Monday, October 9, 2017

Review: Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana

Okay, so we didn't get Trails of Cold Steel III, but damn has Falcom delivered with Ys VIII! If it does happen to be the last big Vita RPG, we go out with a charming and engrossing adventure that has the perfect level of appeal.

As ever, Adol Christin takes the helm in this latest Ys epic tale that starts out on the high seas, but soon moves to a deserted island. One that's anything but empty. Picking up a fine cast of friends and acquaintances to help out, what starts out as a quest for survival becomes a little gem of village and resource management.

Creatures litter the island, but they look like they belong here, unlike in many games. Most are easy to love, with little bugs, birds and others doing minimal damage to the party. The giant beasts that form set pieces are also gorgeously coloured and designed, but rarely stop this up to 80-hour show from rolling on.

Combat, exploring, item harvesting and management are all enabled so naturally and effectively, the game never wastes time diverting you from the story or disrupting the sense of adventure. Even chat and banter is kept to acceptable levels. Also, since key characters are running the stores and upgrades, they feel part of the story and not the usual tacked-on extras.

The story is driven by the arrival of Dana, who appears at first in Adol's dreams and then takes center stage in her own right, with her own adventure. It takes a while for the sagas to mesh, but becomes a great bit of pushing you on to see what happens next. To keep things ticking over, there's a murder mystery and several other sub-plots to keep the crew on their toes.

With a party of three warriors you can soon drop people in and out to suit particular battles or play with your favourites, and there's a pleasingly constant supply of upgrades, battle skills and new gear to go hunting with.

Combat is a mix of special moves, jumping, blocking and wielding a few big weapons to devastating effect. The wolves, sea horses, dinosaurs, spiders and other monsters look like they belong on this island, unlike the freaks most RPGs throw at you. The odd mid-ranking creature or fixed point boss adds a little action, but you rarely feel outgunned, allowing the story and fighters to scamper along at speed.

If you do feel under-powered, then there's plenty of DLC extras to buy, but the game never forces these down your throat. One note that in some places, you can't access what would normally be useful items, as the boss hems you in, one of quite a few quirks.

Not quite a Love Island

Okay, not everything has perfectly meshed in this adventure, waves of monster invasions take place, with everyone panicking like cats and an Interception battle taking place. Yet, I had time to do a couple of missions, upgrade my armour, explore the island and do loads more, because you have to trigger these events by talking to a specific person, which wasn't clear.

Similarly, some big monster set pieces are farcial as you can run away and pick it up later in the day. Then there's stopping to eat 25 steaks to rejuvate in the middle of a battle! While people often refer to things as-yet-undiscovered, as if the captain's parrot is an expert in woodwork being one example.

That kind of ruins the sense of urgency, and since it is easy to pre-complete a lot of many collecting sub-quests before you are assigned them, a little more flexibility is needed from the quests. Also, the game has rather cheekily blocked sections off that you need enough people to access, despite the fact our heroes are vine climbing, jumping demons, so seems rather trite blocking the adventurer's progress with a bit of a log or big boulder.

Yes, the PS4 version has been tarted up a bit and adds a few more features (for £15 more on PSN), but the Vita version is so gorgeous on OLED I don't think it matters with Ys' traditional awesome soundtrack, and being portable means I can enjoy this fantastic adventure anywhere. Ys VIII's engine could bring many more great tales to the Vita if Falcom is keen enough, here's hoping!

Score: 9/10
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Price: £34.99 (PSN)
Size: 3.2MB
Dev: NIS America/Falcom
Progress: Booking my tickets to Seiren Island

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