Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana Nintendo Switch Review by SwitchWatch

Developer: Falcom

Publisher: NIS America

Release Date: Out now!

Price as of Article: £49.99 GBP $59.99 USD

Game code provided by NIS America for review

Introduction

Ys is a long running and well loved series. It has been around since 1987, the same year as the first Final Fantasy game. With only its eighth mainline game compared to Final Fantasy’s fifteenth, it’s clear to see that maker Falcom like to take their time between iterations. While never a huge success, it’s a series that’s always had a bit of a niche following, especially in the west. Although, counter to the usual trend, it seems to be a series on the rise after Ys Celceta a good few years ago and now Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana which released on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita last year. It’s now out on the Nintendo Switch and I for one, couldn’t be any more excited as this entry is almost a downright classic in my opinion.

Story

The story is usually the first and most important point with regards to JRPGs. The story follows the lead protagonist Adol, a young adventurer, and his older friend Dogi as they hitch a ride on a ship sailing across the ocean to somewhere adventure lies. As part of their entry fee they are required to work on the ship as sailors. As with any ship in any JRPG ever, the fate of the ship is of course in doubt and it’s not long until you’re attacked by a giant sea monster.

Now, back when this game was initially released, I played it and I was thoroughly unimpressed with the opening segment. It was a bad introduction, very ham-fisted, bland and with forced exposition. It came across as a little amateurish in how rushed it was to explain things that the characters already knew. Since that time, the translation was completely redone thanks to a backlash from players. Aside from some wrongly listed meals, I actually didn’t notice too much wrong with it and I genuinely can’t tell the difference between now and before. Indeed, if this is the new translation, it’s hardly perfect too since I did notice some obvious grammatical errors here and there.

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The beginning aside, I want to stress that Ys VIII actually had me very captivated during my playthrough. After the beginning I was wholly prepared to be in for a really mediocre, cliched filled story and while that latter point may still be true, after the opening I was fascinated by what the story had to offer.

It’s not that the writing improves into something to be particularly proud of, although it does hold back on treating you like an idiot, but more the fact of what it develops into. As Adol finds himself washed ashore after the ship was taken under by the monster we now begin a deserted island survival story; finding your fellow castaways, building a base and making the most of what you have, all the while discovering the secrets of the cursed Isle of Seirens.

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Without wanting to spoil too much, right from the beginning Adol has constant dreams about the sub-titular Dana, which of course don’t make sense until a little later on when things start to come together. The fate of Adol and Dana is the key to this story and how their fates unravel really had me gripped from beginning to end.

As stated, it’s not the best story in the world, it has a few too many tangents for my liking at times, it’s just the situation that appeals to my tastes as an RPG gamer from a time gone by.

Gameplay

Combat is a huge part of RPGs. As far as I’m aware, Ys has always been an action RPG series and this iteration is no different. It’s incredibly action orientated. Now, unlike normally, I’m not going to tell you which buttons do what for the simple fact that I remapped most of the default face buttons. I found the default settings to be unsatisfactory. I’ve played too many Dynasty Warriors games to deal with what Ys VIII presented to me at first. I was very grateful for the option to change them which is great thinking on the parts of the the developers. All too many games these days refuse to let you remap buttons, but not here.

You have your normal damage dealing attack which can be spammed as much as you want. This is usually perfectly fine for taking out smaller enemies or ones you’ve levelled up beyond. When things get a little tougher you’re going to want to take advantage of each of the characters unique skill attacks. These are more powerful, of course, and offer a little more to the battle. You can equip up to four at a time and these can be used by holding the right shoulder button + which ever face button an attack is mapped to. At the beginning of the game I tended to avoid using them, but around 10 hours or so I started to realise their incredible usefulness. While they use up SP, this can be quickly gained back by attacking normally so you can be fairly liberal with them.

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When things get really, really tough you can use your super attack which has its own special gauge that takes much longer to fill up. These are generally worth saving for boss fights or some of the larger enemies that roam the fields. This can be activated by holding both shoulder buttons together.

It’s not all quite so mindless though. There’s strategy here, especially useful if you play on the harder difficulties. Of the three characters you’ll have in your battle party at any one time, you’ll want one of each that specialise in different beasts. For example, Adol and Sahad are pretty useless against flying enemies and will do little damage to them. Lexia, however, can do real damage to them and “break” the opponent, lowering their defences and allowing the others to do real damage too. Sahad is good at taking on enemies with hard bodies such as sea monsters with shells, while Adol is good against monsters with soft bodies. The other characters that join you will also share one of these preferences. Thankfully you can switch between team mates with a tap of a button, allowing you to utilise your allies to their most usefulness, instead of relying on the AI to know where they’re the most useful.

There’s also a dodge mechanic and a guard mechanic, each of which if timed correctly can grant you a bonus. So, there’s generally a lot to the combat. It may sound like too much but I don’t think it’s all entirely necessary if you don’t want it to be. Obviously on higher difficulties you’ll need to utilise everything you can muster, but on easy mode you can just stroll through. That’s another plus point about this game – there are a lot of varied difficulty settings.

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So aside from rescuing other castaways and trying to find a way off the island, you can help them with anything they need. For example, if the doctor wants to experiment with a new medicine then he may ask you to find ingredients. Some reward you with items, others improve your base and all of them improve your affinity with the character, allowing them to be more useful in defending your base. I don’t think you really need to do them, but I actually enjoyed seeing the side stories of all the characters you help out. There’s a little bit more heart here to the side quests that what you find in other Japanese RPGs these days.

I love this game by the way. Exploring, recruiting people and building a base are just some things that are often found in my most beloved RPGs: Suikoden, Skies of Arcadia, Dark Cloud, Azure Dreams just to name a few of my favourite games of all time and it’s not a coincidence that they all share some sort of base camp/recruitment mechanic. There’s not a huge amount of depth or micromanaging going on here, but it’s enough to keep me wanting to do more and more. While fighting monsters and unravelling the story are the backbone of the gameplay, it’s actually the constant stream of finding new people to populate your new colony that truly drove me forward. There was always a buzz when I found someone new to add to my base and in turn, expand the amenities available. It’s a game that always made me want more and more, in that regard it’s one very difficult to put down, even though I’ve played through all of it already.

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In terms of comparison, I had very strong vibes of Xenoblade Chronicles mixed with a Monster Hunter-lite kind of experience with a Dreamcast/PlayStation 2 style presentation of Final Fantasy X and Skies of Arcadia heavily resonating with me. If that sounds up your alley then you’ll probably love Ys VIII as much as I do. These are high praise comparisons but that’s genuinely how I feel while exploring the island of Seirens.

Visuals

It’s not perfect though, the weakest aspect of the game for me is in the visuals. I was so looking forward to playing this in full HD on the TV screen, seeing the nice bright colours really pop was almost a dream for me as a non-PS4 owner. As soon as I booted the game up I was instantly disappointed. Without wanting to sound too harsh, it looks absolutely terrible on a big TV. And this is coming from someone who thought the Vita game looked great. The character models are nice but the outside environments are borderline unacceptable. Everything has horrific graininess during movement, almost like static over the screen and it’s almost painful to play. Not only that but the colours have been toned down and come out much darker than what I remember. I’m not entirely sure what went wrong here considering this game should not be pushing the systems capabilities.

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It looks much better in handheld mode with everything scaled down, and it’s far more acceptable of an experience. But still, with graphics on par with a HD PlayStation 2 game, this should not look this bad. I honestly can’t believe they are happy to release the game looking as it does. When you have a beautiful looking game like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the docked visuals here are just not up to it. Only play this in handheld mode.

Performance wise, it wasn’t perfect either although it’s not terrible as far as I can tell. It’s kept to 30 frames per second with some stuttering here and there but nothing major that impacted the gameplay. Just like the Vita version, there’s noticeable pop-in and low animation frames on distant enemies. I was hoping that could have been smoothed out for this release but it’s not to be sadly.

Audio

The audio is outstanding. There are some stellar tunes here in Ys VIII. From sweet, considered tracks in safe zones to full on blood pumping goodness out in the field and during boss battles. This is one game you’ll want to get your headphones out for to inject it straight into your ears. This is certainly a soundtrack I would love to listen to outside of the game, and actually I do. Since hearing for the first time a year ago, having the soundtrack on my phone to listen to any time was a high priority. I highly recommend turning up the music and the sound effects down a notch just to take it all in.

Value

For value, in my opinion you’re getting one of the best, most likeable RPGs of the modern era. Thanks to the large file size you’re looking at a full price game, $60 and £50. That’s currently a lot more than you can get it for on PS4 and Vita which I think is fair to consider, especially as for me, this port isn’t exactly ideal despite being a fantastic game. As much as I truly wanted it on my Switch I feel I may have been better going for a PS4 version if I wanted to play primarily on the TV. If you only play handheld then the Vita version may be good, but the Switch is equal, if not better in that regard. Whichever version you do go for however, I don’t think you will regret your purchase as it is a fantastic game.

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Pros

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Great story premise

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Nice action battles

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Sublime music

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Base building and recruitment

Cons

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It looks awful in docked mode

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Performance isn't great