Thanks to NIS AMERICA for the review code
Title: YS VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
System: Playstation Vita/TV
Release Date: 09/12/2017
Taking place after the events of the Japan only Ys V, Adol and Dogi end up on the Isle of Seiren after being attacked by a mysterious monster. As he searches for survivors from the ship they were on, Adol and his new friends set out to explore this lush paradise and discover all the mysteries surrounding it!
Despite the fact that Ys VIII was made with the PS4 in mind, Falcom did a great job making the Vita version look as stunning as it can get, with character models that look absolutely perfect up close, environments that look breathtaking, (especially on a television via the PSTV) and fluid animations. However, some of the terrain in certain locations (most notably dungeon areas) can look awfully jagged at times, and when playing it on a television these low quality textures can be incredibly noticeable. They aren’t too horrible, but some of those textures tend to apply to certain enemies as well, so while the backgrounds and environments look gorgeous, keep in mind that some of the textures won’t looking nearly as pretty.
When it comes to the soundtrack, Falcom delivers another smash hit, and honestly I’m fairly certain that this is the best Ys Soundtrack in ages after lackluster compositions for Ys Seven and Memories of Celceta. The epic nature of the series is back, and from the very first area of the Island to the many dungeons, each song is memorable, heavenly and very well composed. This is certainly a soundtrack that you’ll need to buy on a CD, and plugging in headphones if you play this on a Vita is strongly recommended! The voice acting is also really good, with the english cast doing a great job at capturing the feel and tone of the Japanese voice actors. Laxia’s voice in particular feels absolutely perfect for her character, and I do believe that the dub is really strong, even if some of the actors for characters from older games appear to be replaced.
However, I couldn’t seem to find any way to change the language in this version of the game, and while I had a Japanese imported copy to compare the dual audio, (Which I hear is for sure an option in the PS4 version) it would be a bit of a bummer if the Vita version could only stick with one audio track due to space limitations. Still, the English dub is fantastic, and there’s little to worry about when it comes to the original meaning being lost.
Ys VIII uses the same party gameplay system from Ys Seven and Ys: Memories of Celceta, but expands upon it tremendously, to the point that going back to Memories of Celceta was incredibly difficult for me after seeing how much this game improved on the mechanics. To start off, after a brief prologue you’re immediately shown the main appeal of the game, with a big area to freely explore at your own will. While a lot of parts are sectioned off until later in the game, the Nameless Shore where you start the game contains several optional routes with treasure chests and material spots, and as you gain more skills to enhance exploration along with more residents in the Castaway Village (the main hub of the game) to clear up obstacles, the game ends up feeling a lot like a 3D Metroidvania, with the story remaining linear but the exploration being pushed on you a lot more than in Memories of Celceta.
Of course, combat is a major aspect of this title as well, with several improvements made over the system from Memories of Celceta. The biggest improvement comes from an improved lock-on system, which shows you the health bar of an enemy and allows you to properly track immenient threats. Enemies can still be taken down with basic attacks, party members can be swapped out on a fly with the press of a button, and the Flash Move and Flash Guard effects both return to help slow the enemies down. (With the Flash Guard requiring the perfect timing of a button press this time around, while Flash Move is much harder to pull off than in Celceta) The Skill system has also been slightly tweaked, and while you still attach four skills to different face buttons to use with whatever shoulder button of your choice, the EXTRA SKILL is done by holding both the L and R buttons, which means that you will no longer be activating it on accident like in Memories of Celceta if you happened to remap the face buttons and made the Triangle Button something important.
Speaking of button remapping, the Vita version of Ys VIII will likely require that you do so in order to find a setup that’s right for you, considering the limited nature of the Vita compared to a Dualshock 4 controller. Unfortunately, even on the Playstation TV (which supports Dualshock 4 controllers just fine) you cannot map anything to the L2/R2 buttons, as they act as automatic shortcuts to the map and item menu, which is a bit of a bummer since some options end up unused with the limited button space of the Vita layout. The game can still be controlled decently enough, but I really wished that Falcom took more advantage of the Playstation TV’s controller support.
Outside of exploring, taking on simple sidequests and killing enemies, there’s also a new system in place that will pop up every now and then. Sometimes, an intermission of sorts will take place in the Castaway Village, where monsters will attempt to raid and destroy your camp. If you choose to engage in these raid battles, you’ll be tasked with killing as many opposing enemies as possible without letting any of them damage your defenses, and the game encourages you to go all out by using powerful EXTRA SKILL attacks on these foes, clear a wave without taking any damage, and using Flash Guard and Move properly, as the better you do in these minor diversions, the higher of a rank you’ll obtain, which is a very easy way to earn rare materials that are used in the Castaway Village to upgrade equipment, items and several other things to help you on your journey. (And in the case of equipment, upgrading your arsenal is strongly recommended, especially on the harder difficulties as you’ll be able to deal a lot more damage and take a lot more)
Despite all the great and fun things to do as you explore the island and its many dungeons, Ys VIII has several technical problems that may bog down the experience for some, especially if you compare it to the PS4 port. For starters, the framerate is barely stable, and it seems to hover around 30 frames or so during normal play, but it won’t hesitate to drop if you use an Extra Skill, fight a moderately sized enemy or run around a detailed area. It’s not slow to the point it’s choppy or unplayable in most cases, but it’s still very noticeable, and those familiar with the framerate in other RPGs like the 3DS Pokemon titles should know what I’m talking about. Comparing that to the PS4’s silky smooth 60FPS and the difference is night and day, especially when it comes to the fast forward feature, as just like in Memories of Celceta, using this feature to speed up cutscenes with the O button will make the framerate slow down to a crawl. Honestly, seeing the game stutter so much when it’s supposed to be speeding up makes me relieved that the developers added a feature to let you skip cutscenes entirely by pressing the start button. Luckily the cutscenes play and run just fine if you don’t decide to speed through them, but it is very jarring if you want to try and rush through them without skipping out on the story altogether.
In conclusion, despite the fact that Ys VIII is pushing the Vita to its absolute limit, I still had a ton of fun with this game, both a year ago when I imported it and now since I’ve been able to play it in English. The combat system is excellent, the world is just a ton of fun to explore, and the story is pretty engaging as well. Unfortunately, since I played this on a Playstation TV, the technical problems were much, much more apparent, and it was kinda hard having to adjust to a game that would lag immensely when trying to speed up cutscenes. (though this problem was also in the last Vita Ys game)
It should also be noted that since the PS Vita version launched before the PS4 version in Japan, it does not include any of the extra content that version contains, meaning that this similar to the situation with Tokyo Xanadu and Tokyo Xanadu EX. Therefore, as amazing and fluid as this game is, I have a feeling it would be better to get the PS4/PC version if you have one of those systems, as the Vita version only gets the job done if you’re playing it on portable Vita hardware, where it works as a fantastic adventure game, and stands out as one of the best Action RPGs on the system, despite the strain this game causes on the system and the fact that the game was obviously not made for this system in mind, and people should be aware of that before they decide which version to go with.
I give a Ys VIII (Vita) a 9 out of 10, and shortly after launch I plan to publish a mini review of the PS4 version to see if the tech improvements really do make a world of difference when it comes to the actual gameplay and my enjoyment of it. Considering how much I loved the Vita version regardless, it’ll be pretty hard to make a great game even better.