Everyone Wants a Taste
Releasing games internationally can be complicated. Dealing with music rights, different ratings systems, and occasionally having to alter the game to make it “acceptable” for the market it’s being released in, there’s quite a lot of work that can go into releasing across borders.
One issue that companies can face is a simple one: who’s going to publish and distribute your game in other regions? Multinational companies such as Nintendo don’t have this problem – they can just publish through their international offices. But what about smaller studios?
In this case, it’s not uncommon to contract the release to another publisher or distributor. Such has been the case with Falcom, a smaller studio that has no international presence.
Throughout its existence, Falcom has relied on other publishers to release their games in the international market. Companies from Sega to Nintendo and Atlus have all published Falcom’s games outside of Japan. This reliance on outside publishers has caused western releases of Falcom titles to be spotty at best.
The past few years has seen publisher XSeed Games working with Falcom on their more recent releases. Having a steady partner seems to have increased the amount of the studio’s games we get here in the west…but it appears that this agreement wasn’t exclusive. With the newest release in Falcom’s Ys franchise, western release duties were again shifted, this time to NIS America.
Developed by Falcom and published in the west by NIS America, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is set for release on September 12th, 2017, for PS4, Vita, and PC. The PS4 version was played for this review.
Charting a New World
Ys VIII follows series hero Adol Christin, an adventurer seeking a new destination to explore. While enroute to the country of Greek, the ship he is traveling on is attacked by a monstrous creature. Despite his best efforts, the creature manages to sink the ship.
Adol eventually awakens on a deserted island – one which seems strikingly similar to a story the ship’s captain was telling him earlier. This island is the Isle of Seiren, and the stories say that no one who has set foot on this island has ever escaped from it. Thus, it comes down to Adol and his companions to find the other castaways from the shipwreck and discover a way off the island…if it’s even possible.
The Ys series is known for putting its focus on gameplay, keeping story out of the spotlight, but Falcom has been attempting to change this with the past few entries. The game does feature a deeper story than older games, with a number of well fleshed-out characters and an intriguing beat about Adol experiencing another person’s life (the titular Dana) in his sleep.
Overall, though, the story is…well, inoffensive. It provides plenty of impetus to keep playing the game, but it does feel like it’s playing second fiddle to everything else in the package. Ys VIII doesn’t have quite the excuse plot of others in the series, but it’s not a story that I found particularly memorable.
I did come in to the game expecting a lackluster story, after my previous experience with the series, so I’m not too upset here. However, one thing I do have to note is how stale the localization is. The dialogue feels clunky, seeming like a direct translation rather than having a more natural feel. It’s not a bad localization; it just feels like it’s missing “life.”
Sense of Wonder
I’ll state it bluntly right out of the game: Ys VIII is a beautifully crafted Action RPG.
You’ll be taking direct control of Adol and his party members, dodging through and hacking apart enemy mobs and facing down massive boss creatures. Aside from basic attacks, you have a few special moves in your repertoire. Firstly, each character can equip up to four special skill attacks, easily activated by holding down a bumper and pressing a face button. Should you need to take down a powerful creature quickly, there’s also a special “Extra” attack, which can be activated after building up a party-wide energy gauge.
There are also two special defense moves: the Flash Dodge, where dodging with perfect timing will slow down your enemies for a few seconds, and the Flash Guard, the same idea but offering you temporary invincibility instead. The timing on these is tight, but not impossible – using them successfully really requires you to read your opponents.
This game uses the “party system” previously featured in Ys Seven and Memories of Celceta, giving you control of up to three people at once, and switching between them at the press of a button. Certain enemies can be weak to different attack styles, forcing you to think about who to run into the next bunch of creatures with. Switching characters happens smoothly and instantaneously, so you’re never taken out of the battle when targeting a new enemy.
There’s a heavy focus on exploration here – after the opening story, you’re given what feels like free reign to go out and explore Seiren at your leisure. There are a few roadblocks (literally) that keep you from accessing parts of the world until later in the story, but the regions you’re given in each chapter are large and diverse enough that it never feels limiting.
Discovering the world is one of the greatest highlights of this game, which is why I’m baffled that Falcom decided pull you away from it with some mandatory horde-style battles. While out exploring, usually in the middle of a dungeon, you’ll get a notice that the town you’re building on the island is under attack. You’re forced to leave what you’re doing to fight against waves of monsters in a small arena. These “Interceptions,” as they’re known in the game, are easily the lowlight of Ys VIII, being nothing more than a required distraction from the real meat of the game.
Lastly, of course, I can’t write about Ys without mentioning the boss battles. This game includes a staggering amount of them – at least two per dungeon, sometimes more, with a few random ones scattered around the rest of the world. Early-game bosses are surprisingly easy for an Ys game, which made me worried about how the rest of the game would go. Luckily, I started getting my ass beat around the second third of the game. The difficulty curve here is nice and inviting, easing you into the game’s systems and feel and then letting loose right when you feel that you’ve mastered how to play.
A Thing of Beauty
Visually, Ys VIII is beautiful to look at. I know I said in our Trails of Cold Steel review that Falcom isn’t always the strongest in the graphics department, but this game is an impressive jump in quality. Environments are greatly detailed and nicely diverse, character models share the same detail level (although they have some occasional wonky animations), and the creatures you’ll be fighting come across as suitably imposing…minus the one “terrifying” flying dinosaur creature boss that inexplicably looks like it has a chicken face.
The in-game art is one thing, but it’s the 2D images of the characters in the menus and in a few cutscenes that are spectacular. These images are beautifully drawn and detailed, and made me wish that the game models better reflected this artwork.
While the visual presentation is excellent, the soundtrack of Ys VIII ratchets up the game’s artistry tenfold. The tracks that Falcom’s in-house composers have crafted here are simply stunning, honestly to the point where it may best Chrono Cross as my favorite video game soundtrack.
Driving power rock with flourishes of orchestration to set the mood, I don’t think there’s a single track in this game that I didn’t love. “Sunshine Coastline,” the basic overworld theme for much of the game, strikes right out of the gate with beautiful strings over a rhythm guitar before jumping into a powerful bass-drum driven jam with standout melodies being traded between strings and piano. “A-to-Z,” one of the final boss themes, breaks away from the typical JRPG “ominous choir and orchestra” with leads from an upbeat guitar and fiddle, with a few double-bass splashes to drive home the strength of the track. Those are just two of many, many wonderfully crafted songs the game offers in its run.
Weeping with Joy
Overall, it feels like Falcom pulled out all the stops when it came to crafting Ys VIII. The result is an amazing Action RPG and probably one of the best entries in the Ys series. I really, really wish I could give this game a perfect score. However, the wooden localization and annoyances with the forced-in horde fights are a bit too glaring to ignore.
Despite the complaints, I can easily see Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana going down as a modern classic of the genre. The sense of wonder the game offers during exploration, the beautiful artistic presentation, and the just plain solid and fun gameplay make this a title that you absolutely should not pass up.
~ Final Score: 9/10 ~
Review copy provided by NIS America for PS4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.