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Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA (Switch) artwork

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA (Switch) review

"Attempting to be epic without the content to back it up"

Let me be honest for a moment: I don't like RPGs. If you want to hit the back button now, I don't blame you; it does make it kinda hard to review this game. But the thing is, there are exceptions, and when I find a rare RPG I end up enjoying, I end up REALLY enjoying it. So it's still worth a shot playing them every once in a while. Ys VIII is a well-credentialed action RPG, and if it's an action-RPG that means its only 50% RPG, and that means there's a 50% less chance that I will be bored by it, right? But alas, my fuzzy math did not work out in my favor.

It starts out promising enough. After a lovely introductory tune, we meet our protagonist Adol, who unfortunately ends up shipwrecked on a mysterious island (apparently, this sort of thing is a common occurrence for him). Naturally, being the chiseled 21 year old veteran adventurer that he is, he sets out searching for other survivors and becoming a leader in the new shipwrecked community. But as he and his allies search for a way off the island of Seiran, he keeps having recurring dreams of a strange young magical blue-haired girl (of course, it's a well known scientific fact that all strange young magical girls have blue hair) named Dana. And it rapidly becomes clear that this is no coincidence, and naturally Dana's story begins to intertwine with the shipwrecked crew and they begin to realize that there's larger and more mysterious elements at play here than a mere shipwreck. Y'know, standard RPG stuff.

But it does work to set the stage. You aren't heading into the world to fulfill your destiny; you're simply exploring the island to look for survivors or valuable resources. You aren't coming across numerous towns and cities with shops and NPCs; there's just your own home base to give you a reprieve from exploring. There's some equipment and treasures, but for the most part you're gathering resources to craft upgrades or items and the like. And there's not a team of recurring snarky villains or the Evil Empire that you must face time and again; bosses are often just the strange wildlife that exists on the island (and unlike most RPGs, there's a legitimate story-based reason for them to exist). Oh, there's still the adventuring party and leveling up and skills and exploring dungeons and all, but still the game does its job of staying true to the setting.

Meanwhile, combat is, as you undoubtedly guessed, action-based rather than turn-based. Time your strikes in between enemy attacks, and use one of 4 different equipped skills to further increase your damage. You can customize which skills you want and level them all up individually, too. But mostly watch their patterns of attack, and time your dodge or block just right in order to perform a devastating counterattack. Or just turn the difficulty down and button mash; you do you. Your other party members can join in on their own or stay away depending on your orders, and each are strong against different types of beasts. There's nothing innovative or new here, but that's not always necessary, right?

Does this interest you? Then go ahead, try it out. All of these elements are put together well enough. The island makes sense as a cohesive unit, and there's enough care given in the level design of dungeons and the like to try to realistically fit them into the landscape. The initial 25% or so of the game, in which you are seeking and recovering other survivors provides an enjoyable meta-reward system, as you get to see how your "town" changes with each new guest and how the new characters interact with each other, giving you a sense of progression beyond the normal stat-boosts and the like. The main plot unfolds in a reasonably well-crafted manner, successfully building layers of mystery while slowly answering those mysteries throughout the story in order to keep the plot moving forward. And the combat is reasonably in-depth for a game of this style. Ignoring my own biases for a moment, I can see why the game is generally well-reviewed.

But for me, these things are just... ok. Nothing grabs me and keeps me hooked, and so I can't look past the tedium I often feel. Take the characters, for instance. They're a colorful bunch, each with distinct characteristics. But they're also kinda cliche. Of course Adol is the silent, determined doer of justice and defender of all that is good. Of course the mother acts motherly towards everyone else. Of course there's a precocious "cute" little girl who's constantly cheerful. And of course the aristocrat is a clueless, complete jerk who can't drop his pretentious act despite the gravity of the situation. They're not people, they're just archetypes. That's not necessarily a bad thing; Luke and Han and Vader were archetypes in the first Star Wars, but it still worked, right? But there needs to be something striking (clever dialogue, clever design, clever plot twists, whatever) to make them memorable. Here, I just didn't see it. But hey, maybe you will.

Same thing with the game itself. There's plenty of exploration, plenty of combat, plenty of content. And it feels rather perfunctory. Some have described the exploration aspect as Metroid-esque, but there is very little backtracking, and what is there is always clearly marked on your map with clear indication of what's needed to get there. That's entirely different than remembering a room and wondering if you can get further in it, or running back on a different objective and seeing architecture that you can now interact with. You know, like a good Metroid-esque game. Meanwhile, there are plenty of secret chests that you can find, which sounds cool... until you realize virtually all of them have useless junk in it. Which brings me to the crafting aspect, which acts as the main source of items and equipment (can't have a money based economy on an isolated island, after all). Sounds like potentially interesting resource management, right? Nah; I was constantly running out of metal ores while constantly overflowing with everything else. Healing items were ridiculously cheap, and nothing else was really worthwhile to make except upgrading weapons via metal. So what's the point?

Ultimately, I think a lot of my problem with the game comes down to one thing: there's an incredible amount of padding here. The exploration and crafting felt more like checkmarks on a list of stuff to do than well designed, but if that was the extent I might be fine. But the game just keeps throwing stuff at you in hopes that it will stick. You can take part defending your camp against raids of monsters, which sounds cool the first time you do it, but is aggravating the eighth time when you just want to move the game along already. And then you can go on offensive raids too for more padding! Or there's nighttime missions, where you go through dungeons again with different enemies and different items. Then the game encourages you to fish and learn recipes and cook, when I just want to play the game. And just when you're getting in the groove of things, your team gets pushed aside to focus on Dana.

As interesting as the Dana storyline is, I think it cuts to the heart of the problem. After the first chapter or so, you'll constantly switch between Adol's crew and spending time with Dana. But they're completely separate events, so virtually nothing you do, gameplay-wise, with Dana matters to the Adol crew. Your experience doesn't matter, your item usage doesn't matter. And then we have brand new game mechanics with Dana that never come into play with Adol, so you either forget all about them whenever Dana-time comes around again or you try to ignore it and rush through Dana's segments as fast as possible. Why bother exploring her areas if it's secondary to the game? Don't get me wrong: there's a reason, plot-wise, for all of this, and you can't just erase her from the game. But that doesn't mean that these lengthy diversions with their own mechanics help, especially when the game feels too long as it is.

So how would you rate it? I admit this review is pretty negative, but it's not a bad game. If you like action RPGs, go for it! You'll probably enjoy the combat and find the exploration and story and stuff acceptable. Personally, if the game was half as large, I'd probably enjoy it too. But as time went on, all the nagging little details just kept piling up. The one-note characters were fine in smaller doses but simply didn't evolve enough. The new ideas and mechanics were ok the first time, but they just kept getting thrown in when all I wanted to do was play the game. But then even pushing the game forward started to become tedious as well when exploration was no longer a major reward. A little more focus and I'd have been satisfied, but it's still probably good enough for fans of the genre.

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (March 04, 2019)

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Ogreatgames posted March 05, 2019:

Good review!

For me, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is one of the most awesome games to ever grace the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation Vita, PC, and PlayStation 4.

If there's one thing in this game that really made a mark on me, it's its incredibly impressive combat mechanics.

I wasn't surprised when Game Informer gave Ys VIII the "Best Action Combat System" award back in 2017 RPG of the Year Award.
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hastypixels posted March 15, 2019:

Somehow the YS series has come across to me as the "safe zone" of JRPGs, where everything is familiar and well done, if rehashed. There's been a buzz about one of its titles once a decade or so, but it's not one of those innovative series that reinvents itself, ala Final Fantasy.

If you like the same breakfast every morning, that's a good thing, but naturally it's a matter of preference...

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