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Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana

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2017 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the first Ys release and, despite never quite attracting the attention that other series of this vintage have, Nihon Falcom keeps chugging along producing fantastic action RPGs. The latest, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, still stars Adol Christin who, in his quest to explore the world in Ys, seems determined to wash up on every beach imaginable. This time, the passengers and crew from the ship Adol is travelling on have also become marooned on the Isle of Seiren, a mysterious land that hides the remnants of a lost civilization as well as long-extinct Ancient Beasts. Adol, with some help from Dogi and other new compatriots, must find the other passengers, explore the island to discover its mysteries, and work together to find a way back home.

Ys VIII continues to use the party combat mechanic that was first introduced in Ys Seven, with three characters on the field and the player able to swap between them at will. With characters sporting different types of weapons, and enemies having different weaknesses thereto, the game encourages using different characters with different playstyles, which helps keep the combat fresh. Ys VIII does mark a change by focusing not only on Adol, but the titular Dana as well. This adds a different dimension to the story, with Dana and Adol connected across time, and thus tying into an interesting narrative of what happened to the civilization on Seiren.

While some things change, tightly-controlled, fast-paced combat remains at the core of the Ys series and, of course, it wouldn't be an Ys game without top notch music to complement the gameplay. There is little in gaming as satisfying as taking down a huge boss as energetic electric guitar riffs wail in the background. Simply put, Ys VIII is the culmination of what this series has been building towards with the past three releases. The combat, exploration, and storytelling have come together into an incredibly impressive portable package.

Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception and Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth get considered as one here, as the two games really combine into one single, great tale. Unfortunately, the pacing problems of Mask of Deception's first half will likely have prevented the duology from getting the plaudits the rest of it deserves, but even those slower parts are key to what comes later as the game builds to two great climaxes: one in each game.

The incredibly deep story, filled with memorable characters, is one of the best in a year filled with them, and when the tactical battle system is allowed the chance to shine, it does so with aplomb. Once it gets going, Utawarerumono never lets go and there was a real struggle waiting for Mask of Truth once Mask of Deception reached its gripping conclusion. Aquaplus merged some prime visual novel storytelling with thoroughly engaging gameplay, and one can only wonder how much better received the games would be if only it had gotten to the crux of things sooner.

by Joshua Carpenter, Alex Fuller


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