It takes quite a while to appreciate
the full breadth of Ys VIII.
The game’s numerous systems
are metered out thoughtfully,
with just enough space between them.
These various systems
are all elegantly contextualized,
taking full advantage
of the mysterious island
where events take place.
With many action RPGs, it can be easy
to focus on the mechanical side of things,
getting sucked into the loop
of acquiring new gear, skills, and items.
The world becomes a means to an end,
serving as little more than a backdrop
for character progression.
This doesn’t happen in Ys VIII.
Discovering new locations,
scouring for treasure,
and running from monstrous beasts
are every bit as enjoyable
as fighting and getting stronger.
Ys VIII knows that it’s easier to invest
in the evolution of your characters
if the space they exist in
is worth getting attached to.
Uncovering that world does take some time,
since the story starts rather slowly.
Series protagonist Adol Christin is sailing
aboard a ship named the Lombardia
with longtime companion Dogi in tow.
The ship is wrecked
by an enormous sea monster,
scattering Adol, Dogi,
and the rest of the passengers
across the vast
and mysterious island of Seiren.
Initially appearing to be
an idyllic paradise,
the island turns out to have a wide array
of vicious creatures both large and small.
Ys VIII takes this theme
of being shipwrecked
and uses it to enhance
expected RPG features.
Adol starts out with practically nothing,
and only by finding other lost passengers
is he able to form a crew capable
of building a village for protection.
By taking a piecemeal approach,
Ys VIII is able to add a snippet
of personality to shopkeepers.
You come to know
and appreciate them a bit more,
and it promotes the idea that thorough
exploration will be immensely rewarded,
a concept the game reinforces
time and time again.
For every ten percent
of the map you explore,
you’ll receive items in return.
Upgrading weapons, completing side quests,
and mixing medicine
all require materials found
in different places throughout the world.
Blocked pathways need
a certain number of villagers to clear,
which means the area around you
evolves in tandem
with your central hub of operations.
Regardless of what you’re doing,
all of these activities
tightly feed into one another.
Ys VIII not only gives players a lot to do
but finds clever ways
of giving objectives meaning
and making sure
that one activity influences another.
The same philosophy of breadth
applies to combat as well.
Players have up
to three party members at a time
and can switch between any of them
have different attack attributes,
either “slash”, “hit”, or “shoot”.
Enemies are generally weak
to one of three styles
and greatly resist the others.
By exploiting a weakness,
an enemy enters the “break” state,
becoming especially vulnerable.
Group battles are often composed
of enemies with varied weaknesses,
and specific environments
will have more of one type than another.
The result is that you’ll constantly
have to switch between characters
in order to get through fights efficiently,
preventing a reliance on the exact
same approach in every situation.
Skills upset the rhythm even further.
can equip four skills at a time,
and these skills
tend to focus on a specific trait,
such as area of effect damage,
breaking an enemy quickly,
or afflicting enemies
with some sort of lasting effect.
These elements combined
with new skills and fresh enemies,
keep fights interesting throughout.
At the same time, the systems
are easy to understand and execute,
striking a fine balance
between simplicity and depth.
The most difficult maneuvers to pull off
are Flash Guard and Flash Move,
but they offer the biggest gains.
A Flash Guard is performed by blocking
a strike at the last possible second
and for a brief time,
all of your attacks become critical hits.
A Flash Move works similarly,
but the player must dodge instead of guard.
When executing a Flash Move,
time slows down,
allowing you to quickly get behind enemies
or pummel away at them with little danger.
Both techniques blend in
with the frantic pace of combat.
Everything moves so quickly in Ys VIII,
yet it’s never visually overwhelming.
Enemy attacks always remain very readable,
so with enough patience,
even the fiercest enemy
can be dodged and parried with ease.
There’s a flow to combat
that’s easy to adapt to over time.
The chaos of battle is perfectly accompanied
by the electric soundtrack,
which proudly features shredding guitars
that dramatically heighten the intensity.
Other, quieter tracks
offer a whimsical and relaxing tone
that fits the tropical setting.
The pace of the game changes so regularly
it’s almost as if it’s paranoid
about things getting stale.
Periodically, your village
will come under attack,
prompting you to return
to fend off waves of enemies.
These fights can be made easier if you spend
resources to upgrade defenses beforehand,
which adds yet another thing to consider
while amassing precious materials.
During interception missions,
you’ll be graded on performance
broken down by various factors,
which is a quick and helpful way
to judge the player’s current proficiency.
There are also night missions
which return players to previous areas,
but with more difficult
and numerous enemies.
Just when you’re about to tire
of one activity,
the game throws in something new,
yet none of these things take very long,
serving as breaks rather than annoying
obstacles to story progression.
Where Ys VIII stumbles
is in its script and characterization.
Although the story
does take unexpected turns,
the dialogue is occasionally
stilted and dry.
It doesn’t help that the characters
are a bit shallow themselves.
There’s a stuck up noblewoman,
a gruff but honest fisherman,
and a mysterious sharpshooter of few words
who comes and goes as he pleases.
While none of these archetypes
are inherently bad,
the cast rarely strays outside of them,
so while characters do develop over time,
they do so in the most predictable ways.
We always found ourselves
wishing we cared a little more
about what was going on
than we actually did.
While the narrative
doesn’t especially resonate,
the rest of the game very much succeeds.
In other RPGs,
extraneous features and side activities
feel like they exist
merely to tick off expected boxes,
but in Ys VIII, they serve
a much more significant purpose.
There’s a cohesiveness to everything
the individual components stronger
than they would be by themselves.
Ys VIII ends up being so enjoyable
because of how thoughtfully
most of its pieces
are considered and implemented.
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