Nihon Falcom Corporation‘s Ys series has stood the test of time. In many ways, Nihon Falcom was responsible for how elaborate RPGs could be as we know it by going a step further implementing features which weren’t seen at the time. Having already celebrated the series’ 30th anniversary, the company shows just why Ys is so beloved by many. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is now releasing on Nintendo Switch and is also the first time in 12 years since a Nintendo platform had an Ys title. Although it’s a direct port of the original release on PlayStation Vita in 2016, all of the previously released DLC is included. Ys VIII is not without its unfathomable technical issues and jarring localization, but it is definitely an easy and strong recommendation for Switch owners who crave the next JRPG to add to their library, especially newcomers to the series. The core gameplay and story will keep players hooked up to 40-50 hours.
Adol Christin is a red-haired adventurer and the face of the entire series. Like a Final Fantasy, a series with multiple numbered sequels and spin-offs, Ys VIII can be experienced as a standalone title without prior knowledge of the series despite having Adol as the frontman. Lacrimosa of DANA kicks off with the sailor Adol aboard the ship Lombardia and players are soon introduced to dialog with crew mates which one happens to be Adol’s longtime pal, Dogi, who also plays a large role in shaping Ys VIII’s story. It’s not until long that players are able to run around the ship and talk to NPC’s, getting a feel for the controls, among unlocking DLC packs through the inventory. Ys VIII allows some freedom for customization with the button inputs, camera behavior, text and more. If you’re eager to change Adol’s outfit into something else even while in the first area, such as his iconic Silver Armor, you’re allowed to do so. No matter which way you decide to show off your style while getting acquainted with the ship’s Captain and doing some investigating, it’s not long until the tides turn and a drastic event takes place destroying the ship with everyone aboard essentially lost. During this, players will get their first taste of combat and defense maneuvers. The tales of the Isle of Seiren seem to ring true as not long after Adol wakes up on a shore of an island isolated with very little to protect himself as he searches for clues and other possible survivors.
If there’s one thing that’s fun about Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA, it’s the story. The initial setup may seem slow to take off and it may be hours before it really gets going which may underwhelm players during the beginning. Luckily the story isn’t the only aspect of Lacrimosa of DANA that gets interesting. The gameplay is another fun element and the driving force for every following bits of story that makes the opening hours feel more breezy thanks to its fast-paced and addicting battle system.
With the action happening in real time, players have constant full range of motion and varied tactics at their disposal. The combat feels like a much looser version of the combat found in The Legend of Zelda series and with a larger focus of using skills, or a faster version of XenoBlade combat that is less demanding yet rapid with punch. The combat is both fast in nature and experimental. Complimenting the mechanics is just how snappy it all is.
You may have more than 3 members in your entire party, but only 3 will be active during gameplay depending on who you include. Landscapes are open and filled with different enemy types. To traverse anywhere in the world players may sprint, jump, dodge roll and more. These mechanics are used to move around quickly as well as engage with enemies directly. Players may attack in succession to perform a combo, but they aren’t just limited to the ground. Doing aerial attacks in succession will suspend you in mid-air for a brief moment before the final attack is a blow towards the ground.
Part of what makes the combat so engaging is the varied enemy types. There are basic enemies which are best suited for Adol, since he’s described as an all-rounder who can handle typical ground enemies with ease. In fact, each party member has a particular style that’s better suited towards particular enemies. Laxia is nimble with sharp attacks good against flying enemies while Sahad, albeit slower, uses brute force to easily break hardened-shelled enemies. All enemies will take damage regardless of which attacks are being used, but the difference in damage dealt is far from negligible – especially during intense moments. Using the right member for attacks will also leave enemies in a Break state, stunning them for a brief period allowing for greater damage.
Keeping the action going and attacking an enemy exactly where you stand is one of Ys VIII’s strengths. Players can switch between characters at any given time should they wish to take immediate control. What keeps the action moving without a cause for confusion and camera shifting is that characters actually swap positions in an instant as opposed to taking the player to a different spot. For instance, players using Adol who come across a shelled enemy just need to press the button that allows to switch between characters until Sahad is standing exactly where Adol was standing. Likewise, characters swapped will move to their counter positions respectively. This ability can also be done in the air.
The combat is not all button-mashy, however. Players can still take damage even while dealing it. It can be easy to lose track of how much damage you’ve taken from incoming enemy attacks that didn’t cause you to flinch. There are two mechanics which allow you to gain the upper hand and both require precise timing. These are both the Flash Guard and Flash Move. Pressing either at the exact moment an enemy attack is about to hit you will grant you a brief moment of power. A successful Flash Move will slow down enemy movement allowing you to unleash plenty of damage, at the same time increasing your speed so you can hop from enemy to enemy or get behind a large one. A successful Flash Guard will make you invulnerable to attacks allowing you to unleash multiple attacks without worrying about what’s flying your way. Pulling these off feels incredibly rewarding and they work exactly when you want them to when you read enemy patterns. Not landing one just makes you feel like you want to be better at performing them.
Shared between all party members is an SP (Skill Point) gauge. SP allows the party to perform Skill Moves. Each member can have up to 4 Skill Moves set at a time, essentially leaving 12 different skills to be performed. Players can even unlock more skills and swap the ones they already have out for new ones. Skill Moves are mapped to any of the 4 face buttons, but they don’t interfere with their default actions since a specific button is required to be held before using a Skill Move. These abilities unleash stylish attacks with their own range. Players can check out what the area of effect of a particular Skill Move has just by highlighting them. SP does run out, but Lacrimosa of DANA never wants you to not have fun. SP regenerates with every regular attack that takes place. Soon that SP gauge will fill naturally and quickly. What fills on its own slowly is the EXTRA gauge, but using Skill Moves will fill that up much faster. An EXTRA Skill can only be used once by any character, but only when it’s completely filled. EXTRA Skills are powerful and dramatic attacks that unleash the most damage in any given moment during battle. While they are extremely useful against bosses (which are fantastic designs), don’t hesitate to use them on even smaller enemies; because why not. Use regular attacks to refill your meter for Skill Moves; use Skill Moves to build the EXTRA gauge to perform EXTRA Skills. Nice balance here.
The character interactions and even the AI in general deserves praise here. The Isle of Seiren is a large place full of secrets and unique inhabitants. Generally, exploration plays a big role in Lacrimosa of DANA. While story-driven most of the time, locations are wide open for traversal. When coming across resources, be it fruit, lumber and even ore, a member from your party will mention that something is there. Even coming across particular enemies which are best taken down by particular members of your party, one of them will tell said member that their turn is up or encourage them. The little banters which are fully voiced add a lot to the journey and it makes you feel like an entire team aiming for one goal in mind.
That’s not all about the AI-controlled party members. There’s a lot how Lacrimosa of DANA handles AI which is beneficial to the player which serve as Quality of Life improvements. The AI-controlled members often know when to dodge and are good at attacking surrounding enemies. Often they’ll use Skill Moves in junction with yours. What’s great is that they’ll never be in your way. Your path is simply not blocked as they’ll immediately move and jump over rocks if they have to. Another bonus is they’ll run towards enemy drops and pick them up so you don’t have to; well, most of the time. The only odd thing out of the mostly helpful and smart AI is that they don’t attack enemies until you do. Meaning you can run towards an enemy and a party member will comment about attacking them, but they remain motionless until you make the first move. Ideally, this can be seen as allowing the player to take the initiative, but it’s still weird.
There are other little touches which may be described as Quality of Life improvements, although that may be subjective entirely. For starters, any time an NPC has new dialogue, the first time that speech is activated zooms in on them while they portray facial expressions and hand gestures. Only when you speak to them again does the camera not shift, much like most RPG’s where only a dialog box appears. It’s a subjective matter because on one hand the close-up shots provide immersion and one the other hand players may not care about that and want to read text without it. There’s a lot of dialogue to take in when talking to NPC one after another, but the zoom-in themselves don’t eat up time.
Much to that extent, the game kindly auto-saves. Lacrimosa of DANA provides a large world, but loaded in sections. You can see other parts of the world in the distance, be them landmarks or even the smoke coming from from Castaway Village, in each section of the map you are in. Each time you enter the next section your game will auto-save. Lacrimosa of DANA has its own auto-save file, separate from your manual saves. Likewise, large blue crystals protruding from the ground serve as an auto-save point as well and will completely restore everybody’s health and removes status ailments getting you back into the action or an upcoming boss without worry. Players can choose to manually save by pressing Start (+), going to the Options and choosing Save. Alternatively, players can press Start (+) a 2nd time after pressing it first to skip the menu hopping and save game. Furthermore, fast travel between save crystals and camps can be performed on the map screen. Building on that, pressing Start (+) on the map screen will automatically choose Castaway Village as your destination without searching for it on the map. These little touches are welcomed.
Castaway Village is actually a place you visit often. You must, since it is your base and current home away from home. A major premise of Lacrimosa of DANA is searching for other castaways scattered throughout the Isle of Seiren and bringing them back to Castaway Village for safety. The premise is satisfactory. Each new survivor you find can help out in the village in some sort of way that adds to the gameplay features. What starts off as desolate and empty village turns into a larger, more detailed and occupied village where essentially everyone is helping each other in the best way they can as they are all skilled in certain fields. You will have a doctor around, a blacksmith, a tailor and more. Seeing your village expand and change over the course of the game is a nice thing to see. It makes you call Castaway Village home even though everybody is working together to try and escape the island. Although it’s not all that it seems. Without saying any twists, there’s a connection between certain individuals that players will want to know more about the further they get into the game.
The castaways you find add to the gameplay by opening up more features. Lacrimosa of DANA actually rolls out something new every now and then for the players to engage with, such as crafting armor and weapons, creating new and different potions, among other things. Players will also be involved with side-missions such as village raids which scores you on how well you performed during enemy waves where doing well can earn you rare items. There’s additional Adventure Gear which can be equipped, allowing you to light up caverns, climb vines, walk on water and more. You may even be able to do nighttime exploring when camping, allowing for additional challenge missions great for optional grinding. Rescued castaways are also tallied to a total headcount. Across the world, there may be obstacles such as large fallen trees or boulders which need moving, but require a certain amount of people to help with the process of clearing the path, thus opening new areas. Each castaway has a certain role in the village and along with their personalities, they really feel like part of the story on top of their additions to gameplay. Their inclusion feels natural to the game’s progression. Find another castaway, bring them back, enhance what your village is capable of doing, get more items and advance through the world some more. There’s a certain progression loop here that feels rewarding and is never overstayed.
Most of your drops will come from defeating enemies, but many of those resources which are used for crafting can be acquired by other means. Fishing is a great way to gain items. If players have the bait (which may also be crafted), casting your rod to catch fish can be done in any body of water. However, the best catches are the areas with the shadows of fish lurking around. Party members also have different fishing skills. Sahad is a fisherman so naturally he’ll have the easiest time catching anything. Laxia has better luck with rare fish and can even reel in gems or treasure chests. It’s all up to what the player wants in the moment. Fish can provide hide and bone for crafting, but they also provide meat for cooking. Cooking can be seen as a JRPG hallmark and that feature is not left behind. Players can learn new recipes in the world which provide different buffs and status effects as well as heal the entire party. Cooking can be done at any campfire.
Adol Christin is somewhat of a silent protagonist. He’ll offer passive dialog when roaming anywhere in the world, but when it comes to cut-scenes most of the talking is done by the other characters. During dialog breaks, players are given choices as to how Adol will respond resulting in different dialogue depending on which answer they’ve provided. There will be slight alterations in responses afterward and maybe a few extra lines of dialog, but the story never changes. They serve as brief moments of choosing what type of character Adol is in a scene. Is he a smart-ass or is he serious?
The audio in general is a high point. The English dub is pretty strong and it might be easy to attach to certain characters. Most are generally likable and do a fine job, even for characters you want to hate regardless of if they had a voice or not. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but I’m glad the voice acting is at least as good as it is. It didn’t take long for me to warm up to each character after giving them the time they needed to give off their personality. Remaining on the subject of audio, the soundtrack is just really good. Exploring the sunny shores or caves is upbeat with its charming guitar riffs, drums and piano. Songs change tone when entering mysterious forests. There’s reoccurring tunes for moments of silliness, dramatic scenes and more. They all fit the setting perfectly. Composers Hayato Sonoda and Takahiro Unisuga have created a worthwhile soundtrack.
There’s a lot to say about Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA that is positive. There just plenty to love about this game, what it does and how well it does it. There is still a bit of jank involved which can be overlooked seeing as this is first and foremost originally a PlayStation Vita game. However, there are some issues both pertaining to the transition to Nintendo Switch and what to expect out of that as well as localization issues no matter the platform. First, one would expect better performance and visual “cleanliness” when moving from Vita to Switch. That’s just not the case here. Enemies, NPC’s and objects will fade in. The textures are muddy and low resolution with noticeable seams in certain areas. The shadows are rough when they are present and overall the game looks like it ran through a sharpening filter even when that’s not the case. Character models are designed well, look clean and have a great art style. The textures of their outfits are crisp and their overall look have an anime aesthetic that’s quite nice. However, the environments are completely opposite of that. It’s a weird mesh that can be hard to look at for the modern age, especially with one glaring issue is that it looks like it should run at a solid 60 frames per second, if not more, yet only runs at 30 fps with occasional dips. It’s not a deal-breaker when it comes to enjoying the game at its full, but more optimization could be done here. The game runs about the same in handheld mode, but tilt the camera in certain angles and you’ll get a washed out look. Probably something to do with contrast of the screen and the game’s lighting.
The 2nd issue is how terrible the localization has been handled. Now, I’m sure if you’ve read through this entire review up until now that you’ve probably found a few errors. Mistakes happen. With Lacrimosa of DANA, the level of professionalism has sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Even in the opening sequence, players will find that NPC names don’t match their given names when speaking to them. Grammatical errors are constant throughout. Written lines don’t match up with the voiced lines. Sometimes lines are incomplete. Other times it looks like the dialog box is only showing a small portion of a much larger dialog box and everything looks “off”. To put it bluntly, many times it felt like a fan translation of an international rom. All-in-all, the localization clearly needed proper work done for it, but in no way has it ever kept me out of the loop of the entire plot or left me guessing. If you can overlook these issues, the rest is off-the-hook amazing.