Game name: Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA
Release date: April 16, 2018
Price: US$ 59.99
Available on: Steam
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: NIS America
The saga of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA‘s PC release has been long and mostly sad for RPG fans who prefer to game on personal computers instead of consoles. First, we had to deal with an unexpected delay that ended up chaining the game’s release window with the announcement of an updated translation, and once that important work was out of the way, we had to wait even longer, since the publisher had seemingly underestimated the amount of manpower needed to port Nihon Falcom‘s latest epic. Thankfully, those times are now behind us, and we can all enjoy a modern Ys installment without having to wait years for it.
With that small introduction out of the way, it’s time to see if the good people working at Nihon Falcom‘s offices still have their magic touch when it comes to crafting memorable RPGs that can stand the test of time in an age dominated by the likes of The Witcher 3 or Persona 5.
Of course, as an Ys title, Lacrimosa of DANA won’t be fighting on equal terms with these two behemoths when it comes to story, since the focus of this series has always been on gameplay. The usual story beats found on most Ys games will also ring true here, with self-styled adventurer Adol Christin suffering an accident and awaking on an uncharted island at the beginning of the narrative. From that moment onwards, we’ll have to explore the land, rescue other people who’ve become trapped in the island at the same time as Adol, and create a self-sufficient settlement that can keep everyone alive while we search for a way off this savage place.
This community building aspect works quite well both narrative and gameplay-wise, and the best aspects of the game’s story were those that had to do with the castaways’ personal quirks. As their de facto leader, we’ll get to accompany our fellow shipwreck survivors through their own journey of discovery, and the experience will undoubtedly add a lot more depth to the story than any number of cutscenes could ever hope to. Of course, as we said previously, the game also deals with a grander plot line focused on more important things like saving the world (no biggie!). Sadly, this part of the narrative will quickly devolve into a collection of cliches, and at times, I would have preferred to be back in control, hacking away at hordes of foes instead of being forced to watch exposition being thrown at the screen by the game’s cast of main characters. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, with the spotlight quickly returning to the castaways’ down to earth storylines as if the writers were aware that their strongest material wasn’t the overarching plot.
Ys VIII‘s most interesting character isn’t our hero or any member of his party however. Instead, we’ll be surprised at every turn by the wonders of the setting, a strange island untouched by civilization and populated by ancient beings that strongly resemble dinosaurs. Since one of our primary objectives involves exploring and mapping this landmass, we’ll spend quite a bit of time familiarizing ourselves with the terrain and acquiring “adventure gear” that will let us get past natural obstacles (which, as expected from a developer of Nihon Falcom‘s caliber won’t appear as forced walls designed to limit our ability to advance the game’s story, but are actually well designed and make sense in the context of this title). New paths will open up at every step of the way, and upon returning to our base camp, characters will make requests that help shine a new light into these undiscovered lands. Completing such requests will grant us rewards, of course, both tangible and intangible, in the form of stronger bonds with the residents of our small village.
Aside from being able to follow individual party members’ plot lines, strengthening our bonds with them will also help with both our exploration mission, and another part of the game that we haven’t discussed up to now, which is none other than settlement defense scenarios that play out from time to time, as the savage inhabitants of the island gather their numbers and unleash all out assaults on our little village. During these events, we’ll have to take advantage of Adol’s experience as an adventurer and an accomplished fighter, swiftly dashing in and out of danger, and delivering fatal blows whenever we get the chance. A speedy combat system that rewards accuracy and timing will be in the spotlight here, as our hero jumps, dashes, blocks and strikes his way through hordes of bloodthirsty creatures hell-bent on our destruction.
Thankfully, even if the odds seem a bit stacked on the side of the ancient defenders of the island, we’ll have an extra trick up our sleeve, since certain shipwreck survivors can actually help out in combat, jumping in to help at the touch of a button. Up to three characters will always be in our party, delivering blows on their own, and generally minding their own business. Every enemy type has their own weakness, and it’s up to us to find which party member can exploit it better, so instead of only using Adol to defeat our foes, we should ideally try to spend time with the rest of the cast as well. This mechanic is similar to the elemental weapons system used in pre-Ys Seven titles, though thanks to the speed of the action and the beauty (and simplicity) of the animations involved in each switch, it actually feels fresher than ever. Of course, the responsiveness of the controls helps a lot in this regard, but I’d be lying if I said that I ever expected any different after thoroughly sampling Nihon Falcom‘s earlier work.
As expected from an RPG, we’ll also get to grow in power, learning new skills and unlocking powerful finishing moves that can be used to bring down most normal opponents with a swift and terrible blow. A crafting system lets us create useful items and equipment, with new villagers regularly joining our ragtag band of survivors and offering their expertise in several areas in exchange for materials and help. Continuing the game’s trend of avoiding the pitfalls most RPGs seem to fall into, help requests are easy to understand and make sense in the context of the story. Too often we’ve been cast as the hero of a videogame, marked since birth as the savior of humanity, only to be forced to collect x amount of rat pelts or flowers for unknown reasons. Here, we are an adventurer searching for a way home, and all the things we gather as we defeat enemies or explore new lands can actually be used to improve our friends’ living conditions or create new tools that will get us closer to our destination.
After all the praise I’ve heaped upon Ys VIII‘s gameplay, I wish I could say the same for the PC port, but sadly, it would seem that NIS America was not able to deliver a quality experience, even after multiple delays. A locked internal resolution stars as the most annoying issue present in this PC conversion of Nihon Falcom‘s latest epic (some weird input problems would have topped this list, but thankfully the developers were able to fix them before this review was published), preventing players from improving performance by lowering the resolution, and a plethora of crashes and strange shader bugs will make some fans’ lives miserable. At least the translation has been finally fixed (though the PC port has some weird typos that won’t affect our enjoyment of the adventure but nonetheless shouldn’t be present in a full priced release). Since launch, the publisher has been issuing patches at a steady rate, squashing the most egregious bugs and managing to provide a playable experience for most players, but the state of the game at release was bad enough to warrant a mostly negative Steam rating (a rare sight, considering that all the other Nihon Falcom PC ports have enjoyed a warm reception on the platform).
Technical issues aside, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is Nihon Falcom‘s magnum opus, a masterpiece that will be remembered for years to come as the developer’s lasting legacy.
9.5/10 – Excellent.