Thirty years ago, a woman called Dana captured the hearts of a small island by winning a European singing contest, writes Ronan Jennings.
In this week’s review, another small island has been won over by a girl wide-eyed girl called Dana — but this girl specialises in hitting monsters, not high notes.
Ys: Lacrimosa of Dana has a terrible name, but it’s one of the best games you’ll play all year.
It’s a hack-and-slash title with heavy Japanese anime influences — like a mixture between Breath of the Wild and Streets of Rage. All the action takes place on a single island, one you’ll spend hours and hours exploring, battling increasingly difficult monsters, taking in the beautiful scenery and uncovering an ancient myth.
The game begins with a passenger ship, the Lombardia, being attacked and capsized by a giant kraken on its way to the Romun empire. (Ys is heavily influenced by the stories of global history, rather than Japanese history).
All of the Lombardia’s passengers wash up on the shore of a mysterious uncharted island. Playing as one of those passengers, Adol Christin, you must explore the island to find the remaining castaways, build a ‘castaway village’ and plan a route off the island.
Of course, all of that would be a lot easier if the island wasn’t completely overrun by monsters — including ‘ancient beasts’, which are basically dinosaurs that survived
extinction and would like nothing better than a bit of tasty human.
Ys: Lacrimosa of Dana does almost everything right.
For a start, the combat is exactly the antidote gaming needed to Dark Souls, Nioh and the trend towards ultra-hard action games. Like those games, it is perfectly balanced, but the focus is on fun rather than trial and error.
Mashing the attack button will bring you a certain degree of success on the lower difficulty levels, but using special ‘flash dodge’ and ‘flash guard’ abilities becomes key at normal difficulty and above. With the correct button press, these abilities let you time enemy attacks to prevent damage and give your team bonuses.
In addition to the basic attack manoeuvres, skill attacks also come into play. These are special abilities that can be chained together to deal with tougher enemies or just plough through lower-level creatures. With up to three characters in a party, you can switch between these on the fly to change up tactics.
At its core, Lacrimosa of Dana is just a fantastic action game with wonderfully designed enemies and landscapes to explore, but the overall design elevates the experience to one of 2017’s best.
As you find new castaways, a base village continues to grow, opening up new quests and abilities for you to enjoy. There are fishing and ‘base attack’ mini-games. There are tons and tons of materials to collect and craft into better weapons, accessories and support items. There’s a decent story that takes dozens of hours to unfold.
It also has, hands down, the best soundtrack of the year. Our own Dana would be proud.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Nioh, which offers an equally excellent but less forgiving action experience, has finally been released on PC. Earlier in the year, PlayStation owners enjoyed having their hopes and dreams crushed in feudal Japan, and now that fleeting hope has been rekindled on Windows platforms.
Nioh is beautifully designed and directed, with a superb combat system that requires intense concentration, timing and skill to master. It’s one of those games that rewards the hours you put into it, forcing you to learn as you play. There’s no escaping death in Nioh, but like all the best action games, it rarely feel cheap.
PAYING A PRICE
Cheap is a word a lot of gamers are throwing at Need for Speed Payback, the latest in a long line of arcade racers from EA. While the game has solid mechanics and a nice open world to explore, it seems Payback has been designed
primarily with microtransactions in mind, with a steep difficultly curve forcing players to grind the same races over and over to become competitive — or pay real-world money for a shortcut. After paying €60 or more for a full-price game, feeling cornered into paying more just to progress comfortably might make some gamers uncomfortable.
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