Falcom's Ys series usually tells stories about fantastic beings, magical monsters, and ethereal spirits. It's fitting, then, that Ys itself is something of a rare creature: It's a long-running action-RPG series that won't let you down.
Falcom's been tailoring action-RPG games for decades, and it knows its business. It knows what it wants. It knows what its fans want. It gets a clear picture in its head, builds on it, and delivers.
Ys games don't bother constructing a bunch of new ideas, nor do they mess around much with what works. When series protagonist Adol Christin invites you to join him, you can count on walking down a wide, solid path that's fraught with danger, but also strangely comfortable. Remember that scene from South Park where Eric and Kyle get into a slap-fight at Fox Studios while the animators of King of the Hill quietly work in the background (under a banner celebrating "11 Years!")? If Eric and Kyle represent an industry that's jittery with uncertainty, the animators working calmly in the background represent Falcom confidently doing what it does best.
Strained metaphor? Maybe a little, but I haven't been able to disassociate the Ys games with King of the Hill. When you spend time with either property, you might not have your socks blown off, but rest assured you'll come away from the experience feeling sated.
Obviously, not everyone likes King of the Hill or Ys, so let's get this out of the way: If you find Ys games too calm, too safe, or too boring, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana for the PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and PC isn't a worthwhile purchase. If you're an Ys fan, however, or if you've been meaning to get into the series, it's a delightful tropical diversion. This 3D sword-swinger doesn't stray far from Falcom's established formula, but that doesn't mean you won't have fun.
There's not a whole lot new going on with the setup for Ys VIII. You know the story: Adol Christin, a red-haired adventurer with a chronic case of wanderlust, gets shipwrecked on his way to another exploit. He washes up on a mysterious island, as per usual – but this time, he's joined by more than his fellow adventurer (and possible life-mate?), Dogi. Many of the passengers aboard the doomed ship Lombardia make their way to shore, albeit haphazardly. Once Adol establishes a camp in a safe spot, the Lombardia's captain charges him with finding and collecting other survivors.
In other words, Ys VIII has a little bit of town-building (and defending) in its blood, though it's still an action-RPG first and foremost. It's not shy about throwing enemies at you, either. Hordes attack relentlessly, but Adol and the friends who fight alongside him have numerous skills that mow down the baddies with relative ease. These skills are effective, flashy, and fun to use. They're also quite easy to recharge, which lends Ys VIII a nice pace. You need to be careful about how you use your talents, but at the same time, there's no need to be stingy. Don't be shy about jumping into the fray and whirling like a dervish. It's fun.
You should, however, pay attention to your allies' choice of weapons. Adol's sword is effective against beasts, but the blade glances off hard-shelled enemies. That's where you'd want a guy like Sahad by your side, since his anchor can crush ironlike foes.
Luckily, coming up against enemies outside of Adol's specialty doesn't break Ys VIII's pacing. The game's AI is pretty good, and if you hang back and let your buddies get in the first shot, they might flip over your target. Then it's time for Adol to party.
As you progress further into Ys VIII, you build up a nice little society that uses a bartering system for item-crafting and weapon upgrades. That means collecting meat, fish, minerals, and monster hides every time you leave the settlement. It's not an original way to upgrade a hero, but it gets the job done in the absence of coins, gold, and shops.
The Ys games aren't necessarily story-heavy, but neither are they devoid of tales. I'm still new-ish to Ys, so I understand appreciation for its stories (which are self-contained from game-to-game, but still weave a larger narrative) is subjective. Personally, I warmed up to the cast of Ys VIII without a problem. I don't know if I'd invite any of them to my 20th wedding anniversary, but they're fun to spend time with. I always like hanging out with Adol, too. He's a mostly-silent protagonist, but he still exudes kindness, earnestness – and deadly competence. His mission in life is to go on adventures and help people, and that's about it. I respect that.
I haven't finished Ys VIII, and we usually don't score reviews we haven't finished here at USgamer. But from what I've played – 15 hours or so – I feel comfortable classifying Falcom's latest as a solid addition to a solid series. Nothing outside the game's soundtrack makes you say "Wow! This is amazing!" but again, Ys is the steady B+ student who's perfectly happy to stay in their bracket. Ys VIII is less about new ideas, and more about functionality. Its graphics are good. Its map is easy to use. Its offers just enough fetch quests to make you feel like you're getting something done, but not enough to make you feel bored. Its characters don't say or do anything worthy of a Pulitzer, but they're good company.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is practically the definition of a four-out-of-five game, but I mean that in the best way possible. If you're an Ys fan, get ready to travel. If you're Ys-curious, this is a good starting point. And if you're not impressed by the series, well, sail on by.