Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana is the newest entry in the Ys series, a long-running RPG series that started way back in 1987. It is the follow-up to Ys: Memories of Celceta and carries familiar elements seen in that game. The Ys series is renowned for its action-packed gameplay and excellent soundtrack. Lacrimosa of Dana continues this trend, offering an adventure filled with unrelenting action and a soundtrack that makes fighting monsters and grinding for resources something to look forward to.

Lacrimosa of Dana once again places you in the shoes of the red-haired adventurer Adol Christin, one of the most enduring characters in JRPG history. The story starts with Adol traveling by sea onboard the passenger ship "The Lombardia." As usual, his blue-haired companion Dogi is traveling with him. Much like in Ys: The Ark of Napishtim, Adol's trip gets interrupted by a sea-related mishap that separates him from the ship. This time, instead of the Canaan Islands, Adol finds himself washed ashore on Seiren Island.

Of course, Seiren Island isn't just a normal tropical island where Adol can relax on the beaches and drink rum a la Captain Jack Sparrow. The island is surrounded by mystery and is regarded by many as cursed. It is teeming with vicious monsters that wouldn't think twice about attacking anything that moves. In this island, Adol and the other survivors set up a small settlement unimaginatively called "Castaway Village," which serves as the base of operations in the game.

Castaway Village starts off small with only a few occupants. But as Adol locates and rescues other surviving passengers of The Lombardia, the village grows in size. The people that inhabit the village aren't just bystanders, however. Some set up shops selling equipment and other useful items to aid Adol in his adventure. Though character stereotypes are everywhere, the inhabitants of Castaway Village are interesting in that they each have backstories and storylines, making NPC interaction more engaging. As you get to know the villagers and their stories, you start to see them as more than just side-quest and item sources.

In Lacrimosa of Dana, Adol shares the spotlight with the titular character Dana, a mysterious blue-haired maiden whom Adol first encounters in a dream. It takes a while for the story to gain momentum, though. So don't be surprised if early on you find it more interesting to explore the island and beat up monsters than to actually move forward in the story. But once the story is in full swing and Dana has been fully integrated with the other characters, uncovering more of the story becomes more exciting. You don't need to have played any of the previous games to understand the story. Some references to events in previous games might escape you. But other than that, you won't feel lost while following the story.

The action-packed combat system is the highlight in this game. Lacrimosa of Dana adopts the same fast-paced real-time combat system used in Ys Seven and Memories of Celceta. It is smooth and responsive, a huge step up from the frustrating combat system seen in The Ark of Napishtim, the game where the Ys series first transitioned to a 3D hack-and-slash gameplay. The active party is composed of three characters: one is directly controlled by the player while the other two are AI-controlled. You can seamlessly switch between the three characters anytime during combat using a single button, a mechanic encouraged by the game due to the presence the rock-paper-scissors weapon system first introduced in Ys Seven.

Each character comes with one of the three weapon types: Slash, Strike, and Pierce. The damage dealt on enemies largely depends on the type of weapon used. For example, hard-shelled enemies simply get tickled by Slash weapons - but get wrecked by Strike weapons. Pierce weapons lord over agile flying enemies that Slash and Strike weapons find hard to accurately hit. Unlike in other action-RPGs, going solo with only one weapon type is not going to get you very far in this game. Characters can also equip skills. The skills are unique to each character, which helps in making characters with the same weapon types stand out from the others.

With maps to complete and hidden treasures to unearth, exploration plays a huge part in Lacrimosa of Dana. And the rocking soundtrack makes it even better. It is one of those games where repeatedly going back and forth to places you've already explored in order to complete side-quests doesn't feel like a chore. Even when the side-quests start to become repetitive. The soundtrack is that good. You need to experience it in order to really appreciate it. If you've played a few games in the Ys series, then you already know what's in store for you in Lacrimosa of Dana, soundtrack-wise.

Minigames are also present in the game. One of which is a tower defense-like minigame where you fight off hordes of monsters intending to invade Castaway Village. The villagers help out during the defense as well, making the minigame - called "Interception" - a lot more fun. With all the minigames and the time spent on exploring every nook and cranny in Seiren Island, Lacrimosa of Dana can easily take around 80 hours to finish, which is right in line with other JRPGs. The game also has multiple difficulty options, giving you an incentive to do multiple runs if you have the time the spare.

Lacrimosa of Dana may not be a perfect action-RPG but it is by far the best installment in the Ys series. It takes everything that made more recent entries good and makes them even better. It's been a long wait for fans of the series. But developer Nihon Falcom certainly made the wait worth it by delivering a well-refined and exciting game where players can get lost in for dozens of hours. If you have yet to play any of the Ys games, Lacrimosa of Dana is a good starting point. As mentioned, you don't need to have played previous Ys games before picking up this game. For longtime fans of the series, Lacrimosa of Dana is a must-play.