The Comforting Ease of Ys
The Ys series is like your low-maintenance best friend. You can go months and months and years and years not seeing them, but when they show up on your doorstep, it's like you had met up with them the day before. Ys is comfort food. Not the kind that you overindulge in after a break-up — the kind that reminds you of your mom's cooking. It basks you in its embrace and just feels right. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is no exception to these overwrought analogies.
It's been four years since we've received an entry in the Ys series. Adol is adventuring like the adventurer he is, Dogi by his side. Things happen, and the two of them, along with everyone else on the ship the two are on, end up stranded on a deserted island. There they must regroup, rebuild, and escape. Of course, this is a Ys game, so they'll also probably save the world and unmask some sort of conspiracy as well.
What sets Ys apart from other games in the series is its writing. Usually, fans of these games are here for the fast combat and metroid-like upgrade progression. The story was simply a means to an end. Ys VIII feels like the best parts of Ys and Falcom's Trails series got together and had a super rad baby that has interesting things to say. As Adol builds a Castaway Village that rescued drifters can live in while the group tries to escape, the plot develops in a slow but engaging burn. Every villager has something to say about the going-ons of the story as it progresses, and you'll find yourself caring about all of them (well, most of them) as you perform tasks to increase their approval of you.
The group exudes a positivity and charm that I'd say is simply unheard of in people who just got shipwrecked — their willingness to help out feels like an attempt to melt my cynical heart, and it mostly succeeds. You'll root for this crew as it succeeds in its endeavors, and you'll be bummed along with them as setbacks occur. The lack of world-shaking stakes is a refreshing, low-level change to an Ys plot. The objective to escape is simple, and that objective never feels bogged down as a result, even as reveals are revealed and twists are twisted.
Combat is as fast-paced and satisfying as ever. While I will say I miss Adol's solo adventures, Ys VIII takes everything from Celceta's three-person system and improves on it, from the speed and quality of combat to the characters that fight along your red haired protagonist. Laxia and Dana were particular stand-outs, in my opinion. The game benefits greatly from being on a system that allows for two control sticks and full camera control. The action never feels too busy even at its most hectic, and the feedback you get from attacking is immediate.
Everything just feels snappy in that Ys sort of way. The game is able to pull you along with a constant sense of progression. You're always taking steps to chart out the map of the island, or upgrading a weapon, or unlocking a new item that allows you to explore new areas — I mentioned the Metroid-like progression, and it's out in full force in this game. It feels good to play Ys VIII on a next generation system like the PS4, and I hope the ninth game in Falcom's esteemed series takes full advantage of the hardware next time, free from the confines of a dead console (sorry Vita, we hardly knew ye).
Ys VIII: Lacimosa of Dana is just as great as I was expecting it to be, to the point that I was reluctant to step away from it so that I could write this review. It's fired off a spark in me that most games haven't this year. Everything is as it should be, from the fantastic combat to the next-level music to the endearing characters. It'll be a few years before I think about Ys again, when the next game in the series arrives to the states. But when it shows up to my doorstep, I'll be sure to welcome it back like we had just met the day before.