A good RPG is much like a juggling act. There are a lot of balls you have to pay attention to and how to keep them all balanced is a difficult thing to do. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana seemingly fails at doing this. It’s not that it is a bad game but it does a poor job of keeping all of these different aspects in check and in their place.
Continuing with our juggling motif, let’s talk about some of the different “balls” that are in play when creating a good RPG; Story, Pacing, Battle, & Exploration. The genre is a digital throwback to tabletop games of old such as Dungeons & Dragons and where a good Dungeon Master would let you “feel” the world around you, so too does a good game developer. Just like Dungeon Masters, some developers are better at this than others. This is what I call “The Tolkein Effect”. J.R.R. Tolkien was known for his ability to vividly describe the look, feel and smell of everything around you. As you read, you could see the lush greenery of the Shire or the crackling rocks of Mordor. It takes a certain level of skill and vision to accurately bring these aspects together in the right way.
Ys VIII makes the bulk of this game about exploration. After being castaway on a mysterious island it’s your character’s job to help search for others and act as mapmaker as you travel across the island. The game has a wide variety of climates and topography to venture across and does a great job of making the world not feel too repetitive and is relatively vast. It also locks several aspects of the game behind mechanics you pick up later such as climbing & double jumping giving you a reason to have to double back to previously explored zones again and again. The world building was exciting and I enjoyed discovering new places and locations.
The battle system allows the world to feel more expansive with battles taking place in the overworld as you travel through different areas. There is a simple attack, dodge, block flow to the combat and if you time the second two just right, the game awards you by slowing enemies down for a short period of time. You can also switch between different members of your team with the press of a button, which is hugely important. Each enemy is weak to a type of attack and each character has its own specialty. Hummel and Laxia have quick, piercing attacks while Sahad and Ricotta have slow, blunt force attacks. The game also offers a wide variety of “Skills” you can use by holding the “R-Button” and pressing either A, B, X, or Y allowing you to really dish out the pain. I noticed in battle, the game suffered from some rather annoying drops in framerate and stuttered a little bit in a couple of boss fights. This made the dodging and blocking mechanics almost impossible and I found myself having to lower the difficulty to make up for it.
“the story… once it finally got moving… wasn’t all too original”
Drops in framerate and the occasional clipping could be forgiven, though the games horrible pacing could not. Much like Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the game is segmented into multiple “Chapters” like a book which normally gives you an idea of how long the game will be. Yes, sometimes there is a longer chapter thrown in here or there but in this game, they are completely uneven. Out of the six chapters, the last two contain almost all of the storyline and exposition for most of the characters, including the title character Dana. I thought the story was interesting but it was a slog to get to it and I spent half the game wondering when it would be introduced. You spend the first couple of hours searching for fellow castaways and mapping the island with very little else happening. There wasn’t really any foreshadowing for the story that was to come and once it finally got moving it wasn’t all too original. It haphazardly fell back on tropes and plots from RPGs I played fifteen years ago.
If you like a game that likes to build a world to let you explore this could be a great game for you to pick up. The story could have been paced better and the performance of the game made the combat more difficult than intended. I would recommend the game for any looking for an RPG to pick up for the Nintendo Switch but with the abundance of releases this summer there are plenty of options. You might want to wait until it goes on sale.