Growing up, I played a lot of JRPGs. It seems like Japan had really nailed the role playing game genre in the 90s and released some of my all time favourite games. Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, the various Final Fantasy games, they’ve all given me fantastic memories across hundreds of hours of playtime. One series that I’ve never really played was the Ys series, but I had recently been given the opportunity to try out their latest game, Ys VIII. It’s been out in Japan for over a year now, on the PS Vita, but is now coming to Western shores ready for every gamer to enjoy.
A throwback to a better time
A large part of me pines for games to return to how they were in the 90s and early 2000s. They were simple, had a great story and a clear path from start to end. A few side quests here and there, but nothing cluttering the immense storytelling that was going on overall. I’m not averse to a few side quests, but some games hide the main story amongst the plethora of pointless side quests in the game. Ys VIII has a brilliant balance of both, with the main focus being on the main story, but including side quests that actually have an effect on the whole game. Instead of going to pick some random gold coins out of a dead camel’s carcass, you’re doing things to improve your base. Improving your base gives you access to new vendors and enhanced weapons and defences, which gives the game so much more depth and enjoyability. If you’re bored with the main quest, but you still want to play, you can do relevant side quests. After getting bogged down recently with Fallout 4, Skyrim and Witcher 3 side quests, this was such a lovely, refreshing change of pace.
Ys VIII’s story is a thing of beauty as well. You’re slapped right into a giant mystery and given very little information about it, other than being on a deserted island. Exploring this almost untouched island, trying to find any survivors and attempting to get a way off the island is really engaging. You never know what’s around the next corner, and what monsters lurk in the shadows, and it’s so exciting trying to find everything that lies in wait for you. In addition to this, each person you rescue has their own story, their own skills and, for the most part, can benefit you if you manage to rescue them.
In the games I’ve played, JRPGs have had turn based combat. If you haven’t come across it before, it basically means that characters and enemies will take it in turns to attack – similar to the battles in Pokémon. I’m not really used to third person combat, so I’ve steered clear of games like that for the most part. For this game though, it works perfectly. Attacking is fluid and easy, you can choose anyone in your party to attack, and each member brings a different style which has both strengths and weaknesses. In addition to this, you can equip up to four abilities which further enhances the fighting aspect of the game. I was actually pretty surprised that I was able to take to this as well as I did, but it’s a testament to the game that I was able to. It’s fluid, easy to get to grips with and very fun to kill monsters with.
One thing that I don’t miss from the ‘golden era’ of JRPGs is the poor quality translations and the terrible voice acting. Unfortunately for Ys VIII, it is loaded with both of the above. There aren’t any sentences that don’t make any sense, or any misspellings, but conversation does feel incredibly awkward. It seems very Japanese, and while that is cute in it’s own way, it is rather jarring for a Western audience. The worst of it is hearing Laxia, one of the party members, say the main characters full name every two minutes when you roam around the overworld. It’s almost as if she refuses to just say “Adol”. Every time she addresses the player character, it’s “Adol Christin”. It’s so absurd and incredibly annoying to hear the same voice clip over and over.
I’ve already mentioned it, and it feels harsh to criticise because it is very difficult to get right, but the voice acting is not great in the game. It’s not the worst quality I’ve ever heard, and even Witcher III has equal or worse voice acting in it, but it is still grating.
The Final Word
Despite the poor voice acting and translation, Ys VIII is really engaging. As soon as I started playing it, I couldn’t put it down. It was really fun to play a completely new series, but still feel relatively familiar to it, as it hits all the marks that a JRPG should do. The story, even with the slightly dodgy translation, is wonderful. It pulls you right into the middle of a giant mystery and spaces the story progression out so perfectly. It’s a very, very strong game that I hope plenty of people play. It’s definitely entered my rotation of JRPGs that I’ll be constantly playing and replaying, alongside some of the legendary games from the 90s.