Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (NSW, PS4, Vita) Review

After some posting of a selection of trailers fresh out of Gamescom, SuperPhillip Central has a new review to share. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana released several years ago on the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, and recently as of last summer launched on the Nintendo Switch. After taking an extended break from the game, I recently jumped back into the adventure and completed the game. Here's my full review.

Weep not, as this Ys entry is one of the series's absolute bests.

Falcom doesn't have as extravagant a budget as its contemporaries, so the Ys series hasn't exactly been the most ambitious when it comes to its presentation. With its first brand-new installment in over eight years and the first Ys installment made primarily for high-definition platforms, both developer Falcom and its Ys series do their best to impress with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, showcasing the series at its most ambitious. Does Ys VIII ride a ship to success, or is it marooned on an island of failure?

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana has intrepid explorers and adventurers Adol and Dogi on a luxury cruise ship known as the Lombardia, where they serve as part of the crew. After all, saving the world multiple times over doesn't exactly pay well, so one has to pay the adventuring bills somehow! The cruise is going well, but it's not long before a monstrous ocean behemoth attacks the Lombardia and capsizes the ship. Adol later finds himself waking up on the beach of a deserted island of legend, one with its own secrets and legend that will make for one of his grandest and most memorable adventures yet.

No, you don't, as I even mentioned that adventuring doesn't pay the bills!
(Thanks for not reading my review, Dogi.)
The primary objective of Ys VIII is to escape the island Adol and fellow castaways have found themselves marooned on, but that's of course easier said than done. Luckily for us as players, that's what makes it a ton of fun. However, as you might suspect, the stakes get raised exponentially, and what starts off as a typical deserted island tale turns even more intriguing and interesting. 

Though the game starts out relatively slow and the story tends to meander quite a bit early on, once the narrative picks up, it really does pick up with extremely high stakes. Still, even with the slow-to-start story of Ys VIII, I found that the tried and true gameplay of the Ys series more than carried the relatively anemic beginning of the game. 

The surviving castaways of the Lombardia make their home in a makeshift town aptly named Castaway Village. The population starts off meager, but as you explore new parts of the incredibly large island, you come across various survivors from the Lombardia's upheaval. Each survivor has their own specialty and value at Castaway Village--well, some more than others--but by the end of the adventure, I felt I had been through a lot with this cast of characters. I enjoyed their company, and I really felt like I had been through hell and back with these folks. 

The Isle of Seiren is home to beasts of all sizes and levels of danger.
Part of that is how Castaway Village begins as a squalid and lonely place, but as more survivors join up with Adol and return with him to the village, it becomes a more bustling community. Different survivors bring different specialties with them, such as some that will make lifesaving medicine, help forge weapons and armor with materials found at resource points and dropped from monsters, assist with crafting accessories with said materials, and so on and so forth. 

Exploring the Isle of Seiren, as the island is known as by legend, is terrifically entertaining. Ys VIII is fully 3D, offering complex and intricately designed areas that are both expansive and a sight for the eyes. The ability to jump, climb certain objects, and platform in general make for dense areas full of fascinating places to venture to and treasure chests to discover. The amount of optional areas is tremendous, packing plenty of replay value and longevity to an already lengthy adventure. An island of this size with myriad areas to explore might seem overwhelming and quite the annoyance to traverse. After all, covering large distances and backtracking is common for both the story and optional quests. Fortunately, a fast travel ability is unlocked not too far along into the game, allowing warping between specific purple crystals.

The variety of locales on the Isle of Seiren is quite vast.
Furthermore, the map in Ys VIII is a particular godsend, as it offers not only detailed views of each area of the world, but it also houses information like amount of the map explored, treasures collected, resource points found, and also--and most importantly--icons that show where to go next in the story and other points of interest (think: side quests). I don't want to even ponder how much of a pain Ys VIII's world would be to navigate if not for the map. That's how useful and essentially it was to me and my enjoyment of the game.

That said, the survivors of the Lombardia do more than just sit around Castaway Village, twiddling their thumbs as Adol and his party of companions explore the island and progress the story. They're all a major help in progressing in the island. At many points around the Isle of Seiren there will be obstructions blocking progress. Said obstructions require the aid of a certain requisite number of survivors clear. Sometimes you'll readily have enough survivors, but other times you'll need to do some searching of the island to scrounge up the necessary number. 

Darn. And I left my bulldozer in my other vest, too.
Aside from teaming up to remove obstructions and help with various services at Castaway Village, there are multiple occasions throughout the story where monsters will attack the village, requiring all to present arms and fight. These raid battles have two halves: one which has Adol's party protecting a gate from waves of monsters, and the other half which has the remaining castaways doing fighting on their own front. If the latter does well in battle, they'll bestow helpful battle bonuses to Adol's party in these raids. To help out with raids, you can add defenses and reinforcements like barriers and traps with the spending of resources. 

This ties very nicely to the next subject of this review (as if it was planned that way... Hmm.). That would be the combat in Ys VIII, which follows a similar path of the most recent entries in the series with a trio of party members you can play as at one time, able to be switched between on the fly with a press of a button. This is great, as different party members deal more damage to certain enemy types. While the brute-like Sahad is fantastic at bringing down heavily armored enemies, Laxia is the party member to go to for flying pests. The AI controls the other two party members not under your control, and they behave in a relatively efficient and inoffensive way. They don't find themselves getting in the way or worse off, getting themselves killed. You can switch between characters with the security that the AI won't lose you tougher battles.

Bash those beaks in, Adol! Combat is a blast, staying true to the Ys series's rich history.
While Ys VIII allows only one attack button to chain attacks with, there's more complexity to its combat mechanics than one might surmise. For one, there are special attacks that can be used on enemies through holding one of the shoulder buttons and pressing the corresponding face button. These can't be spammed, as they cost SP to use. However, SP can easily be recovered by hitting enemies with normal attacks. Special attacks can be leveled up with continued use, making for more destructive and efficient offensive maneuvers, and new special attacks are learned as the game progresses. Additionally, as Adol's party gives and takes damage, a big orange gauge fills at the bottom right corner of the screen, and when it's full, the currently controlled party member can unleash an ultra powerful special attack that delivers devastating amounts of damage to a large area.

Of course, and as cliche as it is to say, any good offense needs a good defense, and Ys VIII encourages smart defensive play. Simply whacking an enemy to submission is fine enough for low-level foes, but for those of a more dangerous persuasion, there are plenty of options at Adol's party's disposal. Rolling out of the way of an attack is simple enough, but for those attacks with a wider field and range, it's important to learn how to evade and guard with proper timing. Not only does performing an evasion or guard, whether rolling or when standing still, negate damage that would otherwise be inflicted by an oncoming attack, but it also provides a bonus benefit. 

When all else fails, tuck and roll, Adol!
When performing a Flash Move by rolling with precise timing right when an attack is set to hit you, you temporarily slow down enemy movement, granting you normal speed to hack away at foes. When performing a Flash Guard, you simply defend just before an attack hits you to get a temporary but significant boost to your attack. On later difficulties and heck, just later enemies and bosses in Ys VIII, learning these moves and using them smartly are the measures between victory and defeat. It takes some getting acquainted with the timing of these helpful maneuvers, but they make combat all that much more satisfying. 

There's so much to love about Ys VIII, and one of these parts of the game that satisfies as well is its presentation. By far, I absolutely adored the soundtrack the most. Falcom's Sound Team knocks another one out of the park with a sensational score highlighted by energizing rock themes, emotional ballads, and terrific environmental tunes. This is Ys music at its absolute best, which is quite the statement considering the caliber of the series's music thus far. Meanwhile, the quality and direction of cutscenes and the voice acting is stellar. Though the former doesn't exactly stay true when it involves playing the game. Slightly off textures in the environment and small but noticeable frame-rate issues pop up more than desired throughout the game. Overall, though, Ys VIII sports an impressive presentation package.

Don't mind us. We're just admiring the view.
(Though for Switch players the view is much better in docked form.)
Ultimately, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana succeeds off its thrilling combat and engrossing exploration. Those coupled with its entertaining story makes for yet another fantastic entry in the Ys series. Though the nearly 40-hour adventure does have some pacing issues and some technical problems that muddy the proverbial waters a little, Ys VIII is unquestionably my favorite entry in the franchise yet. High praise for such a long-running celebrated series, indeed, and I now cannot wait for Ys IX to grace us with its presence when it finally releases.

[SPC Says: A-]

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