially noticeable at the beginning, when literally in the first hour the Japanese offer a traditional cringy scene while bathing, or a number of funny options for answers in dialogues. Thanks to this, in particular, you can play the role of a guy who is always joking, relieving tension, and goes beyond the image of being full of nauseating valor.
This actually impressed me very pleasantly against the background of the second Xenoblade or Tales Of Arise, which I played before that. After their refined heroism or synthetic infantilism, the eighth Ys looks like a role model that is much easier to appeal to teenagers and adults alike. But, of course, only those who have plenty of extra time.
For the first time in the series, Nihon Falcom made such a massive emphasis on the plot that it even overdid it a little, and definitely noticed it. In the seventh part, the main plot lasted about 22 hours, in Lacrimosa, it was already 37, and in the ninth, the golden mean was found – 27.
Given that in our case, it is better to go to the True Ending, for which you need to perform most of the external activities, the duration can easily be added at least 10 more hours, which already significantly delays the game. But it’s good that in its essence it is a very dynamic adventure slasher, otherwise, it would have been harder for me personally to get to the end.
It’s hard for me to get through long games to the end because they rarely keep me entertained for that long. It’s good that Lacrimosa Of Dana is a nice exception, but it’s important to note that overall the game is not difficult. I don’t consider myself a hardcore gamer and I feel uncomfortable and stressed playing the Dark Souls, but even for someone like me Ys 8 should be better played on the Hard level, which I actually did. The Nightmare level is better to pass when reaching New Game+ with the transfer of progress.
In my opinion, Hard should be called the normal level of difficulty, because it is there that you start to feel every hit of the enemy or every mistake you make. And making it here is easier than it seems.
For example, each of the six characters has one of three types of damage: slashing, stabbing, or impact. As part of the combat group, the player can only have three characters out of six, and for effective combat, they must switch between them on the fly, otherwise, each opponent will have to be fought for twice as long. Because as you probably already guessed: each monster is vulnerable to only one of the three mentioned types of damage.
The ability to change the main character instantly perfectly holds the bar of dynamics, and the artificial intelligence that controls the other two does not disappoint, as it was, for example, in the previously mentioned Tales Of Arise. There, I will remind you, on the increased difficulty, your side characters died like flies. But the advantages do not end there.
In comparison with it (and with the same second Xenoblade), the game designers of Ys 8 did not make the combat mode a separate mode. Your party is always in a state of combat readiness and when meeting an enemy, the game does not transfer the player to some separate state or limited area with a new interface. The player either just hits the enemy or runs away. And this is the next nuance.
Characters rush around the map like crazy, and its large locations feel compact and accessible due to this, taking into account the ability to teleport from anywhere to numerous crystals. If that’s not enough for you, then in the second half of the game, the heroes get an artifact for increased running speed, and after all that, in other action-JRPGs named today, you feel like you’re trying to run in a swamp.
Do you see a swamp in Ys 8? Soon you will get boots in which you can walk there. Do you see the lake? So you will eventually be able to breathe underwater. Do you see a huge obstacle blocking the passage? So you will be able to remove it with the help of the inhabitants of the settlement if there are enough of them. Among the obstacles, you will find a strong wind, a whirlpool, a rockfall, and so on.
That is, the spirit of adventure and its dynamics are at such a level that you rarely meet in the genre. And the role-playing elements of upgrading are designed accordingly. No trees or ability grids, no random clothes to hunt down. Everything is simple.
The hero has a normal level that increases all basic stats and attacks: normal, special, and ultimate. If you hit with a normal one, you will get a little charge to perform a special one. If you hit a special, you will get a little charge to perform the ultimate. And that’s all. Super simple, dynamic, and diverse.
Each character has only one ultimate attack, but 12 special ones. They are upgraded independently – simply as they are used. While you can get new ones gradually with the growth of the character’s level, either in the corresponding books or in third-party quests. This is actually one of the additional reasons to do them, apart from what I have already mentioned. They are often worth the attention not only due to the story content, but also the rewards, including the True Ending, which I also already mentioned.
The type of ending a player receives does not depend on which answers they accept in dialogues but on their reputation. Its value is in the game log, and the higher it is, the closer the player is to a fully told story. In particular, for the True Ending, you need to score at least 198 points and they accumulate with almost every successful side activity: quests, map research, settlement growth, fishing, and even minigames in the style of Tower Defense. All this is important but to a reasonable extent. For example, I got what I wanted, even after not completing all quests, raids, or hunting.
The last two things are actually the same Tower Defense, which, although it makes the game more diverse, does not do it very well. The player defends the location from waves of monsters and can improve defensive structures, but in my opinion, both modes take too long, to sum up, and show their statistics. This clearly does not fit the dynamics of the game.
But in any case, it is closer to the rank of action-JRPG than Tales Of Arise and even more so than Xenoblade Chronicles 2. By the way, I mention the latter so often for a reason, because there is a request from the public. People really see the similarities: huge spaces with blooming nature, and big dinosaur-type monsters, not all of which the player will be able to beat at different stages of the game. But it is not necessary to go beyond these analogies. They offer significantly different gameplay and, to my taste, it is more exciting in Ys 8, significantly more diverse, and interesting.
After all, there’s a difference between “just standing and waiting” for your character (I emphasize) to auto-hit the enemy himself, like in Xenoblade, and when you’re running like crazy, jumping around them, hitting various combos and not forgetting the feature of any action game: dodging (Flash Move) and parrying (Flash Guard).
So, dear friends, this is not Dark Souls and not Sekiro, but with these mechanics Lacrimosa fights become more effective and interesting. After each successful dodge at the right moment, time slows down, the character gains invulnerability and increased speed. While parrying, they will gain a charge for special and ultimate attacks, and all their normal attacks will become critical for a while.
Tales Of Arise tried to do something similar, but it is still far from the dynamics, comfort, and even some aesthetic nuances of Ys 8.
To begin with, I’m a little surprised that this game comes from the PSVita. Before that, I had already played ported and improved versions of those games, for example, Persona 4, but it didn’t look as cool as Ys. The size of locations, the number, and detail of objects on the screen, as well as the range of their display – within the chosen anime stylization, now its portable past is not so noticeable.
It’s funny that Tales Of Arise, which came out years later, loses to Ys in the latter. Given that the picture in Tales was more saturated and detailed, its significantly smaller range of displaying characters and monsters was very noticeable.
The bestiary is also a pleasant surprise. A significantly older game from a significantly smaller company throws a much more diverse set of monsters at the player, with far less repetition and recoloring compared to Tales Of Arise.
Another noticeable thing is the cleanliness of the interface during the battle. Tales was still more or less tolerable, but when you turn on the second Xenoblade after Lacrimosa, you immediately grab the eye drops. Because it is just painful to look at.
As I said before, Ys is a model for other action-JRPG. There is almost nothing extra on the screen, only useful things. If I could, I would also remove the almost constantly visible fishing bait counter. But otherwise, everything is very good. Especially when it comes to sound.
In such Japanese games, there is an almost chronic sound disease in combat, which sometimes recedes, then returns with new force. It is about the voices of the characters and what they communicate with them. In Tales, in Xenoblade, the characters made not only the usual sounds from physical exertion, but also voiced a whole line for each special reception, status, and even a hint for conducting a battle, etc.
Considering that in the first game, there were four heroes in the battle, and in the second, together with the summoned creatures, as many as six – it is not difficult to imagine what I am complaining about. Every battle turned into an exhausting mess and I am grateful to the developers at Nihon Falcom for taking pity on me. Its characters in battle do not annoy me.
But something else is annoying, even after a bunch of patches for the PC version. First, in some seemingly small locations, the number of frames per second drops significantly. And there are no obvious reasons for this: neither the size of the location nor the power of my PC.
Secondly, during the exploration of locations, the characters very often shake back and forth. It’s hard to explain in words and it’s mostly noticeable when you move the camera to the side, so for that it’s better to pay attention to the video version of this review by timing. In no other version of the game did I notice such a flaw: neither for Playstation, nor for Nintendo Switch. But in the case of the latter, there are important nuances.
Judging by the reviews and videos of players on the Nintendo portable console, the game works perfectly. To be honest, I’m a little surprised, because it clearly has a lot more details than Shin Megami Tensei V, which the console barely managed. But not everything is so good. More precisely, it is good only in portable mode. As soon as you start the game through the dock, it continues to work well, but the resolution remains low and the image is too noticeably blurred and pixelated.
But no matter what platform you play on, nothing will stop you from enjoying its sound and music. On a PC, the audio language can be changed at any time to English or Japanese, and they are both of high quality. In particular, the English actors were chosen perfectly and none of them is too different from the original.
The original soundtrack is difficult to overpraise – it is three discs of some of the best compositions, that have ever been written for genre games.
Falcom Sound Team jdk, which composes music for the series starting with the fourth part, perfectly understood the dynamic and adventurous spirit of the game. When you first land on the island to the sounds of Sunshine Coastline, which has already managed to become a cult, you know – in this game you will not have to be sad and you will have an extremely exciting and epic adventure. With hurricane-like Heavy Metal with orchestral uplifting themes, each new track of each new location pushes you further and further until you hear all 60 pieces, which even for such a long game is more than enough to keep you from getting bored and making you remember the game forever.
Ys 8: Lacrimosa Of Dana is a sleeper hit for me that got a good night’s sleep. It went through a release on a not very popular console, a completely unplayable PC port, and a bunch of subsequent patches before I dared to try it. The problem was the series itself, which before this had never paid enough attention to the plot to surprise me… and now it finally happened.
Aside from the somewhat strange appetite for system resources and random character twitches, the eighth Ys finally works properly on PC and doesn’t crash. And as the first negative reviews on Steam claimed: when this game works, it is one of the best in the genre.
This is an exciting adventure in the spirit of the Lost series with two parallel storylines, and with such variety, adequate interface, and dynamics that the over-hyped hits of recent years, such as Tales Of Arise or the second Xenoblade Chronicles, would envy.
It could be shorter (just like the mentioned games), maybe not so schematic when exploring locations (when the road is blocked by an invisible wall), or not so archaic in terms of time management (when the character has the task of immediately saving someone’s life, and they can go mind their own business as much as they want), and these problems should be solved by the genre. This game has done its best for my taste and I hope the same will happen in your case.