Ys VIII is an action RPG that feels different enough from other RPGs of its kind to help it stand out. A vibrant, open world that feels vast, littered with innumerable locations to discover. Interesting enemy encounters with plenty of enemy types give enough variety so the journey doesn’t get old. The music lends itself well to the atmosphere as well with its high energy, getting you pumped. Upon seeing footage and information about this game before it was released, I was greatly impressed by how great it looked on the Vita. This quickly became one of my most anticipated games of the year. The large world and colorful environments are eye-catching and seriously impressive for being on a hand held. The game delivers on gameplay as well so don’t worry, it isn’t just a tech showcase.
Well, without reaching into spoiler territory, the story is pretty straightforward at first, but continues to become more interesting as time goes on. You start off as Adol Christian, the main protagonist of most Ys games. You are part of a crew on a ship called “The Lombardia”, along with your long time friend Dogi. The ship is carrying a plethora of passengers, most are people of rather high status or royalty, along with a big enough crew to aid passengers of that caliber. Each passenger you meet has their own defining characteristics that indicates they have some place in the upcoming story as opposed to the stock, generic, numbered crew members you meet.
At one point, you are ordered into the captain’s cabin. Knowing that Adol is an adventurer, the captain talks to Adol about a mysterious island called Seiren and asks if he knows anything about it. All that either of them know is that ships that travel near this island end up mysteriously disappearing along with those aboard the ship. The ship is set to sail near this area and the two establish to take precaution and be mindful of any suspicious situations. Well… we wouldn’t have a game if nothing suspicious happens. Soon after, the weather becomes fierce, and all of a sudden, a giant tentacle begins to attack the ship. Adol fights with it, but the creature is just too big and destroys the ship. Adol then wakes up washed ashore a beach on the Isle of Seiren, confused as to where he is. He then sets out to find some clues or to find other people that may have also washed ashore. Adol eventually ends up meeting up with a few people who survived the crash and everyone builds a small village with debris and items that washed ashore from the ship as well. At this point the main objectives of the story are established: find more survivors and try to find a way off the island.
Characters you come upon each have their own distinct character traits, making each encounter entertaining. There is also a thoughtful amount of character development here between the cast, so the story remains engaging enough throughout the whole adventure. I found myself beginning to like some characters I hadn’t before, due to them developing a different attitude over time, or learning more about their background. You find Dogi, Captain Barbaros, and your two main cohorts Laxia and Sahad. Then, all of the early characters you meet up with while scouting, conveniently all have a highly useful trade they are proficient in. You extricate a doctor, a blacksmith, a tailor, a shopkeeper, etc. The village comes along nicely at this rate, providing you with everything you need for your undertaking.
Just look at it. It looks great on this system. The landscapes have lots of detail, complete with lush grass, plant life, and rock formations. Each area feels more open than it actually is because you always have a view of what feels like miles of background of the island. There is an abundance of landmarks to discover which upon discovery, will show a quick panoramic sequence of the area giving you an even better look at you surroundings and really show you how vast some of these areas are. It is quite impressive. Scattered throughout these backdrops are enemy beasts of plenty of varieties. I never got bored of seeing the same kinds of enemies as each major area brought about it’s own types to change things up. Bosses are no slouch either, I admired the interesting designs of the bosses. They are usually a two to three story tall monster which makes for enjoyable, epic battle sequences.
As far as sound, the game has some pretty great tracks to go along with each area. Heavy, shredding guitars and keyboards keep the action at an all time high, keeping you pumped to play the game. Music can also get quite luminous and eerie when it needs to be in areas such as caves and caverns. You hear tons of different instruments being used throughout the entire game. Most tracks feel epic in proportion, especially the high energy songs, lending itself well to this game’s already gigantic feeling.
Voice acting is decent. I never found dialog to sound awkward or irritating in performance. The Japanese voice option has been added to the Playstation Store to which is a nice touch . The English dialog here is done sufficiently. Games today aren’t like back in the ‘90s when voice acting budgets were less than peanuts or just flat out non-existent. The acceptable standard of voice acting today is much higher than it’s ever been before in this industry. An established franchise such as Ys isn’t going to slouch on something like that, as the series has a high quality standard it upholds already.
Gameplay and Design
Gameplay here is probably the shining jewel of the experience. You got a bit of everything, combat, exploring, horde mode-esque sequences, leveling various traits/abilities, even a little crafting. The combat system is fun and feels fluid in action. Characters can learn special attacks whilst leveling up and change up what you can do throughout the game so the fights don’t get old. Jumping and dodging are utilized well and have their own benefits when executed properly. Timing a dodge or guard at the right time initiates a Flash Move or Flash Guard. A successful Flash Move will slow down time as you are sped up, allowing you to unleash fury on your enemies. A Flash Guard will charge up your SP and EXTRA gauges while also increasing attack power allowing you to dominate the opposition for a short time. Each character also has a unique finisher-type attack for clearing a room or greatly damaging hordes of tougher enemies.
Enemies you encounter are visible on the field and attack you as soon as they detect you right there on the map. There is no transition to a battle sequence, it all takes place in real time. This is useful to let you take enemies on how you want. If you want to charge into the middle of an area and take on everything at once, you can. If you want to stay back and take on only one or two enemies at a time, that is an option as well. Each character feels different and has their own fighting style and move sets. Some characters are all around balanced, some are slow and powerful, others are quick and precise. There are even some enemy types that are weak to certain character’s fighting type, letting you utilize everyone in your party and not just one character all the time. Boss battles were all unique and stayed interesting with their own gimmicks and tactics during the fight. I always looked forward to a boss battle because they were each distinct.
While out and about, during your adventure, you will come across items in treasure chests, washed ashore from the ship, dropped by enemies, or taken from the environments themselves. You can find weapons, status items, armor, accessories, recipes, and tons of ingredients for crafting. Items such and branches and minerals can be used to make new weapons, battle accessories, and even defense items for the village. Since there’s no money here, being on a deserted island and all, various items can be traded at the shop for what you may need to complete a new armor piece or weapon. Fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat are also found throughout to use with recipes and such. Everything you find ends up having a use somewhere, so grab as much as you can. There’s no limit on what you can carry either which is a very useful feature as you don’t have to worry about throwing out items to make room for more. This keeps the action moving as there is no need to even think of item management other than equipping items and healing your characters when needed.
Rescuing people lost on the island is one of the main objectives and makes it necessary to progress further in most cases. There are certain locations on the map that are blocked pathways, like a fallen tree or a landslide that covered an entrance to a new area. In order to get past these sections, you are required to have certain number of villagers back at base camp to help move these obstructions out of the way. Some obstructions require six villagers at your disposal while other require sixteen or even more. It is an interesting way to keep you from wandering into territory with overly powerful enemies when you are not leveled up high enough yet. This number can also fluctuate as the story progresses, so be mindful. You may end up with thirteen people and then down to ten as events roll out. That’s all I will say about that before I spoil too much.
The game delivered on my hopes for it. It looks great and really shows off what the Vita can do. A criticism I have is that the game may look like a open world game, but it isn’t truly open world. Each area is sectioned off with boundaries that trigger a loading screen in between them. However, each section is wide enough that these loading screens aren’t popping up every minute while you play. There’s definitely some clever background work here that still gives the impression of a vast, open world, with the music helping set the tone of a grandiose adventure. That being said, this is one of the Vita’s best games to come out this year. There’s hours of gameplay here, you definitely get your forty dollars worth out of the purchase. There’s more than just the main story to do. There is a plethora of side quests to do and secret areas to uncover. You can even set aside time to upgrade your village to better protect it against monsters. There’s a wealth of activities to choose here while at the same time, they aren’t forced on you. Many of the side quests can be completed by happenstance just by playing normally. Some, like the collecting quests, you may have already completed before you even take on the job. There were a number of times I just happened to have had a certain number of a particular item asked for, and was right then and there rewarded with something vastly more useful. The game knows how to keep you engaged, as I usually had an itch to play it when I was away from my Vita. The game being part of an already high quality franchise, it is polished quite well. There was no reason to suspect it wouldn’t have turned out at least great.
Score: 9 out of 10
Ys VII is easily one the Vita’s best games this year. The world feels alive and monumental with the gameplay keeping you enthralled and coming back for more.