Tag Archives: JRPG

Ys VIII: Lacrimosa Of Dana Review

I’ve never been a massive Role Playing Game player. I can definitely appreciate a good one for what it is. But the complexity and math in many of the deepest ones have always drained me. I always preferred the twitch, hand-eye coordination focused experiences of platformers, shooters, fighting games, beat ’em ups, and other action genres. That isn’t to say early TSR versions of Dungeons & Dragons games on my Commodore 64 weren’t good or fun. But growing up, worrying about mapping and spreadsheets felt more like playing Excel than action games ever did. But as I got older, I began to understand why other people preferred a more cerebral experience. Ys (along with Ultima) is one RPG series that made the genre more palatable to action fans like me.

PROS: The deepest storyline in the series yet. Excellent combat. Massive world to explore.

CONS: The world still isn’t 100% open. Don’t expect Skyrim or Breath Of The Wild.

HOURS: One of the longer games in the series. I spent 53.7 hours on my play through.

Ys as a series has always had a great blend of action and JPRG mechanics. It’s still very much an RPG. You need to find items, talk to specific people at specific times to get specific information. You need to go explore large sections and dungeons for gear. You need to grind for experience to defeat later enemies and bosses. You need to visit shops for key items. At the same time, you don’t have to worry about spreadsheets and such. You simply delve into a menu, grab the thing you need and go. You don’t have to have long drawn out menus in equally drawn out turn-based battles either. Combat is as immediate as playing Golden Axe. Early Ys games used a “Bump” system where you ran into bad guys off center to do damage. But later games replaced attacks with button presses and flashy animations.

Most of the Ys games have the typical fantasy lore, and storyline you would expect a general JRPG to have. Adol (and sometimes his pal Dogi) end up washing ashore in unfamiliar territory and somehow end up having to solve the problems engulfing the land. Usually some evil sorcerer is behind it. Sometimes it’s more of a sympathetic villain comparable to Darth Vader. Sometimes it’s something else entirely. But now and again the series will shake things up with new ideas. Ys Origin took place centuries before the original game, and explored a lot of the back story, introducing three character arcs to boot. Ys 7 had a robust party system. So what does this game do that the other games didn’t?

The big thing here is the world. Ys VIII gives you a massive map. One you can see things in the distance and get to. It’s so big that it’s easy to go into it thinking you’re going to get a major dose of Western CRPG influence in a huge world you can go anywhere in. And while at later points in the game things open up, this is not going to be like an Elder Scrolls game. So don’t make the mistake of thinking it will play like Morrowind or Oblivion or Skyrim. While the map is quite vast there are yellow lines around every major section of the map. These lines presumably do two things. First, they hide some loading. You can tell this by the fact that it resets and respawns the same enemy sets specifically for each section. Second, it blocks you from going into a section before the game wants you to. This ties into the storyline because some of the sections pretty much require you to have seen a particular cutscene or complete a certain event leading to said cutscene before you can go there. So as expansive as the world is, it isn’t like a Western RPG where you’re crafting much of the story through exploration. The main story progression demands some parts go in a particular order.

Fortunately, you’re probably not going to mind being stonewalled once in a while, because this is one of the best storylines in the entire series. Like most of the Ys games you will end up shipwrecked. But that’s about the only similarity to the narrative of the other games. Things start Adol and Dogi off on a cruise ship headed to what can only be compared to Bermuda. Near the island is a section of ocean where ships disappear and the crews are never heard from again. When things open up though, you don’t just get a setup cut scene. You play through a fairly interactive ship, talking to the crew, meeting the other passengers, and even getting some foreshadowing that doesn’t reveal itself as such until much, much later. Things culminate with a surprise battle against a giant Octopus like boss. Defeating the boss sends you to the meat and potatoes of the game. The ship is destroyed in the chaos and Adol is once again washed ashore.

But this time it’s a massive island. Marooned, prepare for quite an arduous trial. Getting off of the island is going to be much, much more involved than you would imagine. You’ll have to not only find other survivors who expand your party, you’ll have to built a new settlement with them. This gives it a bit of a Tower Defense element. Once you have found enough of the passengers, your hideout becomes an RPG style village where you have item shops, a medical doctor’s office, food shop, and more. One of the people you can rescue will also be able to tailor costumes for playable characters. In addition to those you can also buy costumes as DLC for the game. But I never felt the need to do so. There’s already so much stuff under the hood here it felt rather pointless to me. The game also has an underlying mechanic where you can choose to help fellow survivors by doing side quests. Doing so builds your reputation with them, and they’re more prone to helping you out either with beefier items, or in terms of the game’s story. Ys VIII also has multiple endings, so getting the best of them often means doing what you need to do to help your village.

Another new feature this entry adds is a horde battle/defend the base mashup, which gives things a bit of a Dynasty Warriors meets Plants Vs. Zombies. You’ll have to put up barricades, bait traps, gongs, and other stuff to impede monsters from getting into your makeshift town. But then you have to go out and attack the invaders with some hack n’ slash action. Doing this also gives you certain benefits although if it’s not your sort of thing you can choose to ignore most of them. There are a handful that tie into the story, so you will be forced to play those.

Combat also has a few changes. You can change between different combat styles which effects certain enemies in different ways. It is possible to brute force your way through without paying attention to it. But that also means grinding for a lot of health options like potions, and finding food supplies. Speaking of food, this game does take one page from Nintendo’s Breath Of The Wild by implementing a cooking system. Although it isn’t as Deep as the Zelda game’s it does come into play with the food, medicine, and general crafting. You’ll have to find so many pumpkins, or plants, or enemy bones or what have you to make dishes. The higher tiered dishes will refill more of your health, and revive fallen party members in fights.

That’s right, party members. As in Ys 7, you can recruit many of the characters you meet into your system, and change characters on the fly. Some are ranged characters that use magic or guns, others are more up close and personal. On top of this, some of the people you rescue will have talents that turn into even more shops. Shops that let you create new costumes with perks or a blacksmith that can level up whichever weapons you’re characters presently have.

And if all of that isn’t enough for you, you’ll still need to spend hours exploring the world, finding entirely new items, clues that lead you to other characters, and even shortcuts and entrances to new areas once you’ve rescued enough people. You’re also going to need to play a lot of the Sega Bass Fishing inspired minigame they’ve thrown within the game. Getting some of the exotic fish leads to key items as well as needed treasure and food ingredients. And you’ll run into some other NPCs who can level up your attack’s effectiveness as well.

Frankly, if you’re the sort who wants to 100% your RPGs there is a lot of stuff to do in the side quests alone. Even if you don’t, you’ll still find yourself doing a fair amount of the side stuff so that you can get a leg up on some of the harder points in the game. And while the game may have those narrative driven walls I talked about, that doesn’t mean there’s a straight linear experience. You’ll still be backtracking to areas you already visited to find alternate routes. You can still discover some things far earlier than I’m sure many intended.

Once you get pretty far into the storyline, you’ll start seeing elements that might seem out of place. But the narrative does do a fantastic job of tying it all together. The island features many, many secrets, most of them are intrinsically tied to our heroes escaping the island. And over the time you spend uncovering them, you’ll learn more about each of the characters various lives and backgrounds. One of the things that really struck me with this particular entry is how important everyone feels. Even characters that on paper might not seem to add importance to the story, still add a lot to the world building. Most of the characters do grow over the course of the storyline and come out richer for the experience. Some learn lessons. Some don’t. But the change in setting really reinvigorates the overall mythos while doing something different. It’s a far cry from the typical “Evil wizard wants to take over the world” fare you might be used to. And things feel really cohesive too. The answers might not come when you would like them to, but they do wrap up the loose ends pretty nicely. There are several endings as well. So there is a bit of replay value for those who want to experience everything.

As the story unfolds you’ll discover that the island is actually populated by dinosaurs. But before you can say “Jeff Goldblum” you’ll be peppered with numerous monsters and mighty reptiles. Before long Adol begins having dreams of a bygone era. You’ll play through these typically upon finding settlements to rest in. At least initially. Later in the game you’ll have to go into the past to affect the present and vice versa. Sometimes it will be necessary in order to make an area accessible. Other times it will be necessary in order to fill in gaps of the story. One of another new things are campsites which in turn tie into the food system. As you can set up a campfire and cook meals. Before long, the dreams partially become reality as the past and present begin to affect one another. Without giving too much away for those who haven’t played it yet, you’ll begin to learn the secrets of the island, the lost civilizations that once thrived there and how all of it is tied to the characters’ current predicament.

Returning from previous games’ are the fast travel crystals that allow you to get between large areas without having to grind away for miles. It’s also handy when your village gets raided by enemies as you can choose to get back and do the tower defense horde mission if you want to. Also, as in most of the series you’ll find items you’ll have to constantly swap in and out of use. Some of these let you climb to seemingly impossible to reach areas. Others let you breathe under water so you can explore for new areas or treasure. Still others let you walk over water letting you get through some of the swampy areas a little more quickly.

And no Ys game is complete without a plethora of major bosses. Ys VIII features a metric ton of them. Many of them are even optional fights but all of them are worth fighting and defeating. Of course, you can still run into some of them when you’re too low on experience or you don’t have enough healing items. So be sure to save often. That is one nice thing here, in most cases you can save whenever you want. Although during the aforementioned boss fights you cannot, nor can you change your party roster during a battle. So you’ll need to make sure you do that before encountering a boss. There are also a couple of times when the game is going to make you think you’ve gotten the final encounter over with and you’re ready to see the credits roll. Only to surprise you with more story. More grinding. More questing. Ys VIII is a massive game.

Beyond all of that are going to be a bunch of other side quests, and optional goals I didn’t get to touch much on. Like the giant Gorilla you’ll meet who can level up your characters and give them some new skills. You fight him in mini boss battles to do this. Win and you get the new moves. Fail, and you get to scour the world for food so you can pay them to do it again. Every playable character can be powered up this way, so you may find yourself swapping party members to give all of them a fighting chance near the end of the game. And the end of the game leaves you with a variety of emotions. Elation, poignancy, contentment, and perhaps some regret. But after beating the game it was nice enough to tell me that there are multiple endings depending on your choices throughout the game. So it does lend itself to replay value. Especially since it does so in a vague way. So unless you’re going to look up how to definitively get the best canonical ending, you may find yourself coming back to this one a couple of times every few months to play a bit differently and see if you’ve altered your literary destiny.

As you can see, the game looks terrific. As mentioned, you can see way off into the distance, and for the most part if you can see it you can eventually get to it. It isn’t so much the technical aspect that makes it happen here. The game doesn’t really have a lot of geometry at work. It’s almost all being done with texture work and art. And it’s all fantastic. On the technical side though there are some impressive lighting effects at play, especially when you find yourself in dungeon sections, caves, and underwater where you can see it at work. Falcom has always managed to do so much with so little in the Ys games and this one is no exception. This game is also on a wide variety of platforms so even on the less powerful options you’re getting something tremendous.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up the soundtrack. While this is another entry that experiments a bit more with different genres it still gives long time fans their hardcore, symphonic metal. Each area of the island seems to get its own score. Which is nice as it makes the games feel a bit more distinct. There are orchestral areas, rock areas, electronica areas and others that have more of a world music influence. Of course, encountering bosses introduces the majority of the crunchy guitar solo driven heavy metal the series is known for.

Anyway, Ys VIII could very well be the best game in the series. And while it might have launched with some well documented translation problems, I only recently got around to playing it. So for me the problems were nil. Though I suspect even with some inaccurate or broken dialogue one could have still gotten a rough approximation of what was going on. In any case, if you’ve been curious about this one for a while, check it out. And while there are other longer RPGs out there, this one never felt like it was wearing out its welcome to me. I never got bored or overly confused with menus or felt like I was doing anything pointless. Whether you’re a hardcore fan of the series, or a dabbler looking to try something new, Ys VIII is worth picking up. It’s got great mechanics, wonderful characters you’ll care about as well as loathe for the right reasons. It’s got a bunch of subtle and not so subtle influences. And the storyline will keep you interested over the entire 50 plus hours you’ll likely spend playing it. And the multiple endings might be something you want to go back to the game to in order to experience it all.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Dokapon Kingdom Review

Have you found yourself enraged at the end of a Mario Party title? Have you had a round that ended in the lowest amount of stars yet you won the most mini games? Do you love vintage JRPGs like Y’s, Dragon’s Quest or Final Fantasy? Do you miss the exploration, and random battles of the series’ earlier mega hits? Fans of Nintendo’s party board game series’, and fans of RPGs will love, and hate this highly overlooked gem.

PROS: Turn based battle system. RPG classes, and Mario Party-esque items.

CONS: The week-long grudges resulting from the underhanded actions during gameplay.

WEIRD RESEMBLANCES: The king looks suspiciously like the Thundercats’ Snarf.

The game was originally on the Playstation 2, and was ported to the Nintendo Wii this past generation. Dokapon Kingdom is an odd combination. One part of it is a board game in the vein of Nintendo’s Mario Party series. The game takes place on a huge board that goes throughout many lands, and kingdoms. Players spin a dial, which like the dice in Mario Party, determines the number of spaces you can move. Some of the spaces allow you to get magic items, weapons, or gold. Other spaces are shops allowing you to spend gold on items, or weapons that you rarely find on item spaces. There are also town spaces that players can own, and profit from. This gives the game a welcome element from Monopoly.

From here however things begin to veer into the other part of Dokapon Kingdom, a Role Playing Game. It has elements in common with a lot of the earliest JRPGs, and even some WRPGs. Players can choose a class at the beginning of the game. Thieves, which have a higher propensity to take items from other players, or NPC enemies. Warriors, which have a better set of stats for doing melee damages against players or NPC enemies. Then there are Magicians. Magicians will be better at casting spells, and ranged attacks. As the game progresses, other classes will open up, allowing players to decide if they want to switch or continue with their current character.

There are three modes in Dokapon Kingdom. Up to four people can play in either one. The first mode is the Story mode. Story mode sends players on missions throughout the board game, trying to find very specific items, or reach certain events, and getting back to the king. This is in addition to the normal board game objectives like commanding towns, finding items, and leveling up your characters. The story mode can last months of in-game time. Playing this mode is truly going to appeal to you if you are a big fan of RPGs. It favors a lot of exploration, and choices. That isn’t to say the other modes won’t, but this mode will also give you more of the lore of Dokapon Kingdom. Because this mode is so long, you and your friends will want to save often, and will probably spend several scheduled play sessions trying to finish it.

When I say scheduled play sessions I really mean scheduled. The game will require you to set aside a good 20 or more hours to complete depending on how you or your friends choose to play it. You can also go through this mode on your own, but as you play it, you’ll see the game is suited more to a multiplayer experience. This leads into the second mode.

In Party mode, players can decide how many weeks the game will last. So rather than having to play through the entire storyline, the game can be limited to a number of weeks. In this mode, players can also decide what level to start their characters on. Higher levels will give players more weapons, spells, items, and stats to begin with. This can be a lot of fun because clearing the earlier towns goes by very quickly. This lets even the most novice players feel like they’re able to progress through the game, and see what it’s like to have a leveled up character.

The goal of either mode is to be the player with the most money at the end of the game. The game structure will have you trying to level up by landing on random spaces to fight lower level enemies. Then eventually taking on town spaces. Town spaces are usually held by a boss. Defeating the boss allows the player to own the town which gives the player the ability to upgrade the town. Upgrading the town rewards the owning player with more money. The player can also collect money from his or her competition who land on the space. Players who land on the space can try to get out of owing money by playing Rock, Paper, Scissors against the NPC Mayor. If they lose however then all of the town, and shop spaces are locked for a number of turns as the kingdoms put a bounty on that player. Players can also try to rob stores with a Rock, Paper, Scissors game, with the same result if they lose.

As you go through the game in either mode, leveling up your characters, and getting to newer areas the Mario Party aspect begins to pour back in. Players can attack not only NPCs in towns with items, but each other as well. They can booby trap spaces or cast spells on other players. They can send NPC characters to sabotage other players. They can even battle other players by landing on the same space. Sometimes NPC’s show up to sell you an item, challenge you to a mini game, or hurt one of your opponents for you.

The third mode is a mode called Battle Royale. It has three variants. The first is Kill Race. In this one the king will give a limit of kills, and players will have to keep battling each other throughout the board game until someone hits the kill limit. The second is called Shopping Race. This just transplants one of the missions from the main modes . The player who can land on the shop space, and buy the item the king wants, and get back to the castle to deliver it first wins. The final one is a Town Liberation Race. This mode assigns a random town on the board. The first player to get to the town, and defeat the boss there wins.

Dokapon Kingdom has a simple, but challenging battle system. It starts out with a card draw. Players can decide which card they want, which determines which player or NPC will start the battle. When the battle starts the attacking player can choose to try to attack directly, use an air attack, or try to steal an item or gold. A defending player can try to block an attack, evade an attack, or give up. Depending on what items you’ve used, or how high you’ve leveled certain attributes of your character class your odds of victory will change. The turn based battles are a lot of fun. The exaggerated attacks look cool, and the various enemy designs are great. Sometimes you will also be surprised when a seemingly innocuous bad guy clowns you.

Visually, the game isn’t a technical marvel when compared to the many JRPGs of the PS2 era. But it’s still bright, and colorful to look at. There isn’t any slowdown to speak of, and in all of the time put in I never ran into a crash or a freeze. The audio is a little limited, and you’ll probably tire of the same three or four tracks. But that is a fairly minor complaint when compared to how good everything else seems to be. One could complain about the battle system’s partial randomness or the fact it boils down to three main options, but that also helps it maintain the right challenge for a party game. Besides this, factoring in some of the items, and spells you can place before a battle mixes it up.

The Mario Party aspect really begins to show its head when you attack a player fighting a boss with an item. Or when you cast a blistered foot on someone, forcing them to only spin a 1. Or when you poison someone, draining their health between turns. Killing another player also lets you do some nasty things to them. You can change their name, draw on their face, or make them wear an embarrassing helmet. Or you can take their money or towns. Dying in this game isn’t permanent either. But it will impede your progress as it forces you to lose a certain number of turns. When you do get back into the action you will either start at the beginning or at the last shrine space you visited. You can also try to use hotel spaces to regain some strength, or go back to the beginning of the game to heal. Shrines are also a great place to heal.

While at the beginning space you can also customize your character with new haircuts, items, and even change classes. Some of the newer classes include Clerics, Spell-swords, and Alchemists which are spins on the Magician class. There are also Ninja, and Monk classes which beef up the Warrior class. There is also an Acrobat class. This one is sort of weird. But very entertaining. The new classes show up when you’ve leveled up to a certain point, along with meeting certain conditions. This is also where you will want to bring certain items to the king for bonuses, and where you will probably head when you lose a battle against a friend.

The game does feature mini games too, although they are on designated spaces rather than automatically happening on turn cycles. Winning these can result in a lot of money or special equipment so you may want to try your hand at them.

You might ask yourself what you can do when the game is nearing its end, and you’re in distant last. In this case you can take a page out of Star Wars, and become a Sith Demon Lord. I’m not kidding, there is a space that lets you make a deal with this world’s Emperor Palpatine equivalent. It takes all of your money, and items in exchange for dark powers. Powers that can do everything from putting bosses back on towns, costing your friends millions. To fighting them ranged with spells. To changing spaces to detrimental ones. Of course eventually these powers wear off after a certain number of turns. But it’s a desperation move players on the losing end can utilize to level the playing field again.

At the end of every week the game will show a flow chart of each players progress, or regression. At the end of the game the king will congratulate the best player, and give the worst performer a mildly potty mouthed reward. A more story driven ending is in place for those who choose to play through the story mode. But either way Dokapon Kingdom is a game that will make you, and your friends laugh together, cry together, and possibly attempt to kill each other. Whether you love playing games like Final Fantasy, and Ultima. Or you love playing Mario Party, and Just Dance with your friends. Dokapon Kingdom proves that you can converge seemingly distant genres into a fun, and competitive middle ground.

If you can find an affordable copy for your PS2, or you happen to stumble upon an uncommon copy in the slowly fading Wii section of your game store pick it up. Those who don’t normally play RPGs may need a little time to get up to speed. But it’s still nothing so complicated it requires a dungeon master’s guide. It’s worth the many late night skirmishes with your favorite friends, and your favorite beers.

Final Score: 9 out of 10.