Your ship sank, your crew is missing, and you’ve washed up on a mysterious island, completely alone. So many questions flood your mind. Where am I? Where’s the rest of the crew, did they make it? This couldn’t be the mysterious Isle of Seiren, could it? Am I stranded? The existential anxiety fades as you begin to look around in awe. This place is beautiful.
Upbeat rock music starts playing and suddenly things don’t feel so bad. You’re not trapped here, you’re free! There’s clean water, fresh air, sunlight, creatures and food everywhere. Adol calls himself an “adventurer” much to the disapproval and judgement of certain crew members, but now he can justify it and be his best self.
Oops, wrong pic. How did that get in there?
Ys VIII is a seamless action RPG, which means no transitions, no pauses, no load screens, you can just jump and slash at any time and 3 seconds later those crabs are mince and you’re exploring again. The fast-paced combat system reflects the entire kickass attitude of the game by seamlessly integrating itself into the overworld and environments. I find this battle system refreshing because it removes so much of the boring stuff from JRPGs and probably saves 40 dead hours of menuing that can accumulate from a turn-based grindy game.
While you’re exploring or fighting, the Y button immediately switches between one of your three active playable characters in a split second. You can do a huge roll with the L button to evade, attack while jumping, and use 4 different special attacks. It’s a lot of fun having a hack-n-slash combat system in 3D with so many movement options.
Wait what was that, other characters? Yep. Adol can’t get off this island alone. Castaways are an integral part of this game’s scenario, and crucial for progressing. As you find more castaways, everyone shares new information and more things become possible. The sense of mystery combines with the game’s fun open exploration to make for a very engaging scenario. I would play this game for hours on end without noticing the time, just because I really wanted to know what was happening. The story itself is addictive.
We’re in a tight spot here. Surrounded by enemies 30 levels higher than us, we’re dead in one hit if we aren’t careful. Sprinting and rolling through dangerous territory is optional, but can pay off if you find a treasure chest, new path or materials. Standing completely still like this serves another purpose, it regenerates your HP and lets you think about the bad choices you made.
Ys (prounced yeese, like yeast) games are traditionally fast paced romps (check our my Ys Origin review here, now available on Switch) but Ys VIII is filled with much more dialogue and content, with a large amount of optional sidequests and conversations. Across the island you’ll find dead bodies, curious objects and aggressive monsters that only raise further questions.
Fishing? Heck yeah. Scattered throughout the entire island are fishing spots where you can throw your rod in at any time. It’s so flexible you can pull your rod out on dry land too, if you really want to. Nothing will happen but it’s cool that the game doesn’t have many limits. Fishing comes with a mini-game that involves button mashing and quick-time events. Nothing too stressful, but just the right amount of interaction to make it rewarding. Bigger fish will have harder combos and break your hands with button mashing, just like real fishing.
One of the biggest impacts this game had on me was the music. It’s one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a game. Up there with Zelda and Xenoblade games in terms of quality for me, simply top tier from beginning to end. I was always excited to discover a new area just to hear what the music would be like, a sure sign of a strong soundtrack. Just LISTEN to this banger. (mid-game spoiler if you’re concerned about areas)
In some games the music isn’t a big part of the experience, but that just makes games like Ys VIII extra special to me. The music kickstarts an area with a surge of energy, and gives it a much stronger identity. The beach SOUNDS fun, the home camp sounds comfy and chill, the dark caves sound spoopy, and the battles and overworld are full of hype with screeching electric guitar solos. Exactly how it should be.
If you’re wondering about difficulty, this game has a huge amount of customisation with 6 difficulty levels all open from the start and tons of options. This is the only game I’ve ever seen that let you turn loading screen tips off. This might not seem like a big deal but I love this, because it stops your train of thought being interrupted. It’s been a gripe of mine in games for a while now actually. Like you’re stepping into a big boss battle, and the loading screen will talk about something completely unrelated and scatter your brain needlessly. Ys VIII doesn’t break your train of thought and it results in a more immersive and addictive experience, for all the right reasons.
You’ve also got dozens of save files and comprehensive sound and camera options. I personally enjoyed the music 4 points higher than everything else.
Can this game get any better? Yep it can. The world design has metroidvania style elements of progression. To fully explore the island, you’ll need adventure gear upgrades that allow you to climb and swim, and additional villagers to help you move rocks out of the way. You can unlock shortcuts, and gain new movement abilities that allow you to access areas you couldn’t before. This game has so many satisfying videogame feelings all combined into one.
The beauty of the progression is that when you get a new item or ability, it doesn’t open up just one route but several. Some could lead to treasure, some could lead to other survivors, and then there’s sidequests and the main story which itself has several twists. These in turn can unlock more areas and so on, it always feels like there’s something exciting to do. Oh, we have 11 survivors now?? Just enough people to remove this rock slide hazard. Finding new survivors usually gets you new services at the camp as well.
In true realistic fashion, some people are also useless but that brings about its own dialogue and comedy. The ships crew was made up of all sorts of people from different occupations and classes, now forced to work together to survive and escape the island. Suddenly the rich nobles are powerless and the adventurers, cooks, tailors and fishermen are essential.
Sidequests are abundant and encouraged because everything you do benefits the group’s chance of survival. Doing quests for people can increase the stats of all people involved, leading to new recipes to help in battle, or improve your equipment or the villages defenses. Village defenses? Yep, raid battles are mostly optional, but they’re fun little action set-pieces where you fight enemies off in waves. There’s a whole extra ecosystem here where you can craft barriers, bait, defense items and buff them in different ways. That random sidequest you did could end up saving the village when that person uses their special more effectively in a raid battle.
Ys VIII successfully creates the overarching feeling that everything you do is important, a great accomplishment of game design in a JRPG, a genre where things can very quickly feel mundane and fall victim to repetition. This game rewards you by expanding its own story rather than hijacking your brain with arbitrary numbers. It’s such a perfect videogame scenario because the answer to every problem is more exploration.
I usually don’t get into the nitty gritty of a game’s mechanics in a writeup, but there’s an exceptionally interesting part of Ys VIII‘s economy. There’s no money at all. No money! That is true freedom, my friends. Finally we have a successful socialist society with no military to bomb it. Instead of an arbitrary currency, you get everything you need from the materials on the island. Weapons are made stronger with iron ore and stones, and medicine is made from herbs and monster drops.
Ys VIII is so damn good it captivated me for the past few weeks. Suddenly I had lost 75 hours to this wonderful little island community. I didn’t even know I had that kind of time, it’s just one of those games that brings you into its world. This game transcended my schedule and I’m not even mad, in fact I completed the game 100% which I don’t normally do in RPGs. It feels like a once in a lifetime kind of game and I’m extremely grateful to play through such a wholesome JRPG that engaged me from beginning to end. The story is full of depth and twists, great writing, and interesting characters of varied backgrounds.
The two moons in the sky are synonymous to the Ys series, but there’s something about seeing them from a deserted island that has a different impact. They’re always up there in the sky, but occasionally a glimpse of them would take my breath away. This image really drives home the feeling that you’re isolated on another world.
I had to restrain myself from posting a lot of beautiful screenshots that would ruin the sense of discovery this game has, it really has more depth than you can possibly imagine at the start. I ended up with more than 100 screenshots to transfer from my Switch. It goes in so many wild directions that even the subtitle of the game “Lacrimosa of Dana” will make sense eventually. I finished it just in time to try Ys IX: Monstrum Nox which has just been released. Before I dive into that I just needed to get this writeup out and reflect on what was a great adventure. I felt a genuine connection to this island and fantasized about being there, it was such a nice place. Highly recommended to those seeking adventure.