With each new console, established franchises have to do something to keep themselves relevant in developing times. Some take the plunge in hopes that a bigger budget will pay dividends in a visual-sensitive medium, and some decide to keep their aesthetic and style while updating and tightening up how the game is played. The Ys franchise, started way back in 1987, has had a lot of growing to do in the last decade, but now it is finally in a 3D environment that’s not a top-down perspective. While, like most games in transition, it has growing pains, Ys has a firm base established for the franchise’s future in Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana.
Ys is not a franchise with an all-encompassing narrative, and none of them are known for having stellar storylines, though the last few have made progress in that department. Lacrimosa of Dana, however, takes on a styling and formatting one could find in recently revitalized title Tokyo Xanadu or more established franchise The Legend of Heroes. This goes down to some menu presentation and quest delivery as well, but the true tell is in how the narrative is formatted and delivered. Each character is given the limelight at some time or another, and each one, whether they’re actual combatants or simply inhabitants, has a purpose in your Castaway Village–but more on that in a bit.
Either way, despite some early peculiar villains and narrative choices that bog things down (and one rather strange and significant one at the end), the journey from washing up on this cursed island to finale is worth the 50-hour journey. I would also like to point out that the overarching Dana storyline doesn’t begin to show its importance until well into the game, which, since she’s an incredible combatant, feels like a fair amount of wasted opportunity. For the most part, Dana is a tool that vicariously helps Adol get around the island, reducing her purpose from a figure deserving of the game title to a plot device, and the background given to her allots far more credit to her as a character than that.
Castaway Village is intriguing in the way that you, the player, can affect both its development with what time and resources you put into it. You can explore the island further, finding better items and more people in order to further unlock blocked off parts of the island on your way to a completely developed village rich in goods and services. Each person you find serves a purpose here: some craft gear, some smith your weapons, some tailor your clothes, and so forth, and these characters come into their own as their strengths showcase who they are as they provide for the village.
The selling point to any Ys title is combat, and despite the changes in narrative and perspective, that mantra remains solid in VIII. While 3D models aren’t exactly realistic, the action in motion is glorious to behold. Much like VII, each of your three characters feature unique attack styles that are paramount to defeating enemies in timely fashion. Some enemies are only weak to Laxia’s straight-on approach, Sahad’s brute force, or Adol’s sweeping strikes, and jumping between these styles is a visceral experience that keeps rewarding you along the way. There are a couple other fighters along the way that share styles with Sahad and Laxia, but they’re for you to discover.
The game isn’t entirely exploring the island either. When island monsters begin to surge either in the village or on the island, events called Interceptions or Suppressions occur. These are wave-based sessions where you fend off secured locations against creatures all amassed around a boss, which are oftentimes triggered by narrative events. While they’re not exactly amazing, they provide a nice changeup to the game overall and allow a venue for leveling your character and abilities.
What’s great about the combat being so addicting is that it’s easy to level up and learn new abilities for each fighter. With frequent use, each ability gets stronger, and the more of them you master, the more new ones you discover along the way. This is all on top of a basic leveling system, which means that even in the later chapters when levels are infrequent, you’ll still have a steady sense of development.
For the last week, I’ve been engrossed in Lacrimosa of Dana–a weird thing to say, since ‘Lacrimosa’ is Latin for ‘Mourning Mother’–but it’s not without its faux pas. The big one you’ll have to overcome early is the perspective. Like so many games before it, the camera is closer than it should be. There are target prompts for each enemy around you, which cycle around your character, but these prompts are too loose of indicators, because they don’t indicate distance or even enemy type. As the game goes along, enemies become more significant in strength and size, and being able to know what’s around you is paramount, especially on harder difficulties.You’ll grow used to the camera, but it still gets in your way plenty of times that you’ll just start spamming your big attacks to get out of bad situations.
This game was made with the Vita in mind. While that’s all well and good, what with me being a Vita advocate despite the current market, looking at games like this for so long quickly loses its luster. VIII put this on display almost right away, when, upon fishing, the resulting catch had more of a pristine aesthetic than the character hold it. The same goes for the well-constructed environments: They simply lack the touches and enhancements that bring them to an immersive visual level. The infrequent anime-style cutscenes are glorious, and I wish that the game held a similar graphical style to it rather than the simplistic avatars. Granted, Ys VIII would look and feel more natural on the Vita, but there will inevitably be a point where the Ys franchise ups its aesthetic, and considering the tools it has in place now, I want to be there for that transition. For now, the narrative and combat will have to carry the franchise to the success that it’s earned with Lacrimosa of Dana.
Check out the first boss fight!
All in all, Ys: VIII Lacrimosa of Dana is an addicting action JRPG that features great combat and a narrative worth exploring. It checks all the boxes needed for a successful game, but its last-gen graphics and encroaching camera prove that this ambitious release still has healthy room to grow. Believe me when I say that I will be there when that next growth happens, because there’s nothing better than the gameplay that a great Ys title provides.