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  1. #1

    [PS4/PSV] Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana

    These impressions are based on the Japanese PS4 version, the Vita version will hit Japanese stores in July, and both version will get ported in other markets during September.

    The game opens with Adol, Ys' ecclectic protagonist, serving as a sailor on the cruise ship Lombardia; everything seems well until a giant squid attacks the ship and Adol finds himself stranded on a not-so-deserted island. Not-so-deserted because everyone aboard the Lombardia ended up on the same island, albeit in different locations. Soon enough Laxia, a noble girl, joins the party, and the two find the Lombardia's captain and other survivors in a small encampment.
    This encampment serves as a hub to explore the island of Seiren. Camp sites and large crystal formations allow to quickly teleport around the island to tackle previously inaccessible areas, which are opened up by either rescuing enough survivors or gathering a specific piece of equipment, like gloves to climb vines or a pendant to illuminate dark caves.

    Ys VIII is very much, well, every other recent Falcom action game, from the previous Ys games to Tokyo Xanadu, with no huge changes to the combat mechanics. Playable characters deal one type of damage, slash, pierce, or bash, used to break enemy defences and allow other characters to deal full damage. Correctly timed dodges and guards give the chance of using a flash move (if the gauge is filled) or enhaced damage, respectively. Combat is fast and flows better than Tokyo Xanadu, also thanks to less restrictive environments and better telegraphed attacks. Enemy variety is much larger, with various creatures roaming in different part of the island, creating a lifelike ecosystem.

    Exploration is not linear, as said before you need to gather enough survivors to remove boulders or get a specific item to cross other natural obstacles, but the party can also stumble on enemies that are too strong and they'll quickly suggest to flee. Thanks to the various warp points, variety in enemy and environment design, types of natural resources to collect, fishing spots, the occasional survivor, and area boss, exploration is fun and it's easy to get sidetracked into secondary areas. I've been playing for 10 or so hours, and the impression is that Seiren is a huge island and I've just begun to stratch its surface.
    The map shows roadblocks, points of interest, quest areas, and gathering points, but you can't place markers for areas that you've left due to enemies way above your level or submerged areas, and I fear that later in the game I'll wander around Seiren trying to find where to go because I've forgot that spot. Unexplored areas are simply left masked on the map, but I think that the map could have been improved a lot, starting my making the party locator smaller...at times it hides small passageways greatly lowering readability.

    On the PS4 the game runs at full 60fps all the time, with fairly large areas between loading screens, which aren't particularly intrusive too. Compared to Tokyo Xanadu or the Sen no Kiseki series the graphics are brighter and colourful, and while they are far from topping the PS4's capabilities, they are full of detail and very pleasant to look at. If anything the character design isn't really reflected by the in-game models, as those look rather "Falcomy" in both geometry and textures.
    The music is fast-paced and upbeat and fits the game perfectly.
    As typical with Falcom games it's possible to remap all controls as you like, although certain actions (like opening a menu) take priority cancelling out other actions if the same button is assigned more than once, and there's no overlap warning if you do so.

    The story is spread thinner than in Tokyo Xanadu or Sen no Kiseki, making exploration and combat the core of the game. There aren't many side activities: there's a very simple fishing minigame and you can manage camp defences for tower defence-like events. While I did appreciate the well-structured experience of Tokyo Xanadu, the more I play with Ys VIII, the more I like the latter's structure better, mostly because there focus of the game is, well, playing rather than progressing through a story. Not to diss Tokyo Xanadu, it's still an excellent game, but Ys VIII is more of my liking.

  2. #2
    A long overdue update, this is.
    First must correct myself, the PS4 version of Ys VIII is an improved port of the Vita original, that at least in Japan has been available since July 2016. Technicalities aside (like texture resolution, loading times, larger areas, framerate), the PS4 port includes a new character, a new dungeon, and new abilities for some characters. Nippon ichi America will bring both versions to the west in September 2017, and both will have the enhacements found in the Japanese PS4 edition.

    I'm still enjoying Ys VIII a lot, although the game took on a more linear approach as it went on: rather than keeping exploration relatively free and with multiple paths to undertake with story elements sprinkled every now and then, the game funnels the player into a more story-driven structure with less freedom to explore the island of Seiren despite the ever-growing abilities of the party. I'm not a fan of this shift, although Ys VIII is still less heavy on cutscenes than Tokyo Xanadu; Ys VII also likes to play with some tropes of sea-related stories, like a murderer amidst the survivors of the crash or ghost ships. Of course there's the now-extinct advanced ancient civilization as a centerpiece of the whole ordeal, but this particular aspect also takes a role in the game's structure, offering a limited interaction between Adol (the present) and Dana (the past).
    These interactions go both ways, Dana opens pathways for Adol to continue his exploration of Seiren, while Adol grants access to dungeon layers that Dana can tackle by defeating bosses. This mechanic comes into play when the game already took players into its more linear structure, and while it's well thought out and gives player a structured and consistent way to progress through the game, I surely would have wished for it to be integrated into the former part of the game. Instead new areas only become accessible once Adol recovers a particular piece of equipment (climbing gloves, crystals to light dark caves, feathers to double jump, underwater equipment) or when the story dictates so, removing a lot of the initial sense of insecurity that the island projects.
    Earlier parts of the game also had areas where enemies were too strong for the party, prompting them to flee. Unfortunately such areas become scarce (or maybe cease to exist entirely later on) due to the more linear structure of what I think is the second half of the game (I'm 20 hours in).

    Not that I'm not having fu with Ys VIII, is that I've enjoyed the first part of the game more. The environments are also starting to get somewhat boring visually, it's only beaches, forests, and ancient ruins. The level design of each area is still varied, and the bestiary is huge (although you can expect some recolours), but visually it's starting to get somewhat repetitive.
    I must mention that this PS4 edition also benefits of PS4 Pro hardware by rendering in 4K; I don't have a Pro or a 4K display, so can't vouch for the quality of this enhacement. Ys VIII looks god, but it's thanks to how well defined and vibrant textures are at 1080p, I truly hope that Falcom included higher resolution maps to avoid blurring textures out when rendered in 4K.

  3. #3
    A bit overdue, but here are my closing thoughts on Ys VIII now that I've completed the game, or at least got the first ending: as wth many Falcom titles the first ending is a bittersweet conclusion for the story and you can get a better one by loading the clear savefile.

    I can divide the game in three parts: the first hours are taken up by exploring the island of Seiren, trying to find as many survivors as possible and securing basic necessities for the base camp; the second starts to dwelve into the story and the game assumes a much more linear approach; the last part is the resolution, with the island fully explored and the party set to solve whatever problem is plaguing Seiren...or even the world.
    I didn't particularly like how the story shifts perspective from surviving on an island to a clicheed "let's save the world" kind of story, the former felt more fresh and adventurous. The shift in narrative also brings a shift in how the game plays out, from players relatively free to explore Seiren to long expository scenes punctuated by the party going to the required location, often with no chance to stray.
    It's not to say that Ys VIII becomes bad, but surely I would have preferred for it to keep exploration at its forefront, also because when the game starts dumping information on you it does it with a vengeance. Compared to Tokyo Xanadu, that correctly spread character and story development over the whole game, Ys VIII focuses it in the last part creating some very boring scenes.
    Characters introduced in the third part of the game are also barely explored and feel more like plot devices than well-rounded characters as the rest of the cast. All characters are likeable and you get to know them through their actions rather than by exposition (that's reserved to the hows and whys of the story), showing that Falcom can do good storytelling. Not that they really need to show it, but I've found Tokyo Xanadu and others having a better balance than Ys VIII.
    Of course if you like story-driven games you'll absolutely love the last part of Ys VIII.

    In one of my previous posts I was worried that I would forget areas that I couldn't access, but that didn't happen: with the exception of two location (and one is required for a sidequest) all locations on Seiren have to be visited. I still think that the map could use some work, like having a smaller icon rather than Adol's head for your position or marked loading areas, but it's decent enough to get you through the game.
    Menus on the other hand can use some refinement, all items that are not equipment are dumped in the same category, wheter they are healing items or recipes for new plates, and the list can get way too long, with for example healing potions on the top, anti-status ailment items in the middle, plates after that, and other useful items last, all of this peppered with books, items to boost stats, experience powder and more. More groups with a smaller set of items each would have made things much better.
    Controls can be fully customised, but you can assign two actions to the same button and there's no warning, and one action will always take priority cancelling theBu other out.

    On the PS4 Ys VIII runs without any hitch at 60fps, and while models aren't particularly rich in polygons, textures are sharp and vibrant. Unfortunately Falcom went for their standard models rather than trying to imitate the original character art, and that's a shame considering that Tokyo Xanadu and the Legen of Heroes games have models and textures closely resembling the original drawings.
    Anyway, 60fps translate to fluid and responsive movement and combat, which are only hindered when mid-to-large size enemies swarm the party, limiting movement and dodging options. When forced into tight corners the camera does freak out, and in a few encounters it can be maddening because you can't see where's your character or what enemies are doing.
    Outside those moments the combat is great fun. Timely dodges and guards will reward players with time slowdown and enhaced damage respectively. Large enemies have hidden weak points, usually their heads, and the only telltale is the damage number that pops out after an attack; I find this a much better implementation that glowing, easy to spot parts, and normally engaging these weak points exposes the party to greater danger.
    The combat tends to become easier as the game progresses, mostly thanks to a lot of items that cut SP usage allowing characters to make free use of their skills, and the level gap doesn't really come into play after the party reaches level 50. Before the party had to run from stronger enemies, and that played also a part in the story and in exploring Seiren. Unfortunately that sense of adventure (and dread) is lost as the game progresses, but, again, the game is still fun, also thanks to good level and boss design.
    Dungeon graphics will be boring after a while, Seiren is just a collection of beaches, jungles, caves, and ancient buildings, but at least their structure is kept interesting throughout the game.

    The game lasts about 40 hours up till the first ending sequence and I've completed all but two of the secondary quests, though I haven't completed all character-specific events.

    So, yeah, Ys VIII, recommended.

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