Ys VIII – Lacrimosa of Dana review (PS4/Vita)

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana marks the first proper new entry in the Ys series in many years. It’s out now for PS4 and Vita and will be released on Steam in the near future as well. Here’s our review.

One of our favorite Vita franchises in recent years has been the Trails of Cold Steel series. When it was announced that the final part of the trilogy was only coming to PC, it broke our hearts a little – thinking it was ‘game over’ for Nihon Falcom’s excellent rpg adventures on the Vita. Luckily, NIS America is still bringing Ys VIII to the west, and later this month they’ll do the same with Danganronpa V3. Suddenly, we’re looking at one of the best months for the Vita in ages.

In Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, you once again assume the role of Adol. Traveling on sea, his ship is attacked and he finds himself stranded on an island called “Seiren Island” along with the rest of the crew – many of whom will need saving. Exploring this island, saving your former shipmates and uncovering the mysteries and history of Seiren make up what is no doubt the biggest Ys adventure to date. My initial playthrough clocked in at almost twice the length of Memories of Celceta, so there is plenty to do here.

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Ys VIII feels a bit more story-heavy than previous games in the series, with plenty of cutscenes – but the writing is a bit so-so at times. Perhaps this is because the emphasis in any Ys game to date has always leaned a bit more towards the action side of things, or maybe it has to do with the fact that that no doubt also shapes one’s expectations. Whatever the case may be, it didn’t bother me too much that the game has some cookie cutter-type writing because my focus was mainly on the action rpg side of things. It just felt like it was easier to click through the writing than, say, the writing in a typical Danganronpa game.

The titular Dana is blue-haired girl who Adol starts dreaming about and helps him uncover part of the mystery – there are parts of the game where you control Dana instead of Adol. This adds some diversity into the mix, as do the small tower defense-like portions of the game, but the star attraction is the fast-flowing action rpg that lies at the root of the entire franchise. It’s what fans love and remember about the series, and it’s just as strong in Ys VIII.

Exploring the island, and opening up new areas, is a case of acquiring new items and abilities – often something done in a combination with rescuing one or more of your former shipmates. As you do, you don’t just unlock more of Seiren and its mysteries, you also grow the village that you and the rest of the (rescued) people on the island have started. Every now and then your village gets attacked, which is where the tower defense element comes in, but the majority of the game is what you’d expect from an Ys game.

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This includes, of course, excellent combat mechanics. You don’t just level up and gain new abilities, you also have the option to switch between the various characters in your party on the fly. Other characters have unique attacks and abilities, and this makes for combat sequences that never got boring. You can stick with Adol most of the time if you wish, but it’s fun to unleash another character on a strong enemy to see if he can deal a bit more damage – something that also adds a tactical layer to the combat.

Ys VIII on the PS4 is nearly identical to the Vita version, though the handheld edition does have its limitations. Some of the extra (but non-essential) content was stripped, and if you want to access the original Japanese voice overs you’ll have to download them separately. This latter part is mainly due to Sony’s restrictions on how big a downloadable Vita title can be though – we saw something similar in how BlazBlue added its story mode as an extra download just so the game would fit within those restrictions.

Besides those small content-related issues, there are also a few performance issues that pop up from time to time. Ys VIII stretches the Vita to its max, and it’s quite possibly the best looking Vita title of 2017. When things get hectic in combat though, the framerate can drop below the usual 30 frames per second. It’s not game-breaking in any way, but it’s noticeable. A blurring effect also occurs on the Vita – no doubt to keep the framerate stable – but other than that this is still a gorgeous handheld title. It’s one that sounds amazing too, with excellent music that makes this a joy to listen to with headphones.

We had to wait a long time for Ys VIII, but the wait has been worth it. The bigger story emphasis and game sections that were added for diversity aren’t up to the same level as the core Ys gameplay is, but they don’t hurt the game either. After Ys Origin, Lacrimosa of Dana reminds us that 2017 is a good year to be an Ys fan.

Score: 8.6/10

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