Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (Vita)

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was originally for the Vita, but was later ported to the PS4, PS5 and Switch. First off, Falcom always had decent graphics for their games on the Vita, such as Trails of Cold Steel and Ys: Memories of Celceta, and the trend continues here. The game looks great, although it is similar in style to the previously mentioned games, so can feel a bit samey at times.

The game follows Adol, who is travelling on a boat. It gets attacked by a giant sea monster and the boat capsizes. Adol is washed ashore on a mysterious island, named the Isle of Seiren. It’s an infamous place, as it is somewhere that is extremely dangerous from which no one has ever returned from. While on the island, he meets up with the captain of the boat and they work together on surviving. The captain oversees the building of a base where the stranded passengers can stay safe, while Adol explores the island and saves any other passengers that were washed ashore.

Adol starts off alone with weak equipment but that will eventually change. He soon meets up with two more characters, Laxia, who is seemingly your generic tsundere character, and Sahad, a gruff and down to earth kind of guy. Combat was always the key highlight of the Ys series and Lacrimosa of Dana plays in a similar fashion. One button is used for combat and then you can map special moves via hotkeys. The character can dodge and block, and doing these in the right moment will give you bonuses and advantages over the enemy. Finally, the characters can dash and run.

You have three characters in your party at any one time and each one will aid in attacking the monsters. They tend to go off on their own at times to seek out the nearest monsters, which can be good or bad. You can swap the playable character at any time with a button press and each one plays in a different way. Defeated enemies will drop items which you usually use to upgrade equipment, cook, and synthesize. It’s one of those simple but addictive gameplay loops. The key aim is to explore the island, which is separated into small sections that have a loading screen between each one.

The goal of the game is to explore the whole island. Despite what it may look like at first glance, the game is quite linear. It blocks off sections of the island until you have saved enough people to open those paths up. Enemies roam the environment, and they are usually quite easy. From time to time, you might encounter slightly higher leveled enemies that are harder to beat. You’ll have to take advantage of their weaknesses to specific types of weapons in such a case. There are frequent bosses which generally trend towards being big and uniquely designed to impress the player.

Scattered around the world are landmarks, which act as the collectibles of the game. There are fetch quests, as well as combat quests where you need to fight waves of enemies to protect the settlement from being overwhelmed. The game has good quality of life features such as the ability to fast travel from the get-go. However, if you die in combat, you will have to reload from your last save which feels archaic. You could potentially lose quite a bit of progress in such a case. Thankfully, you can save anywhere and anytime but there is a distinct lack of autosaving.

Despite all the positives, the game has a very slow start. It unlocks things at a glacial pace and the story goes nowhere for a long time as it continues its attempt to set things up. The boringness remains for at least 15 hours. The first section revolves around exploring the island and finding castaways, so it can feel repetitive. It gets better as it then unravels the mystery of the island of Seiren but doesn’t quite recover from the slow beginning. However, the exploration and fast paced gameplay never gets old. The characters have depth to them, including all the NPCs who are all given personalities and backgrounds that you spend time on getting to know about. Their dialogue frequently gets updated after every major event.

Collecting item drops from enemies is a huge part of the game. Every enemy you defeat will drop at least one item. They are used to get all your items, including equipment, potions, and food. You will struggle to upgrade everything right after something unlocks but that is what keeps you wanting to get out and explore. There’s also a bit of inventory management happening early on. You must go into the menu to constantly swap items that you need to equip to climb up vines or to see in the dark. Thankfully, you will eventually unlock more slots, but it is still much more annoying than it has any right to be.

There are some annoyances with the game such as the overly slow panning of the camera during scenes and equally slow animations. If there was a way to speed them up, that would be great. combine this with the large amount of filler in the story and the game can feel bloated. The story does become better towards the end as it explains the way the world works with a huge revelation. The ending can feel weak and rushed, but it highlights the relationships built between the characters and when the credits roll, it feels a bit sad to say goodbye to the characters.

When you eventually unlock all the characters and build up a good repertoire of skills, the gameplay still doesn’t get boring. At its core, it is simple but it’s just so easy and addictive. The difficulty can trend towards being a grind at times, with some enemies having too much HP, doing too much damage, or moving too fast for you to hit consistently. Most of the side quests are hunt or fetch quests but they are dressed up with some dialogue to try and mask the repetitive nature of them. The game had a terrible translation upon release and got a patch, but there are still formatting errors here and there.

The game takes around 30 to 40 hours to complete, depending on how much you explore and the difficulty that you are playing on. As per usual for Falcom games, there are a lot of missables and you can load your cleared save into a New Game Plus while carrying over a lot of things to make the second playthrough easier and faster. Even if you don’t, you can continue to explore the island and find all the collectibles and items. This is a big game and very impressive for the Vita.

Overall, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is a good game and the best Ys yet. The gameplay is fast paced and polished and there is a high emphasis on exploring. It is a lot of fun finding new areas, although enemies are a little bit on the bloated side in terms of health, so it can start to grate later. Similarly, the story is too bloated with a slow first half, and even when the plot picks up, it wastes a lot of time with slow animations and scene transitions. The story itself is much more in depth than you would expect, and while it doesn’t completely justify the first half, it is a good story by the end.


For other game reviews, have a look at this page and this page.
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