By William Haderlie / September 12th, 2017
|Title||Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA|
|Release Date||September 12, 2017|
|Age Rating||ESRB T for Teen|
The longer a series of games seeks to remain viable, the more it will have to change over time. That is a general rule in video games, but changes can be fraught with risk. Sometimes the changes can serve to reinvigorate a franchise like with Super Mario 64 or Metroid Prime. But you can find almost as many examples of changes that went awry and turned off the long time fans such as Final Fantasy XV or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I could have chosen more obvious examples (like Castlevania 64), but I am making a point with those two games. Both of them seem to be generally loved but many of their most hardcore fans felt like they abandoned what made the series great in the first place. That is why I’m prefacing this review in the following manner. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is a wonderful game that I am going to do nothing but sing the praises of. But it is also a pretty drastic change from the old Ys games, so being a niche site I would caution the very old school fans that they may not be totally on board with the changes. Hopefully most of them will still be on board, however, because this game is simply amazing.
Long gone is the tower climb and old school action RPG mechanics of the old Ys games. The series started to make some fairly major changes with Ys VII and then it changed even more in Ys: Memories of Celceta. And that is basically the jumping off point for this title. It is much more a sequel to Memories of Celceta than it is anything like the other games in the series. Personally that worked out well for me, since that was a move into a style that I greatly preferred. But one thing that has remained common to all the games is Adol Christin being the protagonist with his good friend (and possible lover) Dogi supporting him at his side. Also a common thread in this series is that any time Adol gets on a ship, it crashes. So that picture above of the opening scene has dire overtones. In fact, Adol gets shipwrecked so often that the Hyperdimension Neptunia character Falcom is always commenting about being shipwrecked in that parody series.
The story that starts with a shipwreck may be a common trope, but I also started to realize that I would love this game when they actually turned into the trope and really played it out. The first half of this game is almost entirely based on finding fellow survivors and forming a community in order to survive and try to get off the island that they find themselves stranded on. Sihren Island has a lot of secrets, but before you can even begin to start unraveling them, you need to achieve some semblance of society and comfort. So the first step is to establish a home base, and Castaway Village is soon established. One of your most important tasks throughout the game is finding fellow survivors and convincing them to join the village. Once they are added to your growing group of allies they can use their specialized skill set to make life easier for everyone else and to help your exploratory group range out farther and farther in search of others.
Even once you gain a villager, they all have loyalty levels that can be increased by various quests or gifts that become available. For those that trade for items and materials, that can also give their shops more inventory (money doesn’t exist on the island, it’s a pure goods trade). But eventually the dangers of the island start to increasingly interfere with the village and you need to find the solutions for both why the monsters are attacking and how to get off the island. So you end up with an interesting dichotomy where you need to invest time and materials on protecting the village and you also need to build the combat effectiveness of your party so that you can range out farther and find some answers. Much as Dogi would like to help you out, he is needed for protecting the village so it’s up to Adol to recruit an all new band of warriors to help him take down his enemies.
Returning from Memories of Celceta is the damage type system, as you can see above. It’s important to compose your party of three with one of each damage types. Luckily you will have 2 characters of each damage type (eventually), so that still does give you different combinations to choose from. For smaller enemies you will usually be able to remain as your primary character without switching, but for some of the larger damage-specific enemies, it is a lot more efficient to switch to a damage type that they are weak to. The special moves each character has are also damage specific and while the AI will use them fairly well without your control, it is no substitute for your personal touch. The SP meter is shared by all your characters, and you will need to keep track of it so that you aren’t out of SP when you need it the most. Thankfully you can regain a small amount of SP by killing enemies with your special attacks, and a large amount by storing up energy for a regular attack (when you attack in a combo you do not gain SP for each hit, only for that first stored strike). It offers a nice change up in the flow of combat so that you aren’t just spamming your special attacks all the time, but that they can be used quite often when you get the rhythm down. Most often I start with a stored charge and then immediately hit a special move so that by the time the SP restore hit me it would preemptively refill the SP that I used for that special. You can get attacked by large groups of enemies, so getting this technique down becomes very important.
One way you will start to cope with large amounts of enemies at once without being able to peel them off one at a time is in the enemy Interceptions. An Interception is when a group of monsters invade your village from one of two fronts (the Beach and the Mountain) and your main combat party has to protect one front while the remainder of the Castaway Village has to protect the other. Thankfully you are able to build and then upgrade several defenses that will help you protect against the waves of monsters. Think of it like Horde Mode from the Gears of War series, only in an action-RPG and with the ability to set your defenses before the waves of enemies appear. You don’t have any choice in where your defenses are set, but the game does a fairly good job of choosing good locations so you can just concentrate on farming the materials you need to upgrade the number and the quality. But each of the defense structures (other than your home base) also has a special skill that makes them much more powerful; the decoy meats can be poisoned, the fences can be electrified, the catapults can use flame shots, and the Stun Gong can be made to do damage as well as stun. You are only given a limited amount of time to respond to most Interceptions (there are some exceptions at the end of the game), but the better you accomplish that goal the better one time rewards you will get. It can be important to keep your levels up, because the enemies that will attack your levels will get significantly more powerful the more of the island you explore, not based on your group levels. This will only become a serious problem if you tend to run through areas without fighting, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Less urgent than the Interceptions are the Suppressions, which are almost always optional. They do bear some similarities to the other in that there are waves separated by rounds, but just about everything else is different. This time you are going to the enemy home turf to attack their nests. Waves of enemies will spawn from the nests but you can take out the nests by planting a torch near the nest and then attacking it. Torches take a few seconds to be planted, and cannot take any damage from the enemy in order to be formed. So you will typically want to start a torch being built and then move your group past it so that the torch doesn’t get caught in the cross fire. Doing a Flash Dodge (dodging an enemy hit at the last second) will also commonly give you some time to get your torch down while all the enemies actions are slowed. That technique will be needed for a couple of the level 80 and above Suppressions, because you get attacked by a whole slew of large enemies at the same time. Another difference between the two is that while you only see a Boss in an Interception about half of the time, a Suppression always ends with a boss fight. The boss will commonly run after it takes a certain amount of damage but will come back the next round. So the flow of a Suppression is to typically plant every torch and destroy every nest, and then focus on killing the boss while restoring any torches that it manages to take out, with the limit of killing the boss by the time you reach Round 10. Like with Interceptions you will get rewards for the event and then one time rewards based on the Rank you receive when all the points are tallied. Even though they are usually optional, these are still great ways to get a lot of experience and also gain some very valuable materials and items.
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