Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (2018) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (2018)

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Adol Christin, frozen in time with his striking red hair and piety toward sword-based justice, is an enduring figure who has anchored the Ys series for a shade over three decades now.  He doesn't have the cultural cache of Mario or Kirby nor the creative restlessness of those two figures.  Ys has instead endured through sparse tinkering and consistency.  Whether it's through the destruction derby battle system of Ys I: Ancient Ys Vanished or the rapid party switching break fights of Ys: Memories of Celceta if I saw Adol's red hair on the box I knew I'd be in for a good seven to ten hours of tightly focused combat.

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana (just Lacrimosa of Dana moving forward) is a relatively big departure for the Ys franchise.  Lacrimosa of Dana leans less into fine-tuning the battle system and more in providing the kind of sprawling story that Memories of Celceta provided.  It's a self-conscious stab at maturity for the long-running series, and one that reminds me that just because something is more mature doesn't make it better or more enjoyable.  In the case of Lacrimosa of Dana, that maturity comes with a massive slog of flat storytelling punctuated by a few moments of silent power.Starting with the introductory battle, the only big change to combat comes in the combat maps.  These aren't the tight corridors and trap-filled rooms of The Oath in Felghana or Ys Origin.  Instead the island Adol journeys on has wide spaces, plenty of room to stop and enjoy the view then strike down foes at a leisurely pace.  This creates a big problem for a series as focused on quick battles as Ys is, since the wider berth of the maps means more downtime between battles and a similar expanse of time to consider how quickly the battles are over with.  Add to that a home base system where you build a village of castaways, each with their own quest lines combined with plenty of dialogue, and you have an Ys experience that's filled with a lot of dead air.

The other problem lies with the weapon triangle system imported from Ys Seven and Memories of Celceta.  There are three weapon types - crushing, piercing, and slicing - that can break through an enemy's guard with sustained attacks to temporarily stop the action for increased damage.  Even on the harder difficulty, I rarely had the need to switch out party members because enemies would be dead before I was in any kind of danger that necessitated the switch.  Since there was little incentive to change characters I felt stuck in the same kinds of battles repeatedly, with no need to change strategy, feeling the weight of repetition of Adol's attacks slowly weigh in on me.There's not even an intriguing character motivation to switch between party members.  Most everyone fills a standard role be it Ricotta's spunky child (though I do like that her weapon is basically a cup and ball toy) or Hummel's mysterious dark-clad gun wielder.  There are two exceptions, one minor and one game saving.  The first is Sahad, a refreshing change of pace from big guy archetypes as he just misses his wife and kids so he wants to get home safely.  There's a grounded feel to his dialogue reflected in the often clumsy nature of his attacks that result in longer than average delays but work with his fun animations.

The second, and ties into the most intriguing parts of the game, is the titular Dana.  Developer Nihon Falcom's more mature approach pays off with her, resulting in a game long mystery about her ties to Adol and what happened to her kingdom that left it in ruins.  The best dungeons in Lacrimosa of Dana have to do with this idea of half-remembered history and mature acceptance of death.  My favorite involves a decaying tower whose state of disrepair caused it to lean with the machinery inside barely working.  The terrain is a blast to fight through, with smaller areas and small platforming sections that work against my instincts because of the wider paths and scanter selection of enemies from earlier.Dana also opens up the combat system wonderfully.  Ys has always been about the rough and tumble but Dana's style adds a refreshing amount of grace.  Controlling her is a delight as her abilities keep her in the air and wafting purposely from one encounter to the next.  Nihon Falcom must have realized they were on to something with her as roughly 25% of Lacrimosa of Dana involves playing just as her.  She has her own form of the triangle attack system put against enemies that more sternly necessitate its usage, and since she has such a magnificent flow to her combat it never once feels awkward with the start/stop halting of the main game.  It suits her matured view of life and death, similarly reflected in her character growth, and results in a few moments of quiet beauty.

It's odd that the best points of this Ys iteration are the most contemplative, yet they're powerful because they're interspersed with action from Dana that suits Adol's growing understanding of what happened on the island.  I don't play Ys games for quiet yet Lacrimosa of Dana shows how - with a bit of editing - this could have been the best iteration yet.  As it stands, I'm disappointed by Adol's latest journey.  It's not enough to turn me away from the series overall, but it's the weakest entry in over a decade of consistent fun.

Special note: I played Lacrimosa of Dana on my PC via the Steam edition.  Whatever stories you might have heard or read about its stability are correct.  The first day or so of trying to play it resulted in a large number of crashes.  Day two onward it was completely stable.  I'm unusually patient when it comes to PC issues and my crashes weighed little, if at all, on my final thoughts on Lacrimosa of Dana.  I wanted to make note because I'm a huge fan of the Ys series and bought it full price day one (which is relatively rare for me and video games) but can understand why so many are frustrated with its PC performance issues.  Please take caution if you opt to play Lacrimosa of Dana on the PC.

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Posted by Andrew

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