Following the outstanding success of Tokyo Xanadu, which is largely regarded as a new IP, Falcom gets back to one of its established franchises with Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana. This newest episode has a particular taste since it’s likely to be Falcom’s last Vita game.
Already active is past Ys games, the red-headed adventurer Adol Christin is again a the center of this action-RPG. He’s travelling on board of the ship Lombardia when the latter gets attacked by a giant sea monster that sinks it without mercy. Adol wakes up in a desert island he recognizes at once : the cursed island of Seiren, well-known for causing shipwrecks. The fearless explorer has nothing more than a rusted blade to defend himself. He will thus seek help and form a small group with Laxia, an aristocratic girl good at fencing, and fisherman Sahad. Joined by the captain of the Lombardia and Adol’s old pal Dogi, they start building a small village to shelter themselves and the remaining refugees.
In his sleep, Adol will have visions of a priestress called Dana. Despite living in distant eras, Dana feels she’s linked to Adol somehow and will seek to help him by interacting from the past. Thrown into each other’s mind at night, Adol and Dana will complement each other to solve the mysteries of Seiren, a bit as if Falcom had written Your Name before Makoto Shinkai. The player follows both stories in parallel until those two scenarios connect in a beautiful way, and give a new and strong momentum by reaching superior stakes like in any good JRPG. Dana’s part was absolutely remarkable on the emotion side, with relevant narrative steps and perfect emphasis on important scenes.
Like a virtual Indiana Jones, you’re going to explore the numerous parts of the island one after another. Let’s stress right away that the mini-map is (finally) removable and that you can choose to experience a more old-school progression if you like, finding your way only by the general map. And you’ll need it, because Ys VIII features one of the biggest worlds ever created on PSVita. Dense forests, lots of ancient ruins, muddy field, dark caves, mountain peaks and even underwater parts! The progression constantly renews itself and is an adventure like you’ve never seen.
Despite being a bit linear (the regions of the map unlock very progressively), the game features interesting level design, it being complex terrain where you can get lost easily. Verticality is very impressive, has the game has you cross tortuous mountain paths or a large tower. It also leads to diversions given the hostile environment : the nature of Seiren will make you bite the dust, but the thrill of exploration is totally there. Sure enough, Ys VIII has some Xenoblade vibes in it. Even better, you’ll everything on a yet again splendid soundtrack. Seldom music will have enchanted the player as he runs in the wilderness. Lost in Green or You’ll See the End of the Tales come to mind, but there are many more like that.
The wonders of Seiren will enchant you too as Falcom borrows Zestiria’s discovery system. The exploration continues even outside the main scenario since you may come back to previously visited locations equipped with new exploration items (for example the feather allows the double jump) or new recruits in the drifting village, and thus uncover new secrets such as underground temples, etc.
Ys VIII doesn’t forget about leisure either because the fishing mini-game will be available all game long, including dozens of species to fish.
To progress in the story or in subquests, you’ll need to move the rocks blocking your path here and there. You can achieve this only if the number of inhabitants in the drifting village is high enough. You therefore must search every corner of the island in order to locate the survivors. Every newcomers trigger new quests or offer new services : Alison can sew new clothes, Catherine will be your smith and Tina will establish the barter counter. Indeed, you’re in a desert island and there’s of course no currency! The inventory is managed by exchanging more or less rare natural resources, so as to gather the necessary materials for new weapons and armor.
As always with Falcom, those secondary characters are fairly varied and deep : numerous sub-events explore the personality of each character out there, important rule in JRPGs. You also find quite some mini-stories that illustrates subquests, which makes them more enjoyable than usual. In particular, direct allies have a quite detailed personal story (a lot more than discreet Adol) and arouse empathy. Ys VIII has this particular humor of JRPGs, in which you hear the most unexpected lines in every situation. Hummel is top in that, given his seriousness in his strange “job” in the middle of the wilderness. After many hits in the field, Falcom is now at the forefront of modern JRPG, keeping that classic spirit when other threw it away for more money.
Combat has the same action-RPG feeling as Dragon Quest Heroes : a base 3-hit combo plus a special skills to choose between four. The L/R skills are varied and pack a punch, depending on the weapon used by the six playable characters. Dana for example owns two immense chakras that she can throw or make dance in long combos. Hummel can perform numerous types of shooting with its rifle, etc. Good news for those who like their gameplay habits : all buttons can be changed at your liking.
If we talk battle, we need to underline the guard and dodging systems. Performing a just guard or dodging at the very last moment respectively slow down the enemy’s movements and raise your critical rate to the maximum. Both grant you a few seconds of invincibility : you’re free to beat down the opponent. You need to master that in order to win in higher difficulty modes, but the skillfulness demanded makes for delightful fights. In normal mode, like in Tokyo Xanadu, there is moderate challenge but hard more in Ys VIII is significantly more interesting : damage taken is no joke, potions very limited and status ailments unforgiving. In order to ease the pain, the game allows you to recover HP by resting on the map, this however not being possible in dungeons.
The bestiary of Ys VIII is impressive : ferocious beasts, sea monsters, ancient golems and wild dinosaurs, combat is renewed in every place you go. Rare enough to be mentioned, you almost never see the same type of enemy twice! Further evidence of Falcom’s outstanding effort to make a rich world. Boss fights are awesome as opponents boast complex movesets and strategies. Strong and sturdy, dinosaurs will make you sweat, especially in defense missions. It so happens that fiends will regularly gather around the village and it’s up to you to repel them. Defense missions occur like a survival mode : monsters come in waves and you have to stop them from destroying the fence. Them coming from all directions, all you can do is to hit everything in sight as violently as you can. Exhilarating. You’ll also be able to build defenses, traps, barricades to withstand increasingly heated assaults.
When other choose to ditch classic JRPG, Falcom keeps the magic of the genre. With charming characters, a fantastic battle system, splendid music, multiple quests and an incredibly rich world, Ys VIII is a must-have for those who have been faithful to the genre for 15 or 20 years. Immersive and glorious in many aspects and despite very minor drawbacks, it is an amazing potion of youth.