Although I’m a big JRPG guy, I’m still fairly green when it comes to the stuff Nihon Falcom puts out. I absolutely adored Tokyo Xanadu Ex+ and the first two games in the Trails of Cold Steel universe, but Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was ultimately my maiden voyage in their action RPG series. And now I want more. A lot more.
Lacrimosa of Dana kicks off by putting you in control of series mainstay Adol Christin, aboard the ship Lombardia. It doesn’t take long for the proverbial shit to hit the fan when a massive tentacled monster appears and shipwrecks the crew on the fabled Isle of Seiren. Legend says that anyone who steps foot on the island is never seen again, so it’s up to you to scour Seiren for survivors, build a base of operations, and devise a plan to GTFO.
This interesting setup does an excellent job painting the picture of what you’ll be spending the next 40+ hours doing. Seiren is pretty sizeable and equally beautiful, and I had a blast exploring its nooks and crannies in search of bonus dungeons, crafting materials, fishing spots, and the ever-valuable survivors that helped make up Castaway Village.
This is an action RPG with a battle system that’s fluid and responsive, with attacks and weaknesses similar to Fire Emblem’s triangle system — three types of attacks, each represented by different party members. The party limit is three deep, so you can either bring one of each attack type and have all of your bases covered or double up on one for its own specific damage boost. Larger monsters and boss battles don’t have these weaknesses, though, so while I became immediately comfortable with a balanced party, I eventually just started bringing the ones I enjoyed using the most.
Battles typically boil down to spending SP by spamming special attacks and then refilling your SP meter by mashing the standard attack button. New abilities are randomly unlocked in a Romancing SaGa “sparking” manner, and I wasn’t the biggest fan of this sort of randomness, but honestly, I just found one or two I found useful and stuck with those through most of the game. There’s also a “perfect” block and dodge system, which slows down time and makes you invulnerable to damage for a brief period, so there’s quite a bit of reactionary gameplay as opposed to button mashing. If mashing is more your speed, though, the game’s easy mode is super forgiving.
As far as the story goes, it definitely moves beyond getting off of the island when Adol begins having weird dreams about a girl named Dana (pronounced like “Donna”) who has just become a tribal maiden and has cataclysmic visions of a place that looks just like the Isle of Seiren. Piecing together the island’s mysteries, the truth about Dana, and watching the narrative unfold is an absolute treat, despite being full of convenient progression beats and “chosen one” cliches.
Adol is simply a red-haired swordsman acting as the hero of Castaway Village, but the real star of the game is Dana herself. I found her far more interesting than the mostly-silent Adol, and periodically getting to play as her was something I always looked forward to. She has a bustling city to explore, side-quests to complete, and one of the most enjoyable dungeons in the game that slowly opens up as you progress the story.
A lot of JRPGs start spinning their wheels after a while, but I never felt that way here. I was always eager to see and do everything, from playing cartographer and mapping the Isle of Seiren to partaking in a tower-defense raid mini-game and building relationships with Adol’s fellow castaways. The latter of which is done by completing side-quests and giving gifts, which rewards you with more juicy narrative cutscenes and passive stat boosts.
The soundtrack also fucking RIPS. There’s so much good music in Ys VIII that you’re better off tracking down the OST on Spotify or YouTube and listening for yourself. It really does go above and beyond, which I’m now discovering is part of what makes Falcom’s games so special. I felt the same way about Tokyo Xanadu and Cold Steel. Whether you’re thrashing monsters to shredding power metal riffs or choking back virtual tears to piano melodies, the OST delivers the goods (and then some).
An aspect of the game that’s kind of hard to defend is how Lacrimosa of Dana goes about unlocking its three endings (being bad, normal, and a definitive “true” finale). This is a game that offers A LOT of optional content, but if you’re the type that likes to mainline the story then you’ll easily fumble your way into the bad ending. In this regard, the “optional” content becomes mandatory just to get the normal ending, thus requiring you to aim for 100% affinity ratings and quest completions that are necessary for the “true” cinematic climax. I found the true ending to be a tad disappointing at first, but I’ll admit I’ve warmed up to it now that I’ve spent a day letting it settle.
If you’re curious, yes, you can play this without playing the others first. The bulk of my knowledge of the series comes by way of watching others play them, and while there’s a returning (non-playable) character from Memories of Celceta, I never felt lost for having not played any of the other games myself. So yeah, I think you’d be just fine playing this without experiencing the others.
Overall, while Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana isn’t my favorite Falcom release, it’s still very good. I really enjoyed the story as a whole (initial true ending gripe aside), liked all of the playable characters and supporting castmates, adored the energetic, rocking soundtrack, and would happily revisit the game in another year or two to experience it all over again.
Honestly, I have very little to complain about. It’s just a rad JRPG with a satisfying and rewarding gameplay hook that equally rewarded me by dangling its narrative carrot in my face for about 40 hours.
This review only pertains to the post-patch PS4 version that corrected the game’s plethora of translation issues that somehow made its way through the localization process.