Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana – Review
I started Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana and wondered what it was that I was missing.
It felt like I was completely behind before I even started, and maybe that is because I am used to games that facilitate the heroic progression of an otherwise unknown protagonist. After starring in eight games, Adol Christin seems to be the awesome red-haired adventurer that existed well before Kvothe tried to make it cool, with an oddly vexing determination to “adventure” as a verb instead of “going on an adventure” in a typical narrative fashion.
Right off the bat, let’s get the big deterrent out of the way. Lacrimosa of Dana’s story is a bit of a pacing nightmare. The beginning feels far too sluggish and apathetic. The quests can be infuriating linear, even so much as to call you out of a dungeon for some ridiculous mini-game. Most importantly, the introduction of the second protagonist, Dana, occurs a good 15 hours into the game if you are casually sight-seeing through the narrative. With this pacing problem, I can only assume that this is why Adol has an alleged burning need to “adventure” in order to keep momentum for the player.
But the core of the game holds very well in spite of the pacing issues. Adol and a shipload of people get stranded on a deserted island and he has to scout the island, rescue passengers, build up a community and keep them alive and civil until help arrives. This is the part that compliments the action-RPG foundation of the Ys series and facilitates the player to enjoy the majority of Lacrimosa of Dana’s gameplay. The shipwreck forces Adol to scrounge for old weapons that had washed ashore over time, and the exploration turns into a functional activity that locates shipwrecked passengers, flora and fauna. Everyone and everything has a potential to contribute to the continued survival of the ‘village’.
The village itself is not an omnipotent construct. It can be attacked by beasts, enabling standard invasion missions where characters fend off waves of enemies to keep the village intact. You can also opt to take on missions to attack locations where enemies may be congregating prior to an attack.
And in the name of all things sacred, I absolutely adore attacking things in this game.
The combat mechanics make sense right from the start, which is refreshing for an RPG, but they are further complimented with an element of strategy to make Lacrimosa of Dana shine. The three attack types – slash, strike or pierce – are effective against squishy enemies, armoured enemies, and flying enemies respectively. Play to your strengths and you are rewarded with a vulnerable enemy and an opportunity to utilise “break” opportunities to deal significant damage. Each character is proficient in a certain attack type, enticing you to switch characters and think tactically before engaging with enemies. Drilling down further, you can map up to four skills for each character that provide additional area effect or element damages. It resonates with my deep love for Diablo 3 to the point that I just actively looked for enemies to fight constantly. Enemies are for the most part easily tracked on the map, although sometimes the multi-level maps get a little confusing.
When I first saw the gameplay outside of cutscenes, I was a little bit unsettled. The textures, the character models, and even the movement of characters felt a little bit too smooth. Perhaps the developers thought I would run all over the ship to meet objectives, but I am a sucker for occupational health and safety – therefore, walking through the ship was lacking the tactile feel that I had when I ran around. I hadn’t played the previous games, so I opted to take a cursory glance at gameplay of previous iterations of the Ys series. Putting it in context, I can recognise that this is the pinnacle of Nihon Falcom’s work on the series to date, although I know that others will miss the grittiness of other western or Japanese RPG graphics that have been developed for the Playstation 4.
Of course, please insert here an almighty eleventy million thumbs up for the music soundtrack, which makes up for the sometimes stilted English voice acting.
This will be a game that will take me months to play as I am notorious for searching for every available side mission and opportunity to level up, but for most others, it will take about 40 hours to complete. That still makes it the longest Ys game to date, and a reasonable slog for an RPG.