I had never played an Ys game before. That should come as no surprise; many games in the series don’t get a UK release. With Ys 8: Lacrimosa of Dana, though, the game enjoyed both a positive reception and some attention upon its PS4 release. In an increasingly crowded JRPG landscape that’s no mean feat. When a Switch port was announced it seemed the perfect platform to try it on. The hybrid portable nature of the system makes it ideal for lengthy adventures, and so over the last few weeks I’ve finally been seeing what the game has to offer. At time of writing I’ve experienced around the first 8 hours of Ys 8.

Ys 8 does a lot of thing very well. The game’s setting and premise make for an extremely engaging scenario. Adol, longtime Ys protagonist, is working a passage on-board a luxury passenger ship. The ship’s Captain, clearly unaware of what foreshadowing is, takes Adol aside to tell him about a mysterious island they’ll be passing that mysteriously sinks vessels and leaves no survivors. Well, wouldn’t you know it, but not long after that mysterious tentacles burst up out of the sea and wreck the ship, scattering everyone overboard. Finding himself washed up on the mysterious island Adol and a handful of other survivors begin constructing a village. The early chapters of the game give Adol straightforward and vital tasks that take him all over the bottom half of the island. Protecting the village from monsters, gathering resources, and scouting for other survivors all give meaning to early sections of the game. Its immensely satisfying watching the village expand, with most survivors adding useful new functions.

The game-play is another strong aspect of Ys 8. It’s an action-roleplaying game that veers strongly into action. There’s everything you’d expect to find: skills, levels, experience points and equipment. You have a health bar, a skill bar and even a meter that lets you unleash a super-move. Moving through zones is far more of an action game. Many enemies, particularly early on, can be dispatched quickly so I found myself just trying to empty rooms as quickly as possible. With no healing spells, dodging enemy attacks is important. Pull off a dodge or a block with perfect timing and you’re rewarded with temporary invincibility. Most enemies also have a weakness to one of the game’s 3 damage types, requiring a quick character switch to defeat. It adds a nice element of strategy, and forces you to familiarise yourself with all of your characters skills.

The island setting has its downsides. Frequent back-tracking, exploring, and progression through similar environs makes the game feel more repetitive than perhaps it is. There’s no sense of going anywhere. Other than adding new castaways at a pretty slow pace little sense of progression. Even the significant weapon upgrades are trickle-fed through progress of the main plot. Side-quests are, at least so far, pretty sparse. Its great when you’re able to do a favour for someone in town, especially when it adds a cosmetic change. Sadly there’s usually only 2 quests per piece of story progression, so there’s not much of a diversion to be had.

Where the game does feel padded is in the ‘raids’ (and later monster hunts). Raids are instances when you need to defend the village against several waves of monster attackers. You’re able to build up some defences beforehand, adding to barriers to slow the progress down. Its quite fleshed out, acting more as a challenge map than a mini-game; you’re graded on your performance with the ability to re-do it later for better rewards. Monster hunts are similar, but see you taking the fight to the monsters. Neither battle type is particularly onerous, but it feels like added repetition that maybe doesn’t quite need to be there.

This Big Chicken was a formidable boss.

Ys 8 has a strange difficulty curve. I’ve quickly progressed through areas, defeating most enemies with ease, achieving any side objectives I could get my hands on, only to find myself downing all my healing items to stay alive during boss fights. The difficult of the raids increases every time, and while I haven’t lost any yet they do feel like an added pressure to get stronger without any satisfying means of doing so. Its one of the minor drawbacks that has impeded my enjoyment of the game; everything feels like it takes a little bit longer than it should and it makes it a wearying experience.

Ys 8 is an incredibly competent JRPG that breaks down nicely into bite-size chunks. At first I was incredibly impressed with it, only to slowly cool as the early sections dragged on. I’m currently at a point where it finally feels like we might learn a little more about the titular Dana, and I’m confident the deeper narrative will help carry the action forward with greater purpose. Ys 8: Lacrimosa of Dana is a very different game to more modern JRPGs, with no grand open world to explore for yourself, and lacking manifold other touches. With the Switch and PS Vita versions still commanding a hefty price tag it’d be tempting to recommend the more reasonable PS4 version, but this is definitely a game better experienced with the flexibility of a handheld.