Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was one of my favourite games of last year. It combined the series’ usual frantic combat with a wonderful system of exploration, through which you slowly mapped out an uncharted island alongside a growing crew of rescued castaways. That game loop, coupled with a captivating (if somewhat familiar) story of survival and adventure, made for an incredible game.
And now, you can get all that greatness on Switch. This isn’t the first time Ys VIII has been released on a handheld—it’s available on PlayStation Vita as well, though that version suffers from the Vita’s hardware limitations. By contrast, Ys VIII on Switch looks almost as good as its PS4 counterpart, and a few small graphical hiccups are worth putting up with for the ability to play on the go.
Playing in handheld mode, the display often goes slightly fuzzy, like a camera trying to find the right level of focus. There’s occasionally a graphical glitch that causes odd lines to appear along the sharp edges of certain models. There’s nothing game-breaking at all, but it’s noticeable enough to be a distraction, particularly during cutscenes. There were also some widely-reported bugs with text display prior to release, where certain lines would repeat or display in Japanese. However, these appear to be resolved now—I’ve been playing since launch with the day-one patch, and I haven’t run into anything of the sort.
Beyond those few issues, Ys VIII runs like a dream on Switch. The bright colours and anime-style models really pop on a smaller screen, and the frame rate is surprisingly stable despite the intensity of the combat. Most importantly, being able to just pick up and play wherever you are, for short bursts or long sessions, makes a game of Ys VIII‘s size much more manageable.
And as I’ve already said, it’s a very good game indeed. Everything I said when I reviewed the PS4 version last year remains true, so read that if you want more detail, but here’s a quick summary:
Ys VIII begins with longtime Ys series hero Adol getting shipwrecked and washing ashore on the legendary Isle of Seiren—from where nobody has ever returned alive. He soon runs into a few other survivors, including the ship’s captain and Adol’s old friend Dogi. Together, they establish a “Castaway Village” to serve as a base of operations while they explore the island, look for other castaways, and try to find a way to escape.
Thus, the bulk of Ys VIII involves venturing out into the wilderness, fighting monsters and solving puzzles along the way. As you rescue more people, the Castaway Village grows and new services become available—rescue the blacksmith, and you gain the ability to upgrade weapons and craft armour, for instance.
You also regularly find new pieces of Adventure Gear, tools that open up new pathways by letting you do things like climb vines, breath underwater, and double jump. Ys VIII isn’t a full-blown Metroidvania, but the tools add a welcome layer of progression and give you good reason to revisit earlier areas.
The thing tying this all together is combat. Ys is one of the oldest action RPGs still running, and those decades of experience show. Nothing here will be unfamiliar to anyone who’s played an action game in the last decade—well-timed dodges and parries rule the day—but Ys VIII delivers that formula to perfection with fluid animations, precise movement, and attacks that pack a punch.
A simple weakness system encourages regular switching between characters. Each adventurer in your squad attacks with a certain weapon type—slashing, piercing, or blunt—and most enemies are weak to one of those. You could just stick with Adol and rely on the AI to hit weak points that Adol can’t, but it’s far more efficient and enjoyable to switch character and lead the charge yourself. Luckily, you can do this at the press of a button.
While the action is certainly still the focus, Ys VIII is much more story-driven than previous games in the series. It’s a classic adventure story, complete with exotic locales, pirate treasure, dinosaurs, and ancient prophecies. Characters tend to be eccentric and comical, but with enough human complexity to feel grounded—with the exception of Adol, who remains a player-insert protagonist.
Great dialogue goes a long way to bringing the cast to life, which isn’t something that could be said when Ys VIII first released last year. In response to criticism of the quality of the original localisation, NIS America re-translated the whole game. The new script rolled out to other platforms earlier this year, but the Switch release is the first time I’ve seen it action. There are still a few annoyances—like Sahad referring to Carlan as “that stuffed shirt, Carlan” every time, as though it’s some sort of important title—but on the whole, it’s a big improvement.
As Adol and the crew dig deeper into the mysteries of Seiren, things take a turn for the dramatic. It’s here that the story takes a environmentalist turn, with a commentary on the impact on nature of the growth of human society. It’s not subtle and it’s not especially deep, but the message is there… until it’s undermined by the ending. Don’t get me wrong, the final act is suitably climactic and emotive, but it’s a complete about-face in terms of theme and commentary.
My frustrations with the ending notwithstanding, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is an excellent game. It was an excellent game when it first released last year, and with a fresh localisation, it’s even better now. The Switch version has some minor graphical performance issues in handheld mode, but that’s a small compromise to make for playing on the go. And for a game you’ll probably want to take with you wherever you go, that’s a small sacrifice to make.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is developed by Nihon Falcom and published by NIS America. It’s available now for Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and PC.
A copy of the game was supplied by the publisher for this review.