Ys VIII, which released in 2017, is the latest game in the very long-running Ys series from Falcom. Dating back to the mid ’80s, the Ys series of simple but fun action-RPGs. While the Ys series has never been as popular as the top series in this genre, particularly in the West, many of the Ys games are great and deserve attention, often more than they have gotten.
This game is no exception, as it is really good and addictive! Ys VIII is a great action-rpg, with a well-thought-through mixture of elements from both the classic Ys games and modern titles. I’ve been playing a lot of this game over the past few weeks, and quite enjoy it. As always in the series, Ys VIII is a very combat-heavy action-RPG. The way they keep the combat system simple, but add depth as expected from a modern game, is great. You’ll spend a lot of time in combat here and it stays fun.
Historically, you play as one character in Ys games, the red-haired hero Adol. However, in Ys VII that changed as the series moved to having three party members you could switch between. This game works like that again, as the game has three characters active at a time, and you control one while the AI control the other two. You can switch between the three active party members with the press of a button, and once you get more than three characters you can swap out the others on the pause menu anytime. It seems that only the three active ones get experience points though, unfortunately, so you will need to switch characters out to keep them levelled. There are three main types of characters, with a rock-paper-scissors-styled system determining what type of enemies each one is good at fighting, either regular enemies, flying enemies, or highly armored foes. This encourages you to switch characters while playing based on which enemy type you are fighting, which adds to the game.
Beyond that, combat is mostly centered around pressing a single attack button, but there is also a vitally important roll button used to dodge incoming attacks, and you can equip four special attacks per character as well that you access with button combinations. A meter on screen, shown as a ring around the special-attack icons, controls how much you can use your specials. Additionally, as you defeat enemies with specials you fill in the background of the specials icons with yellow. Once this is full, you can use a super special move with another button combination, which differs for each character. Again you’re fighting a lot in this game, as expected from the always-grindey Ys series, but combat is fun so it’s not too bad. The game does seem a bit easy on Normal difficulty though, so I’ve mostly been playing on Hard. Maybe it gets harder later on, I am still not too far into this fairly long game. On Hard the game is plenty challenging from the beginning, though. Dodging is critical to survival, and selecting the right character and using your skills well is important. It’s rewarding when you get past a tough boss fight in good shape. Fortunately, as always in Ys games you can save anytime. I know I said it already, but I have also been playing some Ys I for the Sega Master System recently, and this game feels like half classic Ys, and half modern action game. It’s great stuff.
Ys games have always had a plot, but Falcom mixed things up this time with an original concept for this fantasy adventure series: you are stranded on a deserted island. Ys has always been a gameplay-first, story-second series, but there are always characters to care about. This game goes farther along on that route than before. The game begins on a large oceangoing ship. Adol and his friend Dogi are working on this ship as crew members, wandering the world as he usually does. However, after not long the ship wrecks, and you wash up on a forbidding deserted island. Starting out with only Adol, you quickly add a second party member, then set up a base camp. The whole game is set on the island, and you explore it, find new survivors to add to your party or who will stay at the base camp and do something there, and collect stuff. Every so often, Adol sees dreams of a woman called Dana who lived in some long-ago civilization perhaps on the island. She becomes important much later in the game, but I haven’t gotten there yet. Along the way, there are many fully voiced cutscenes which give the characters personality in a way I don’t remember seeing in this series before. Ys VII also had a party, but this one makes you care about your party members a lot more than that game did and the party members interact much more. The deserted-island setting is also reasonably interesting, if inordinately dangerous in that way only a videogame could be. The game is definitely anime though, with anime-style character designs and constant anime-style humor and design elements. I have long found it weird to see how there is almost nothing actually European-medieval anything Japanese “medieval fantasy” games have in them… it’s kind of comical, how impossible this ship’s contents are for this ostensible world setting! Apparently this world has advanced far enough to make some guns, so there is that, but still. That ship in the beginning or most any characters’ clothing doesn’t fit the ostensible setting at all, as usual for fantasy anime. Oh well.
Returning to the gameplay though, since you are stuck on a deserted island a money system wouldn’t make sense, so there isn’t one. Instead, it’s all about collecitble monster parts, plants, and such. All purchases in the camp are done through barter with the stuff you collect, so the monster-parts-collection element of this game fits the setting well. Yes, as with many modern games this game has a crafting system, but they did a good job making it simple enough that I don’t mind it. There isn’t any complex crafting system here, you see; you just get stuff that people say they want and bring it to them, either for side quests or for getting new items in the shop and such, and then they will give you the reward. That seems simple enough, if you know where to find the things they need, but that latter part can be a challenge sometimes. Yes, finding the right items can be tricky.
Story quests, on the other hand, usually have you going to a specific point in the map, either to search for a survivor, kill monsters there, or just to explore to that point. These points are marked on your map, whether or not you have reached that place yet, which is very helpful; when you have a story quest you always know the direction you should be heading in, you just need to figure out how to get there. This can be trickier as it sounds, as areas can have multiple paths and are often gated either with obstacles you need a specific item to get past that you may not have yet, or obstacles that you can only get past with the help of a specific number of survivors. So yes, rescuing people doesn’t only add to your little town, it also allows you to unlock new areas on the map. It’s a good system.
I like exploring the world a lot. Vs VIII has a fairly large world made up of interlocking areas. The area sizes are designed for the limitations of the Vita, but each one is plenty large, allowing for a good amount of space to explore and fight in. They can have multiple floors, and in addition to a wide variety of monsters are also full of treasure chests, collection points where you get plants or minerals or such from, scenic vistas, and more, all marked on the map. On that note, graphically the game looks great for the Vita, and is probably one of the best-looking games I’ve played for the system. I’m sure it looks even better on PC and PS4, and probably the Switch too, in framerate particularly as the Vita version is 30fps and the others try for 60, but I am quite fine with 30fps and I think this game looks very nice. Some Vita games look dated compared to major-console titles, but with its great graphics and art design this game impresses. The soundtrack is fantastic too, it’s great stuff. Ys games have often had memorable soundtracks and this one is no exception. The good grpahics and music help make this already-great game even better.
So I mostly quite like this game, but though I am ‘only’ a bit over 10 hours into the game so far, there are a few issues to mention. First, this is a long game, as much as 70 hours to finish, and a lot of that time will be spent levelling or killing monsters for parts. I’m sure the grind gets old after a while, and not everybody has time to finish a game as long as this. You surely can finish it faster than that if you ignore all side content, but it is not a short game. And second, the Vita version of this game here is the original version of the game, and does not have a whole list of features that were added to all of the later ports, including the PS4, PC, and Switch releases. The additional content of the other versions includes a bonus dungeon at the end of the game for Dana to play through, more combat modes for Dana to switch to when you play as her near the end of the game, a bunch of interface and map improvements and such, and more. On the other hand, the improved versions also cost a lot more than the Vita one does — this version is easy to find for under $40, while the other three are still a full $60. So despite the cuts I got this version, and don’t regret it. I probably will also get the PC version someday as well, but Ys VIII is a great game and a nice showcase for what the Vita can do. It looks great on the OLED screen. It would make more sense to just get one of the ports and stick to that, but there is more than enough here in this version to keep gamers occupied for a long time, and so far I am quite liking what I have seen. I recommend playing Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, it is a good game worthy of attention.