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Review Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana [Switch]

Discussion in 'Video Games' started by Dawn, May 21, 2019.

  1. Dawn

    Dawn The Hermit

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    This review is spoiler-free. I will strive to keep my reviews this as much as possible. Any information I provide regarding the story or characters of a game, you would be able to find with a basic search on the internet.

    I also welcome any questions. Have I missed something you'd like to know, but don't want to search for fear of spoilers? Ask away, and I will do my best to answer! Just don't ask me about frame-rates or anything technical, or what numbered score I would give the game. The first I don't know the answer to, and the second I refuse to give the answer to.

    With that said, enjoy the review!


    Prologue

    Ys is probably not a series that many people have heard of, although it is actually older than many may think, having been around since 1987. Despite its long history, this is only its eighth numbered title (although the ninth is on the way!) and, when people think of the developer Falcom, they tend to think of the far more popular Trails series. That said, it would be a mistake to write off the latest tale in the chronicle of Adol Christin!

    Story & Characters

    Let's address the most important point first:

    Knowledge of the series is not required to fully enjoy what is on offer here. Whilst the Ys series collectively tells of the adventures of its protagonist Adol, they are more like Final Fantasy titles in structure in that they tell entirely self-contained stories for the most part...or at the very least, this one does. You can safely ignore the “VIII” in the title and dive into the game comfortable in the knowledge that you will start in exactly the same place as fans who have played every instalment in the franchise to date. No background reading is required, and nothing significant will be missed.

    So, with that in mind...

    Ys VIII begins with Adol on a passenger ship, departing for new adventures...which find him early, as the ship is attacked by a giant squid – because of course it is – and when Adol awakens, he finds himself on the cursed Island of Seiren. An island overrun by wilderness, covered in ancient ruins, and populated by hostile beasts from wolves to very large dinosaurs. Fortunately, our hero is not the only survivor of the shipwreck, and after re-establishing contact with a few of them, forms Castaway Village, a base of operations for the duration of their stay on the island. With this done, Adol and his small group of adventurers begin to explore the island's ancient ruins for other survivors, a way to escape, and clues as to why Adol is having flashbacks about a girl named Dana...

    Whilst Ys VIII's story is by no means a memorable masterpiece, it excels at keeping the player guessing as to where it will go next – primarily through switching perspectives between Adol and Dana, who despite clearly living in the past in her segments is aware of Adol's existence and his knowledge of her - and drawing them into the world by forging bonds with the castaways that Adol finds on his travels, both as a part of the story and through your own exploration. Through meaningful sidequests with NPCs Adol can develop Castaway Village and its cast, and through the main story develop interaction with party members. It is worth noting that, despite being a renowned adventurer himself, Adol never develops as a character, and never speaks a word – he is at best a stand-in character for the player to control.

    As well as solving the mystery of the Island of Seiren, Ys VIII is a game about building a community, and coming together in a crisis. The more that you explore and spend time doing sidequests for the characters, the richer their background becomes, and the more meaningful and engaging the story becomes. Whilst this type of storytelling is heavily dependant on player investment, Ys VIII makes sure to reward players with meaningful character interaction where effort is made.

    However, whilst some effort has clearly been put into Ys VIII's story, it never reaches its full potential, and remains a distraction at best: the focus of the game is the gameplay, and the exploration of the world, which is where much of the additional lore beyond the main narrative comes from. Players who fail to explore the world may find Ys VIII a short and rather lacklustre affair, with just enough mystery in the story to justify continuing playing, but not enough to really pull them into the world around them.

    Gameplay

    Ys VIII is all about exploration. Right from the start the game presents you with an extensive compendium for you to fill – maps, gathering points, monsters, sidequests, fishing logs, collectibles; you name it, this game has it. And it is both highly addicting and satisfying.

    Ys VIII's maps are superbly designed, reminiscent of classic Metroidvania titles in their emphasis on backtracking and uncovering every possible secret. Whilst initial pathways through some areas will be quite linear, acquiring Adventuring Gear later in the game – such as the ability to double jump, float above mud, climb vines, and breathe underwater – will unlock whole new areas, and as you can only equip a few of these items at a time, there is even an element of puzzle-solving to be had with parts of the environment at times, as only the right combination of items will see you through.

    Parts of the map are blocked by obstacles such as large boulders or trees, and can only be cleared once you have found a certain number of castaways, prompting further exploration. Ys VIII wants you to explore. It wants you to dive into every nook and cranny the map has to offer – quite literally, as map completion percentage can be VERY stingy, requiring you to go into literally every corner to get that elusive 100.00% - and uncover all of its secrets. If there is a harvest point? You need to hack it. A new enemy? You need to kill it. A fishing spot? Better get that rod out!

    The best thing about Ys VIII is that it is VERY persuasive in this pursuit, and it rewards players handsomely for exploration, with additional lore, material to upgrade weapons, new castaways to unlock new areas, and compendium records. For completionists, this game is a dream come true – you will spend hours getting it full without a guide; there are plenty of things that are very easily missed. For everyone else, there is limited appeal because, whilst exploration is not required to progress in the story, the game is quite short without it. This is a world that was designed to be explored to its utmost, and it shows in how well-crafted it is.

    Combat in Ys VIII is real-time and extremely fast-paced, reminiscent of Warriors titles. You go up to an enemy on the map, and you beat it up until it dies. Of course it's a little more advanced than that, but that's the gist of it, and on lower difficulties you can ignore the game's more complex mechanics if you choose. You can both roll and guard, and doing either perfectly will allow you to execute “Flash” moves, which allow you to attack enemies unimpeded. Each character also has their own set of skills, which can be levelled up with repeated use, unlocking new skills and stronger variants, as well as their own EXTRA skills, special moves performed once a gauge has been charged up sufficiently in battle. Whilst you can easily get by just hitting an enemy until it dies, and combat is relatively simple to grasp, it is difficult to master, and offers enough depth to keep those who are looking for depth satisfied. AI is also surprisingly intelligent and helpful.

    Another core element to the combat is switching between characters, which can be done instantly both in combat and during exploration without restriction. As well as having their own unique skills, each character of Ys VIII has a weapon of one of three types – Slash, Strike, and Pierce. Monsters, as you might expect, have weaknesses and resistances to these types, and hitting an enemy with a type of weapon it is weak to will deal increased damage and – if its health is enough to warrant it – will eventually force it into “Break Mode” where it will sit stunned, allowing you to deal out increased damage unimpeded. This mechanic is mostly used in boss battles.

    Whilst this is basically just another weapon/element triangle, it prevents players from sticking to one character for the entire game, and encourages a balanced party so that you're prepared for every type of combat situation – because it takes a long time to chip away at the health of a stronger enemy if you're using a character whose weapon type is resisted by it. One of the most appealing elements of Ys VIII is the sheer variety of its enemies, and bosses in particular, which are often gigantic in size and in their own unique environment that you'll need to navigate in order to overcome them.

    Exploration in Ys VIII yields a wide variety of materials, leading to a lot of item creation. The weapon/armour upgrade system in the game is surprisingly limited and mercifully uncomplicated, but the item creation is a different beast entirely, offering a level of depth and variety rarely seen outside of Gust's Atelier series. Items are used for everything you may expect in the game – upgrading weapons and armour, making healing and stat-boosting items, sidequest requests, etc – and they provide an additional level of depth to those seeking it – much like the exploration aspect, you can ignore item creation as much or as little as it pleases you...although again, indulging in it will make your life significantly easier and your experience more enjoyable.

    Worth noting is that Ys VIII has one of the more satisfying fishing minigames in RPGs to date, which can serve as a nice break from the action...and another notch in the compendium.

    Ys VIII also features Raid Battles, which are essentially waves and waves of monsters spawning outside of Castaway Village, trying to break in and slaughter everyone inside...as monsters do. Your job is to repel them, although you can also upgrade the village's defences, with things like poisoned meat lures, stun gongs, and additional spiked barricades. A few of these are required during the story, and serve to break up the exploration.

    Ys VIII has 5 difficulty modes. The game is fairly well-balanced, giving monsters enough of a boost that you have to work for your kill, although the enemy AI does not get noticeably more intelligent – although some are more aggressive – outside of the two hardest difficulty settings, which limit your resources as well as your damage output.


    Graphics

    For those interested in the game's performance on a more technical level and a look at the graphics in action, I will leave you with a link to Digital Foundry's comparison of the game on both PS4 and Switch, here. This contains spoilers for the opening sequence of the game.


    Sound

    Ys VIII strives to create an atmosphere of excitement and suspense in nearly every area, and it certainly has the right ingredients for this with its excellent heavy rock themes...and very little else when exploring. If you came to this game expecting something akin to the orchestral marvels of Sakuraba, Uematsu, or Okabe, you are going to be sorely disappointed, because outside of the game's beautiful opening theme and a few cutscenes, there isn't a lot of it. Ys VIII has all of the energy and impact of a Warriors title which, whilst it is its own kind of energy that invokes feelings of excitement and discovery, lacks variety, or memorable tracks that will invoke a sense of wonder in the player.

    Over time the music becomes extremely repetitive and samey, as whilst the melody will change, the heavy rock composition will still dominate, to the point that it becomes little better than background noise at times – far too much of a good thing.

    The game will occasionally switch the sound up to something more orchestral during story cutscenes, which serves to heighten the drama and mystery of the scene, but this only serves to highlight the dissonance between those moments and the rest of the game, and certain areas do not have the atmosphere that they could have if the game's composers had opted for something a little quieter and softer.


    Summary

    The Good

    + A fantastically designed world to explore that sells itself very well
    + Tight and responsive fast-paced combat that is as simple or as complex as you want to make it
    + So much variety!

    The Bad

    - Story doesn't pack quite as much punch as many other JRPGs out there, and some elements in the beginning especially fall flat
    - A lot of the enjoyment of this game is dependant upon you wanting to explore the world: if it doesn't draw you in, you're not going to get much out of it
    - It doesn't run quite as well on the Switch as it does on the PS4 – undocked especially – so if this matters to you it's best to keep it in mind.


    With a narrative that leads you at a comfortable pace and possesses just enough mystery to prevent it from becoming too tiresome – although certainly not groundbreaking - a world that is rewarding to explore and actively encourages that exploration in the best of ways without becoming obnoxious or hindering story progress to the point of frustration, and fluid real-time combat with a fun little switch mechanic – all to some absolutely fantastic music – it's difficult to find damning flaws with Ys VIII. It can be a brief sojourn, or a full-fledged odyssey into the unknown where everything is hostile or collectible, and you will frequently forget what you're actually supposed to be doing.

    Recommended? Absolutely.
     

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