05th Jul2018

‘Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

ys-8-switch

Almost a dozen hours into the game, I still have no idea what the title is referring to, so I’ll have to update the review should I ever find out. What is important though, is that the praise that this game received when released originally in 2016 on the PS4 and Vita is well-deserved and, although not exactly a technical showcase for the Switch, this port completely absorbed me in the wonderful world of Ys.

Ys is an ongoing series that began in 1987, whilst this may seem daunting, rest assured that the game is so well-designed that it could just as easily be a stand-alone game for the uninitiated (myself included). The player takes control of the character Adol, a fiery-haired adventurer who has temporarily taken the job of sailor on a passenger vessel called the Lombardia which quickly gets attacked by an enormous sea monster, resulting in a shipwreck and our young hero becoming marooned on the mysterious island of Seiren. Having initially assumed that the game would be a Final Fantasy turn-based affair separated by numerous, lengthy cut-scenes, I was pleased to discover that the game plays far more like something akin to Nier on the PS3, in that the game features ‘hub’ villages (in this case the camps that you create as you explore the island looking for other castaways in order to increase your chances of survival and eventually leaving the island) and other, separated areas which contain various monsters (including enormous boss-fights), obstacles and treasures.

Combat in the game is all in real-time with you able to switch between your cast of followers depending on which attack seems to work best in the current situation, Adol favours a slashing attack whilst later characters have piercing / bludgeoning attacks which have more of an effect on armoured opponents, for example (although the characters that follow you are more than capable of fighting for themselves as you focus on Adol, the AI is impressive). Naturally you can collect various items (and other characters) who will upgrade your weapons and armour or even change them entirely. Adol is also quite nimble and has jumps, rolls and multiple special attacks in his arsenal as he peruses the island, swiping at any of the numerous enemies that get in his way.

The main quest of ‘get off the island’ never changes but there are also a lot of side quests offered up by other people in the game, mostly to make their life on the island more comfortable. They range from searching for a possibly deceased loved one in the wreck to simply building curtains to give the female members of your party more privacy in the camps. Each character, whilst usually being some sort of archetype, feels charming enough to maintain their personality and feel like they earn their spot in the unfolding story. Ys VIII is rated ‘12’ so there’s nothing too heavy-duty in the narrative and the vibrant island setting makes for a colourful romp throughout your adventure.

The music in the game is truly glorious and bounces alongside you as you explore, changing tone depending on your location and always feeling the perfect accompaniment, whilst not hugely memorable, it matches the visuals and character of the game better than anything in recent memory for me. Because the music was never overbearing or front and centre, I never found myself getting tired of it. Each piece is joy to hear whenever it kicks in, a real high-point of the game and some clever aural design work.

As much as the game does get a lot of things right, there are some points worth mentioning. As touched on above, the game isn’t exactly a technical marvel in the graphics department. Whilst the game runs at a solid 3ofps, I played the game mostly in portable mode and so when I did dock the Switch to play on a full-screen TV, the slight roughness in the graphics and textures on the small-screen were amplified quite a lot at fifty inches and it wasn’t long before I went back to the hand-held style of playing which is much kinder to those jagged edges. The game also doesn’t reinvent the wheel in the mechanics department and although it’s all done well, there’s probably nothing here that RPG lovers haven’t seen before. I must stress though that the game really is a joy to play and a great example of the JRPG genre that won’t need 200 hours to get going (I look at you, Persona 4).

I’ve been playing Ys for over ten hours and the game has around 60 hours of game play in total, including the sub-quests. What impressed me about this the most though, was how the story always feels like it’s moving forward. JRPG games can often feel grind-heavy which really doesn’t appeal to me, and whilst Ys VIII doesn’t break any new ground, it really feels likes it moves along at a solid pace. Sure, there are a few hiccups in the voice-acting (sometimes for half a scene one character will have speech, but others will be text only, which is odd) but the games’ innate charm and sense of vibrancy in how open it feels to newcomers and hardened veterans alike (you can adjust the difficulty at any point for a tougher challenge, or to ease up if you are struggling on a certain section) Ys VIII is essentially a great game for everyone. I’ve even been getting up earlier to get a hour in before going to work, which is something that I haven’t done since playing The Witcher 3 last January, so it’s clear that Ys has won my heart, for sure and I’m sure it will captivate many others with it’s breezy but fun gameplay.

Right, I’m off to find some other poor marooned fellows, maybe one of them is a mixologist…

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