Last month the Nintendo Switch saw the release of a port of the epic RPG Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. Jordan was lucky enough to review where you can watch the video below this paragraph or the written review you can check out here.For those who don’t know, Ys VIII was a game originally released in Japan on the Vita back in 2016, and not making its way over to our shores until late 2017. The game is an action-based RPG with an open yet linear world, with deceptively deep combat and an incredibly engaging story that some may find a little slow to get rolling. I firmly believe it is well worth your time, but I’m not here to review the game right now.
What I would like to discuss is how Ys VIII approaches a certain aspect of the RPG genre, an aspect that is vital to most RPGs: towns. The story of Ys VIII has you stranded on a deserted island, searching for survivors from the shipwreck that marooned you there, and also finding your way home. Because of this, the game cannot exactly have you scouring the land and stumbling across towns everywhere. How did the developers manage to work around such a conundrum?
Essentially, the game has just one town. You and your fellow castaways set up what is called Castaway Village, a safe haven for those recently marooned on the island. The village has a makeshift potion shot, weapons smith, quest board, shops, and basically everything you would expect from a typical RPG town. This isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, other RPGs have had a single town game before. So why am I making such a big deal about this? What’s different?
Well, the difference is where all those other games feel empty due to the lack of other towns, and narratively odd as to why certain shops and amenities are locked away from you, Ys VIII manages to weave all that into the narrative. Castaway Village grows when you find more castaways to contribute. Each person you find marooned on the island has a skill they can add to the town, from a medic, to a smithy, to a shopkeep. The more people you find, the more lively the town gets, and the more your new home builds up over time.
“You will get to know these people, do quests for them, and protect them from attacks.”
Because you are finding these castaways piecemeal through your travels, each one of these new villagers you find become more fleshed out than the typical NPC of other RPG towns. You will get to know these people, do quests for them, and protect them from attacks. The game has you become much more attached to those on this journey with you, even the ones who are not in your party fighting alongside you.
I had taken all of this for granted at first, painting the game as just another lazy one-town game. What changed my mind was a certain story thread that I won’t spoil directly here, but those sensitive to spoilers may consider skipping this paragraph. An event in the game happens which rocks Castaway Village to its core, making you question who you can trust and endangering the lives of all those you have been saving. This rather short part of the story hits fairly hard considering it involves what would be just characterless NPCs in other RPGs. Ys VIII does a great job of building a bond with the town and its people though in such a way that you can’t help but feel angry, sad, and somewhat helpless through this section of the story.
There are many reasons Ys VIII is a must play for lovers of RPGs. The game does so many things well, and its quality seeps out of every part of it (besides the visuals, though this is a Vita port). The single town aspect I’ve highlighted here though is one that I feel has been underrated and overlooked by a lot of people though. I feel this is one of the games biggest strengths, one that I’d love to see other RPGs continue to capture in the future.