Ys VIII is an exceptional new entry in the long-running series. It hits all the right marks for what makes Ys so beloved: fluid combat, challenging boss battles, a rocking soundtrack, and the addiction of crafting new gear. However, as good as those elements are, what I found truly exciting about this sequel – and what I want to discuss herein – is its strong spirit of adventure.
Ys VIII begins as is recent tradition with its protagonists, Adol and Dogi, sailing to new frontiers. But as the pair of adventurers are debating their next destination, their ship is attacked by a tentacled beast near the cursed waters of the mysterious Seiren island. The luxurious passenger vessel Lombardia sinks beneath the waves, along with all hands aboard. Adol soon wakes to find himself alone upon a beach. Eventually he comes across another passenger of the Lombardia, a young noblewoman named Laxia, and together they set out to find shelter and other survivors.
Exploration is one of the central themes of Ys VIII, and it’s a large reason why it’s such an enjoyable and fresh-feeling entry in the series. The game doesn’t push a doom-heavy, narrative from the start. There’s no rushing off to dance to prophecy. Instead, the captain of the Lombardia simply tasks Adol with mapping the seemingly deserted island. It’s a basic premise, even ordinary, but answering the question, “What’s out there?” dates to the earliest of human civilization. It’s a question core to Ys VIII , and progress claiming the unknown is represented with new detail and percentages. The more I explored, the more unique locations I found, the more informative the map became.
Ys VIII isn’t an open-world game, of course. It has a direction it wants players to follow. There’s a greater story to tell beyond mapping and escaping the island, as well. For example, Adol has strange dreams chronicling a young woman’s life. There were objects in the distance that if I squinted, I could almost make out a door in that large tree or oddly uniform pillars on a hill I hadn’t yet climbed. But the game’s mechanics consistently reinforced feelings of growth and adventure.
There’s the obvious allure of charting a landmass, from dark, crystal-lined caves to mist-laden forests. Numbers rise with each footstep. Loot is given for every 10% explored. More importantly, there are fellow survivors and increasingly rare resources to find. Both are required not only to reach deeper into the island, but to build Adol, his exploratory party, and their safe haven up from nothing.
That’s a huge aspect of the game that often prevented me from putting it down: going from nothing to building something meaningful. The survivors brought back to “Castaway Village” try, or at least most of them do, to contribute to their own and the player’s survival. They open facilities that can be used to mix potions, enhance or synthesize equipment with the materials found out in the world, or trade crafting items for others. Completing their side quests can expand those facilities further. The village constantly grows visually from these upgrades, too. What was essentially some dirt and a cave slowly becomes an impressive array of walls and rooms. And as the population increases, additional obstacles in the wilderness can be removed.
It’s really quite fun to be engaged with and to see those layers of development. I found myself playing well into the night because I needed to trade find three pieces of sturdy wood to complete my expansion of the village, maybe to improve the defenses that keep monsters at bay or to create softer beds for the survivors.
That’s what makes Ys VIII so special. It starts small and down-to-earth. My goal was one of survival, giving my journeys across Seiren a sense of proper adventure. “I wonder what’s around that mountain? Who might within this forest?” The mystery of the island does expand beyond the search for more survivors, as I previously mentioned, but the game never loses its pride in the simple act of exploration and the growth that accompanies it. Ys VIII has become one my surprise hits of the year, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Adol continues to not be a voiced or dialog-heavy character, but he’s much more expressive this time around. He almost felt like a mannequin to me in previous games. He doesn’t here. Aside from how animated he is in cutscenes, he’s also given plenty of dialog option prompts.
I can’t talk about a Ys game without going into some detail about its combat. If you’ve played Ys Seven, the mechanics here should be very familiar. You’ve got your single basic attack, special moves that consume SP, a powerful super for each character once a gauge is filled, and a dodge. Certain enemies are weak to either slash, piece, or strike weapon types, so switching between companions is crucial to swiftly defeat them. But they have added and revised a few things.
Dodge and block at the last second, and enemies will be slowed allowing for a good flurry of attacks. The SP-restoring charge move doesn’t need require a button to be held down. You just need not attack for a brief moment and the next strike will restore a sizable chunk of SP. Mid-air attacks are now a big deal, as well as defeating enemies with skills. And speaking of skills, earning them is no longer tied to specific weapons. They’re either unlocked passively or found in manuals. All of these things lead to a faster, more reactive combat system.
- Boss battles are once again multi-staged, larger-than-life encounters that challenge the reflexes. They’ve always been a highlight of the series, and they’re no different here.
- The framerate on the PlayStation 4 is a generally solid 60 FPS. It does dip every now and again during heavy action, but it’s rare and only occurs for a split second.
- There’s fishing! And it’s actually rewarding! There are crafting ingredients, rare gems, and treasure chests to reel in from the shallows. There’s even the occasional undead skeleton that’s way too high level for me and oh my goodness I need to run away.
- The soundtrack is incredible. Ys VIII’s composers have really outdone themselves this time. I could listen to its energetic rock or beautifully symphonic tunes all day.
- All of the button assignments can be re-assigned. That includes menus. I can’t praise that feature enough.
- The game has a great in-game monster and item compendium. If I ever found myself hunting for a particular crafting mat, those menus were incredibly handy. I was never lost for information or direction.
- The map’s big, but it never asks players to walk to and from the breadth of it. There are a good number of fast travel points spread throughout the world, and they can be transported to anywhere and for free.
Disclosure: A copy of the game was provided for review.