Eight long years. It took eight long years to finally get Lacrimosa of DANA, a new chapter in the highly revered Ys series, for the Vita, PS4, and PC. The last iteration was released in Japan for the PSP with western releases following after.
Can a series that has been on hiatus still catch the attention of today’s gaming community? The answer is simple, my friends: grab your long sword and summon your companions; we have a magnificent story to tell.
One of the most endearing aspects of the Ys series is in its following of the heroic actions of a single protagonist, Adol Christin, easily distinguishable by his crimson hair. He is not only one of the most easily recognizable heroes, but also one of the most accessible.
Adol has an infinite thirst for action and adventure, and also happens to hold the world record for number of ships wrecked. Put him on a ship and nine times out of ten it will meet Davy Jones locker, throwing Adol onto a new foreign land with a quest to save the world from great evil.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA, in that regards, is of no exception. No sooner does the story commence, Adol is aboard a ship that soon capsizes on the island of Seiren where your adventure begins. People and shipmates you encountered on that ship will play a major role in both surviving and eventually escaping the isle, infamous for being a veritable death trap.
The gameplay is more cunning and fleshed-out than I had anticipated. Without a doubt, this is a proper Ys game that is enhanced in every way, and that while borrows some elements from another great franchise, The Trails series, adds some progression elements most notably featured in other gaming genres.
When was the last time in a JRPG did you find yourself in need of a certain item or of a special ability to proceed? This Metroidvania approach to the genre is fresh and adds an extra depth to the game.
Lacrimosa of DANA’s open world has you freely moving around in search of other shipwrecked survivors, which hearkened me back to the latest Nier game. It should also be noted that the game is narrative-driven and its bread and butter is how Adol interacts with every single NPC that he drafts to the village. The higher the regard an NPC has for Adol, the better their offered services will be for the village will be, an element that will play a vital role in how the game ends.
After the shipwreck, Adol starts dreaming of the titular blue-haired girl Dana. The game allows you to play with both Adol and Dana, each in their respective time and place in the world, and the more the story unravels, the more you will uncover what truly connects Adol, Dana, and the isle.
Asides from the main plot, there is a plethora of interesting side stories dealing with the other survivors of the shipwreck and the colorful cast of party members who had joined you on your quest. Lacrimosa of DANA, at its core, is a heartwarming and endearing story of friendship, loyalty, and comradery. But that does not mean it is void of fishing and tower defense mini-games. This is still a JRPG, after all.
Combat in Ys takes place in real time, with the action being fast-paced involving reactionary dodges, blocks, and attacks. Some enemies will be immune to some attacks but weak in others, which while being typical fair, does much in adding an active strategic approach to the combat. Swapping characters on the fly offers a streamlined experience that will scarcely feel repetitive and induce the fighting mechanic with a sense of swiftness and fluidity.
Lacrimosa of Dana is a joy to play and a delight to watch and listen to. It has an amazing art style that is common ground for most Falcom games, and the sense of depth and scale resonates in the game with wide open spaces and lush areas to explore. The sound design also goes to great lengths in both effects and music.
The sound design also goes to great lengths, especially in regards to the score. The Music deserves special praise for being spot-on for both protagonists and fitting for each area and encounter. In fact, playing this game was reminiscent of older games when music played a major role in foreshadowing encounters and events. It is nice to see modern games taking cues from their predecessors.
Sadly, the game is not without its shortcomings. As an avid gamer, I am cautious around games that also launch on last-gen consoles. Case in point, Lacrimosa of Dana also launched for the Vita, which means much of the game was optimised for the Vita, with all its technical shortcomings, and ported to the PS4. And while I’m at it, I still can’t believe modern games are still crippled by loading times and invisible walls.
With an impeccable presentation, a deep story, a dynamic and exciting combat system, and many hours of gameplay, Lacrimosa of DANA is not only a return to form for the franchise, but it is one of the best entries in the long running series. This game is certainly one of the most endearing and most refreshing JRPG experiences of the year; even more so for the oldschool fans of the series.