"Adventures Made Ys-sy"
Since 1987, Ys has invited players to journey to lands unknown. Over the last 30 years, the Ys franchise has gone through some startling changes, but it has never lost the original sense of wonder that made it the very special series it is. With this latest outing, Ys once again proves itís best in class.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is the latest numbered entry in the venerated Ys series and sees series protagonist Adol Christin once again sailing to a new land in search of adventure. Adolís rocky relationship with sea travel quickly rears its ugly head, however; he and the ship's crew are soon shipwrecked on the deserted (and supposedly cursed) Seiren Island. There, Adol and friends quickly set up a small village and begin trying to find a way to escape.
As the characters make that effort, players will discover that an ancient civilization once existed on the island. The titular Dana makes her appearance and the narrative incorporates an interesting time travel gimmick thatís fully fleshed out with a playable Dana. That does a lot for the narrative, establishing Dana as a great new heroine that stands out among Falcomís already phenomenal stable of heroines.
While Ys VIIIís scenario is an interesting send-up to "The Land That Time Forgot" and similar stories, its true strength lies in its characters. Past Ys games have been building toward a more fleshed out supporting cast, and Ys VIII finally realizes those ambitions by introducing party members and NPCs that largely feel like real people trying to survive on a deserted island without ever losing sight of their ambitions. Itís obvious Falcomís Trails series has been rubbing off onto its other properties, and itís great to see Ys finally catching up in that regard. Itís unfortunate, then, that NISAís localization was seemingly rushed. Portions of the script feel dry, without a lot of the charm and personality previous entries handled by XSEED received. Thatís not to say NISA did a bad job (far from it), but it is a disappointing development just the same.
Easily the best aspect of Ys VIII is the way it really sells the idea of survival within an action-RPG framework. Adol must search the island for supplies, find survivors to bolster their numbers and fend off invading wild animals hellbent on taking back their turf. I especially appreciated the fact that due to their circumstances, everybody on the island has adopted a barter system where items and supplies are exchanged for better items, weapons and clothing. It makes item gathering feel much more integral to the core gameplay loop, and it thankfully never becomes obnoxious or a burden.
Of course, exploration is at the core of any Ys game, and Ys VIII delivers. Like Ys: Memories of Celceta before it, Ys VIII asks that players explore the entirety of the island, with a percentage counter keeping track of their progress. Unlike Celceta, however, Seiren Island is quite diverse. It features jungles, swamps, mountains and more to keep players motivated to discover whatís ahead. Ys VIII also introduces landmarks which not only serve as eye candy along the journey, but as useful warp points when the party needs to fast travel.
The world at large is a joy to explore, but dungeons deserve special commendation. The first few dungeons consist largely of linear caves, but soon become sprawling labyrinths that take players from beautiful coral reefs to a ghost ship and beyond. I especially found myself loving the optional multi-layered dungeon players will find themselves returning to over the course of the game, as it features some of the best encounters and puzzle design Falcom has put together in recent times.
Where combat is concerned, Ys VIII is the latest game to use the party-based system first introduced in Ys Seven. In essence, players can switch between three characters in real time to dole out damage to foes. Playable characters are also assigned a damage type that certain monsters are weak against. Itís imperative players learn to switch between damage types, so they can quickly defeat the more intimidating creatures that populate the island.
As they make their way across Seiren, players can use flash guard and flash move, as well as character-specific skills. It's true that skills have been around since Ys Seven, but the variety on display here is the best itís ever been. Not only are the skills far more useful, but each characterís skill set is fun enough that players will want to actively experiment and find their favorites. With flash guard, players can guard against attacks at just the right moment to negate damage and deal critical damage for a limited time afterward. Flash move, on the other hand, allows players to dodge attacks right before they connect in order to slow down time and deal a large number of hits for a limited time. Thanks to the skills, flash guard, flash move and a rock solid 60 FPS combined, Ys VIII presents the most robust and satisfying combat the series has yet seen.
If you find yourself yearning for more of a challenge, pay attention to the Interception and Suppression missions Ys VIII introduces. The former is a tower defense mini-game of sorts that invites players to take on increasingly difficult waves of enemies while protecting the village gate. The latter has players taking on a mini-raid, where the party must wipe out monster nests while lighting torches throughout a small map. Both modes score players on their effectiveness and encourage them to retry for a higher score. I honestly was expecting to hate both modes, but each one is incredibly fun. They only borrow the elements from their inspirations that work within the context of Ys, while disregarding more irksome qualities.
Of course, as this is Falcom, one of the more pressing questions one may have is how the music turned out. Thankfully, Ys VIII continues Falcomís pedigree of phenomenal music, from the sweeping orchestral opening thatís reminiscent of Xanadu to the rocking boss tracks. Of particular note, the first track players hear upon initially setting off to explore the island is one of the finest pieces of music Falcom Sound Team jdk has ever composed, and itís quite the welcome to what ended up being one of my favorite experiences of the year.
Despite inspiring countless far more popular titles over the last 30 years, Ys has never quite gained the foothold it deserves in the West. With Ys VIII, Falcom has crafted the most approachable entry in the series to date. Itís fast, itís fun and itís easily the best adventure Iíve taken this year. Series veterans are going to find a lot to love here. More importantly, however, newcomers have an incredible place to start their adventures with Ys. I can virtually guarantee you they'll return for more.
Freelance review by Zachary Walton (September 11, 2017)
Zach Walton likes JRPGs, visual novels, horror games and anything that gives him an excuse to drink.
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