The Ys series probably holds the record for longest-running series with the shortest name. Pronounced “ees”, the JRPG series has been running since 1987, with humble beginnings on home computers that have names that sound much cooler than they are, like the X68000. In this latest main series instalment, Lacrimosa [Latin for weeping] of Dana protagonist Adolf Christian Adol Christin is washed up ashore on the mythical Isle of Seiren after the ship was attacking by giant tentacles. Adolf Adol must explore the island, searching for fellow castaways and a way off the island. But of course, the Isle of Seiren is mythical for a reason. Things are quickly seen to be not at all that normal. Pirate skeletons and their notes indicate that a life on the island should be anticipated. “Ancient Species” and other hostile wildlife inhabit this island, Adol is dreaming of a blue-haired qt prophet/chosen one, and the other castaways also have their own conflicts and mysteries.
Living on the deserted island with the other castaways, Adol and co. manage to build a base. As you rescue more and more castaways, the base grows and more items and services become available. It was very fortunate that a blacksmith, a tailor, a chef and a merchant were all aboard the same ship and survived. Seeing your base grow and upgrade is something I have always found immensely satisfying, and this is no different. There are also plenty of opportunities to fight waves of beasts to protect the base, where you get graded and rewarded at the end. This is more exciting and rewarding than regular combat but also feels repetitive. Despite being limited to just an island, Ys VIII excels at making it feel much larger and making Adol and his newfound friends very small. The large world of the island is also easy to quickly travel with some nicely detailed menus and a teleport function. This is quite an achievement, but is undermined by the fact that world is laughably derivative. The world of the Ys series is based off our own, but with a fantasy flair. But when you change the name of Greece to “Greek” (the country to demonym) and the Roman Empire to “Romun” (a moron’s spelling) it ends up being a joke, rather than something exciting.
The minigames of fighting waves of enemies is more fun than the regular game.
With the help of tribal-tattooed fisherman Sahad, young noblewoman Laxia and occasionally a fourth member, your party will quest around the island, fighting a range of bizarrely-named monsters. Each character does a different damage type (Laxia piercing, Adol slashing and Sahad bludgeoning), so some enemies it’s best to play as Laxia and so on. Encouraging character switching is great, but they don’t feel very distinct from each other. I could get away with the exact same playstyle as a brute like Sahad and his anchor with someone delicate like Laxia and her rapier. There are a wide variety of enemy designs, but it doesn’t really shine through in the way you have to deal with them.
Combat consists of your regular attack which combos fairly naturally, and four equipped skills, which are used by a combination of R1 and one of the shape buttons. This uses up part of a meter, but it charges up pretty quickly, so you can get away with spamming your favourites. The problem lies with the use of R1. R1 is assigned to guarding, and L1 as evade. The problem is when pressed together, the character’s ultimate move is activated. You can’t cancel it, nor can you redirect your character. So, if you try to dodge too quickly after blocking or using a skill, you can find yourself wasting your ultimate on a useless enemy. This happened to me on several occasions. Other than this frustration, combat is nice and easy to grasp, but unfortunately easy to master. There’s no real depth and the skill ceiling is low.
Combat improves in the many boss battles to be had.
Being a JRPG, Ys VIII is subject to many of the tropes you would expect. Women are highly sexualised – the blacksmith looks nothing like a tradesperson, and when you first meet Laxia she is literally naked. A nun rips her dress and lets her hair out so she won’t trip over again and the titular Dana wears very little. If this is something that upsets you, then look the other way. Another prevalent trope is the ridiculous outfits. People (namely the protagonists) have extra unnecessary straps, buckles and designs on their clothing. Again, if this is a trope that for some reason irks you, then look the other way. Being translated from Japanese, some of the dialogue is very rarely a bit clunky, but it is never very convincing. Whenever Adol can say something, he has just two options, one of which is clearly the right answer. But he never actually says anything. He just grunts, says “maybe” or “hmm” and does a vague gesture or nod. Why even bother voicing him if you’re never going to have him say anything of substance? Just make him a completely silent protagonist, not this awkward hmm man. Also, only some of the other dialogued is voiced. There are little quips and thoughts when you enter a new area, but during cutscenes, and story points, it’s usually just the first few lines that are said, the rest you must read. Just don’t bother voicing at all, or voice everything. This middle-ground is breaks immersion, and is awkward and frustrating.
Ys VIII’s greatest strength would have to be its opening theme and anime cutscenes. These anime movies, (particularly the opening one) are exciting and make me want to watch an anime of Ys VII, rather than playing it. The opening theme and orchestral soundtrack is quite catchy, but whenever you go into a battle area, it starts playing a ridiculous Dragonforce rip-off that makes me feel like I’m playing in an arcade – and not in a good way. This cheap guitar music and then some simply awful textures (presumably this bad because of the Vita release) and stupid invisible walls limiting your jumping movement on simple ramps make it feel like a PS2-era game.
Look at this grass. From a cutscene, to be fair, but I swear I’m playing on a PlayStation 4, not a PlayStation 2.
Overall, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is inconsistent fun. The explorable map of the island manages to achieve a feeling of tight exploration, but also succeeds in feeling large. It’s a pity the world doesn’t live up to the same standard, feeling like a cheap copy/paste, with plenty of naming weaknesses. Characters are fairly one-dimensional and the soundtrack is tiring and cheap when not orchestral. It’s grating issues such as these which indicates why a franchise such as Ys has only had moderate success outside of Japan. Nothing near the constant praise and hype the likes of Final Fantasy receives and deserves.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was reviewed on PS4.