For as long as the series has been around, it’s a bit weird that we’re only now getting to the eighth numbered Ys release. The series takes its time, not necessarily to build grander worlds but to give its grounded adventures more time to breathe. Ys games are about engaging combat and a long but fulfilling grind, story and systems surrounding fights that are designed to enhance that core play. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is the most focused on its strengths the series has ever been, keeping players in comfortable fun for dozens and dozens of hours.
The series’ red-haired protagonist, Adol Christin, returns here, once again arbitrarily thrust into adventure because that’s just what he does. Developer Nihon Falcom spends less time exploring his arc than ever here, which is good, because he’s just not a compelling enough character to carry the weight of eight games’ happenings. He’s there as a stand-in for the player, one seeking fights and fun in the service of the others’ story. And about those others! Most of the game’s plot centers around rescuing various people shipwrecked on a remote island, exploring their own small, poignant tales and also recruiting them to help out in your town and provide assistance for your adventure. None of this tries too hard, and the result is better for it.
Adol is there as a stand-in for the player, one seeking fights and fun in the service of the others’ story.
There’s also the Dana part of the game, which is only tangentially connected to everything else and hews closer to the trope-filled destiny plots of JRPGs past. It’s a slow burn and a thread you’ll be hesitant to pursue as it takes you away from your more rewarding primary task, but it does pick up a bit in the late going.
Your party members aren’t the most dynamic or interesting folks; we’ve seen them in the trope-filled works of the past, too. But what they do provide is a more varied take on combat. Each is crafted to play differently in a way that makes each more useful against different enemies and in different tactical moments. Enemy design is the part of the game that shows no such quiet restraint; it leans into big, weird bosses in a way that doesn’t exactly feel like Monster Hunter but certainly exists in a Japanese development scene that can’t escape its influences.
Ys VIII is built around a comforting loop: fight, loot, get rewards, craft new stuff and head out again. Due to its quiet feel, grabbing supplies for your tailor or fishing for the right sort of catch come off as less of a pesky side activity and more of what you’re meant to do. It’s about everyone pitching in and working together, and there’s a communal spirit that’s refreshing: Adol isn’t the hero so much as he’s just a guy doing his job like everyone else.
There are some weaker aspects to the game, though. The localization makes a few missteps here and there that could have been caught, which is expected for a game with so much text but is still disappointing. Since the game has to run on Vita, its environments come off as simple and sparse on PC and PS4, not fully reaching the potential it could have. Still, the aesthetic is well-executed and carries it fairly well despite these shortcomings.
Ys VIII is built around a comforting loop: fight, loot, get rewards, craft new stuff and head out again.
Falcom Sound Team returns for this installment, once again delivering a soundtrack that is energetic and heart-pumping. It… doesn’t exactly feel like it fits with what’s going on in the game all the time; it’s always obvious that it’s a track playing while you run around and fight rather than a musical accompaniment of what’s happening on screen. It’s good music and we’ll take it over bad music any day, but a soundtrack that takes into account the mood and action of the moment would have much greater in-game impact.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is a solid, unspectacular action-RPG that hits all the right notes it needs to give players a good time. It’s especially appealing to those who love getting into the granularities of combat, but those who won’t will still find fun in building up their villages and seeing their efforts reap benefits.