Dawn of a New Day.
Adol the Red has been through a lot. If you’ve ever played a game in the beloved Ys saga, you understand just how many hardships Adol and his friends have faced. In 2012, Adol’s most recent adventure, the fiery haired hero mapped out the mysterious and deadly Celceta, and it was pretty well reviewed from critics and fans alike. For the next five years, Adol would remain AWOL in the west until Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana arrived last year (and soon for PC and Nintendo Switch).
Ys VIII features Adol once again with his longtime friend Dogi. Together, they’re earning their keep as guardsmen on a vessel. When their voyage takes them too close to a mysterious island, their vessel is attacked by an enormous and prehistoric sea creature. After a brief battle in an attempt to save the voyage, Adol, Dogi, and the crew and passengers are shipwrecked on the isle – with many dead or missing. The small band heroes and civilians must gather together to stay alive and explore the island in search of an escape – one that isn’t perpetually blocked by the same creature that ravaged their vessel.
There are so many things to enjoy about this game from the onset until its conclusion that it’s hard to decide where to begin. Visually, Ys VIII on my PS4 Pro shines with stellar colors and crisp aesthetics (on the PS Vita, the game struggles a little bit more, but it runs similarly to Memories of Celceta) that lends to the overall atmosphere of the game. Your characters – a healthy visual upgrade from most of the previous games (Celceta excluded) – scramble to build a defensible living space while exploring the lush greeneries of a seemingly abandoned island. Even when you stumble across ruins from a great nation or climb through dark and grey dungeons, everything looks just right. Accompanying the aesthetics is an incredible soundtrack, one that will linger with you for years and instill nostalgia upon replay. Even the voice acting, which won’t necessarily win any awards, is pretty solid.
Combat in Ys VIII builds upon the hack-and-slash formula the series relies upon. In Ys VIII, however, players are rewarded for perfect blocks and dodges, and can string together such rewarding chains and combos that can make even the largest of enemies hesitate. The natural progression of the game and the exploration you’ll want to take part in both contribute to eliminating any need for grinding. I never found myself slaying beasts for hours to reach a level high enough to pass any obstacles. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of combat, but its action RPG elements means that battle variation is guaranteed, eliminating most combat lethargy (until maybe late into the 60+ hours of gameplay).
In addition to the traditional combat involved in exploring the mysterious island, Adol and company must also defend their home base from the increasingly aggressive waves of monsters. Likewise, Adol and his friends have the ability to venture out into various areas of the island and hunt monsters, and both of these options (though not all of these battles are indeed optional) help build character strength and collect valuable items and materials.
Vast dungeons and landscapes make up the whole of Ys VIII, and you’re able to explore the island as any number of playable character. At any given situation, you’ll maintain a party of three, but you have about six total playable characters with which to do battle. In combat, you can switch your character, and this is used to strategically fight tougher monsters or monsters weak to a certain weapon type. For example, a heavy weapon like the one Sahad or Ricotta wields is great for taking out armored or shelled enemies, while the piercing attacks of, say, Hummel or Laxia are great for flying monsters. It’s a nifty little system that makes combat fluid, and it differentiates the gameplay, keeping it fresh.
What makes Ys VIII stand out from its contemporaries, and even the Ys games of past, is its intriguing island escape premise, well executed combat, and character building (and lore). Truly, every character that exists in the world of Ys VIII is developed fully, from the murderer whose kill you’ll have to investigate to the nun on board the shipwrecked vessel to a pregnant wife of a skillful weaver. Each character has his or her own story fully fleshed out. Additionally, character story arcs depend on who you rescue and how much of the island you explore (there is a lot of ground to cover, and certain characters and areas can only be reached by having a set amount of survivors there to help you overcome any given obstacle). A lot of these characters have quests once you reach a maximum bond level (most of this can be achieved by giving each character an appropriate gift).
With Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana releasing on the PC this month and Nintendo Switch soon after, the time to (re)enter the world of Ys is nigh. With its dual storylines that eventually intersect creating well over 60 hours of gameplay (I had over 80 on my first playthrough), there’s more than enough content to justify a purchase (or second purchase if you’re like me). Any localization issues that hindered its initial release have been wiped clean (there were some nasty translation issues that made it impossible to know what to do next in certain quests), fans who shied away from what looked like a traditional action JRPG should take another look. I promise you, if you’re a fan of the RPG and action RPG genre, there is a lot and more to love about Ys VIII.