Originally announced at TGS 2014 for PS4 and Vita, Ys VIII has seen quite the release cycle. The PS4 version was delayed and it launched to great success on Vita only. Then Falcom enhanced the Vita game for PS4 with better visuals and performance and added some extra content before it finally released on PS4 earlier this year in Japan. Now both those version with the addition of a PC port will be localised and released in a few weeks by NIS America.
Ys VIII starts off with you on a ship called the Lombardia with Dogi and a few other people you interact with in addition to a large crew. Calamity strikes and you find yourself stranded on Seiren Island that is part of a mystery at sea. Think of this as sort of Bermuda’s Triangle. This deserted island is bereft of humanity and has loads of monsters and areas for you to explore. Soon after waking up, you meet up with a few people who were on board the ship and start to build a village. One thing leads to another with exploration and you find more people before discovering something great. I won’t get into spoilers, but the plot isn’t just tacked on here. It fits into the gameplay well and there’s way more dialogue than I expected for a Ys game. People called this Ys no Kiseki as a play on Sen no Kiseki (Trails of Cold Steel) which is full of a ton of dialogue and Ys which is all about that fast paced action combat and I agree with that monicker.
Gameplay for the first major part of the game follows a simple loop that is a lot of fun. Later on things get a bit more focussed and I prefer the early bits. You have the Seiren Island to explore with a lot of freedom. There are some areas that are inaccessible early on but you get the means to go to those locations through items, equipment, abilities, or rescuing more people. The in game map is really well done and the ability to warp to various crystal points is super useful. Crystal points basically trigger an autosave (yes Ys VIII has autosave in addition to manual save) and heal you. There’s fishing, killing various forms of enemies, partaking in fantastic boss fights (with kickass music), exploring, protecting your settlement from waves of enemies, and more to do here.
Switching between party members allows for things to remain fresh and each one has his or her own abilities and strengths. The more you fight and use skills, the greater the chance of unlocking new skills that you can assign to each face button for use with R1. Speaking of the buttons, you are able to reassign every action to anything on the controller. I made full use of this but was pretty disappointed that the tutorials will still refer to the original button for said action. The loop of going out to explore, coming back and trading in the spoils of battle, upgrading or crafting equipment, cooking, and doing a side quest or two early on is great. You really have a lot of freedom which is great in a Ys game.
You know how people say the Switch is what Nintendo wanted to do with the Wii U in the first place and this is them finally realising it? Well Ys VIII and Celceta are like that. I see a lot that reminds me of Celceta but things just weren’t great there. VIII on the other hand is a joy to play through and through.
Playing this on both the PS4 and Vita has made me appreciate both versions and I’m simultaneously playing different saves across different difficulties on both. Each version has advantages and disadvantages. Vita is portable and this is how I have experienced a large part of Falcom’s catalogue, but it also has an erratic frame rate. It isn’t a deal breaker, but alongside the slightly long load times it maybe an issue for some. Still, it is fantastic to experience on the go. The PS4 version has almost no frame rate issues and it is nearly at a constant 60fps compared to the Vita’s 30fps. While everything is higher resolution, there’s no denying the portable roots here and I’d go so far as to say the Vita small screen hides some of the visual inconsistencies well. The biggest problem with visuals is when there’s a large mob of big enemies. This makes the camera annoying and I don’t think they thought some of these encounters through when it comes to the camera movement.
You probably already know how much I love Falcom Sound Team JDK’s music. Ys: The Oath in Felghana is one of my favourite soundtracks of all time. Ys VIII has a mostly amazing soundtrack through and through. The non-combat and non-exploration tunes feel a bit off in comparison though. You have the option to play with English or Japanese voice overs (On Vita English is in the base game and the JP one will need to be downloaded separately) and the English VA is inconsistent. Some dialogue options have characters expressing themselves in ways that absolutely do not fit the scene or the tone of the conversation. It feels like a step down from some of the past Ys games for sure.
Over the last few months we’ve seen English footage of early builds through press events or conventions and there have been issues. Thankfully things like boss names that had errors earlier are now fixed but the localisation has some issues that aren’t just about the translation. There are sentences where < and > are used for quotation marks which is something seen in Japanese text but never in English. I’ve had no real trouble with NISA’s work on Danganronpa before or any of the recent games so this is disappointing. It doesn’t ruin the experience but it is a noticeable flaw especially with actual grammatical errors.
Ys VIII feels like a new generation Ys game for sure even though it may not as good as it should. The varied and fun combat with multiple playable characters, interesting boss fights, and an incredible soundtrack all make Ys VIII a must play. I know September is rough for everyone in gaming with the slew of releases each week but this is absolutely worth your time if you like fast paced action RPGs.
Chock full of great content
Eclectic and massive soundtrack
Varied playable characters
Some localisation issues