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  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: NIS America
    Release Date: April 16, 2018 (PC), June 26, 2018 (Switch), September 12, 2017 (PS4, Vita)
    Available On: PS4, PS Vita, Windows, Switch
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol
    MSRP: $59.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    Ever since my first time playing Ys: Memories of Celceta, the Ys series (pronounced like geese without the 'g') has held a special place in my heart. I have since played and reviewed almost every game in the series, and I really enjoy them all. With Ys VIII, Falcom has pulled out all of the stops and made a game that's perhaps not only the best game in the series, but a fantastic game by any measure.

    Adol, the Ys series' hero, has historically had bad luck with boats. This is a running joke in the series, and true to form, our adventure begins on a boat – and then it wrecks shortly thereafter. Everyone onboard, both guests and crew, are cast into the sea. Adol drifts ashore onto a deserted island, and it's not too long before he finds other castaways in a similar situation. He runs into Captain Barbaros and his longtime pal Dogi, who begin to create Castaway Village as a defensible outpost for everyone to live in and work to survive – with the eventual goal of figuring out how to go home.

    Adol starts his time on the island with a rusty sword that he finds near the shore, and it's not too long until he's back in form eliminating local monsters and wildlife at a speed only he can. As the third evolution (and a big one at that) of the Ys Seven engine, he eventually gains friends that help him slash, strike, or pierce their opponents into oblivion. For the first time since Ys: Oath in Felghana (or Origin), they can jump again, which is great and was badly missed in Seven and Memories of Celceta.

    Another big change is that the perspective is slightly shifted; it's still a third-person action game, but rather than being from an overhead perspective, you see Adol and his friends from a behind view most of the time. This makes the action much more personal; despite having to worry about camera positioning more than before, you are closer to what's going on. These two changes put you right into the thick of it, and are a net positive.

    There is a solid loot and crafting system here as well. When you defeat enemies, they often drop various resources. You can also farm some kinds at resource points throughout the map; neither of these have changed much since Ys Seven. Rather than exchanging things for money, you can instead exchange resources for others of equal value. Since this island has a small number of people on it, barter is the most appropriate system for local merchants to engage in, and it makes sense. You can improve your weapons at the blacksmith, have a tailor custom make things for you, or have various accessories made for you.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adol's longest adventure yet, and incredibly engaging every step of the way; very enjoyable action; fun bosses; fantastic music and voice acting; very memorable characters; fun skill and loot system; PC version stable for most
    Weak Points: Localization is mostly fixed compared to how it was before; PC release is greatly improved, but issues still remain for some players
    Moral Warnings: Action violence, with occasional blood splatter; magic is used by some player characters and lots of enemies; some females wear extremely revealing clothing with lots of cleavage (like the titular Dana); Adol sees a woman with only a towel on, which falls (but he closes his eyes, as he is a gentleman) and he then gets slapped; one character mentions that he has lots of lovers to choose from around the world; alcohol is used on several occasions, with some being visibly drunk (though Adol mentions he doesn't like to get drunk); words like 'd*mn', 'sh*t' used, and some potty humor; undead enemies, and one scene where you talk to ghosts; many references to various gods and goddesses, including the Star Sculpt God and another reference to Tritheism from Ys Seven; hexagrams present

    Also not unlike Memories of Celceta, you can learn skills which require SP (skill points) to use. They seem to spark somewhat randomly in many cases, though there are books and even a trainer for some very powerful skills. There is also an Extra meter that allows you to use a very powerful attack once it's full. Though usually reserved for bosses, I found myself using my Extra skill a couple of times to get out of some really tough situations where I was being overrun by enemies.

    Your characters, skills, and weapons all have a level that can be increased. Weapon leveling is fairly simple – just bring your sword to the blacksmith along with whatever materials are required to make it more powerful. Max level is three. Skills require repetitive use to gain levels; they start at level one, and like your weapons, max out at level three. Characters gain experience and levels like they do in many other games. The maximum in this case is level 99.

    New to Ys VIII is the Interception or Suppression battles. They are two new tower defense style arenas, where Interceptions have you defending the town gate against hordes of monsters, while for Suppressions you go to their turf and capture points on the map to draw out the boss, which must then be defeated. They are fun and have good rewards, but they do interrupt the flow of the rest of the game.

    It's hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this game so special. Thinking more on it, it's probably a combination of the rock solid base game mechanics, as beating up Adol's enemies has probably never been more fun, and the wonderful characters that you meet as you map out this mysterious island together. The sense of openness and exploration is excellent as well; while certainly not as open as Elder Scrolls or Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there are tons of places to explore and lots of loot and lore to find.

    Each of the castaways have unique personalities, and are a joy to get to know as the game progresses. Each of them has at least one side quest and a gift that they can receive, which increases their approval of you. If you max that out, you also have a chance to get to know them even better, where you learn more about their character or back stories. Instilling confidence in a medical student, learning about a mother of six, or watching children grow up into the challenges of being stuck on an island together is a joy.

    What really took me by surprise is how much you come to love the titular character, Dana. Without going too far into spoiler territory, Adol has strange dreams about this woman in a seemingly different place throughout his time on the island. Before long, she becomes central to the plot, and much of the story has you taking control of her, where you get to know her more and more, before finally meeting her. She is a wonderful character, that could have easily had her own series of games. The emotional investment and impact of her and what she brings to the story is hard to overstate.

    Honestly, that may be one of the most challenging aspects of this game to me: how are they possibly going to surpass it when it's time for Ys IX? The story definitely veers into 'save not just us but the world' territory, and without just copying the same formula again and again in the future, I have a hard time imagining how they could possibly top this magnificent game for future episodes. This game is probably my personal game of the year and then some, which is most definitely saying something considering the incredible games that have come out in 2017.

    Despite all of this (deserved) praise, there are a few things that are less than perfect. Thankfully, the initial localization, which was a bit of an inconsistent mess, has been mostly resolved. There is the rare occasional line that seems out of place, but overall the story makes much more sense now, and it's much easier to follow. They did a pretty good job resolving the huge issues that there were before.

    Thankfully, NIS America had acknowledged the issues and spent significant resources to resolve it, even up to and including recording new voice lines. That is fantastic, because this game deserves that and much more. The PS4 version ran quite well for me on my PS4 Pro with a 4k screen; though there were occasional frame rate drops, they were never so bad that it impacted gameplay in any way.

    The PC version took about seven months to release, and was plagued with issues on release day, even after all of that. The issues were many, from text issues, crashes, as well as some serious performance issues. Again, thankfully, they have been working really hard to fix up the issues, and even listened to some mod authors who discovered issues - and they fixed them. I have to say that the new team has done a great job listening to the community and fixing the issues that remained. It is now in a pretty good state, and while I believe they are still working on it, most of the major known issues are solved. I have played for twenty-five hours, and only had one crash on an older patch (the last twenty or so have been recent, in preparation for this review update). Despite my stability, other players still report crashing issues, so not all issues seem to be solved yet, even if they are for me.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 68%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The PC version's performance is not quite as smooth as on my PS4 Pro, but very close, and certainly good enough. I ran it on ultra settings, with only FXAA off (as that graphical effect makes the game look much worse... just turn it off). There are four resolution options, which are low (720p), medium (1080p), high (1800p), and ultra (2160p/4K). I probably could have easily just ran the game at high rather than ultra and it would have been as smooth as the PS4 Pro (which also uses 1800p as its target rendering resolution), but ultra worked fine and I didn't bother changing it.

    The nice thing is that on low, and with most effects turned off (except for load objects), I was able to play the game quite fluidly on my GPD Win 2 (and it's even playable on the Win 1, but some areas are still unbearably slow). The way the game rendering engine works, you can't apply proper anti-aliasing, so supersampling really is your best bet. But if you do decide to run it at a lower resolution, it does work well - even if the pixels become large and visible in the process. Given my performance of the game at 720p, I would probably prefer the PC version of the game over the Nintendo Switch version, which has been confirmed to run at 720p at 30 frames per second, which is objectively worse than the performance I saw on my GPD Win 2. If they manage to resolve crashing for whoever still experiences it, I think the PC version may end up the best (or at least on par with the PS4 Pro).

    Outside of the issues mentioned above, the graphical fidelity is a rather large step up from every Ys game to date, and has a very nice art style that I appreciate. The soundtrack is of course awesome. I would definitely enjoy the soundtrack CDs if I have the chance to grab them. One complaint is that the music in the game has been confirmed via file analysis to contain lower quality versions of the many great pieces of music in this game. Thankfully there is a mod out there that resolves this issue (though there are some minor track loop issues on a small number of songs). The voice acting is excellent. This is also the first game where Adol actually has some lines; his voice is good most of the time, but I did not like his 'surfer dude' fishing voice lines one bit.

    The only thing that struck me as odd is that even to the end of the game I couldn't quite get the music vs. voices vs. sound effects volume quite right. I prefer voices as loud as they can be, and sound effects and music at a similar, but lower, volume. But no matter what I did, the attack sounds always seemed louder than everything else. Perhaps some of the attack sounds were affected by the wrong slider? I am not sure. I listened to this game in my home theater at fairly high levels, so having those effects be too loud (while wanting to hear the voices well) was an unfortunate frustration. Another thing I noticed is that some characters' voices seemed naturally quieter than others (like Hummel).

    Another bug I noticed is that if I tried to set the Extra skill key combination to anything other than the default, it would not activate. This is especially annoying since the dodge and block buttons are the same as those used to activate Extra, and I triggered it on accident many times as a result. (I did not test this on PC, as I got used to it. One thing I noticed is that pressing L + R did not activate Extra; it had to be R + L. This really reduced stray activations, and what a great change in my opinion.)

    From an appropriateness perspective, it has plenty of animated violence, as you battle creatures around you. There are some blood splatters, but it's not too frequent or noticeable. Enemies include animals, larger beasts like dinosaurs, and magical and undead enemies like dragons and skeletons. Dana uses magic a lot as a character, and her attacks do too. The rest of them use it far less so, though some attacks that are fire, wind, or ice based are probably easiest to explain as a magical attack. Adol dreams about Dana, and Dana has visions about Adol and his friends. She is a skilled energy user, which is like magic, and has an important role as a leader of the local religion which worships a massive tree. There are also discussions about various gods and goddesses, including a nun of the Star Sculpt God.

    Several females, especially Dana herself, wear very skimpy outfits. Her clothes are little more than ribbons around her top half, with a lot of cleavage shown on her and other females. There is a scene with another woman where Adol walks in on her as she finishes bathing. In surprise she drops her towel, and he therefore gets slapped, despite his best attempts to close his eyes. The nun mentioned previously had to tear up her habit a bit, and she exposes far more of her legs than were probably necessary. On the flipside, there is a well-meaning man who says things that will likely draw a laugh, but are not things men would normally say in the presence of a lady. Things like he 'took a satisfying dump' and that his 'body shrivels up especially down there'. It's kind of a running joke, and he has noted how he 'ate and took a sh*t' and was ready to go. There are several moments of celebration where alcohol is consumed, even to drunkenness. Adol points out that he does not like to get drunk.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is a fantastic entry into the storied Ys series, and perhaps my favorite. It's Adol's longest adventure to date, and there's even post game and new game+ content as well. While there are some appropriateness issues to keep in mind, Ys VIII is now one of my new favorite games. I'm grateful for the hard work NIS America put in to resolve the localization issues, and I hope they keep improving the PC version to finally resolve these issues for all players. I really look forward to when Falcom grants us another Ys game this great!

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: NIS America
    Release Date: September 12, 2017 (PS4, Vita); Windows coming Winter 2017
    Available On: PS4, PS Vita, Windows (coming soon)
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol
    MSRP: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

    Ever since my first time playing Ys: Memories of Celceta, the Ys series (pronounced like geese without the 'g') has held a special place in my heart. I have since played and reviewed almost every game in the series, and I really enjoy them all. With Ys VIII, Falcom has pulled out all of the stops and made a game that's perhaps not only the best game in the series, but a fantastic game by any measure.

    Adol, the Ys series' hero, has historically had bad luck with boats. This is a running joke in the series, and true to form, our adventure begins on a boat – and then it wrecks shortly thereafter. Everyone onboard, both guests and crew, are cast into the sea. Adol drifts ashore onto a deserted island, and it's not too long before he finds other castaways in a similar situation. He runs into Captain Barbaros and his longtime pal Dogi, who begin to create Castaway Village as a defensible outpost for everyone to live in and work to survive – with the eventual goal of figuring out how to go home.

    Adol starts his time on the island with a rusty sword that he finds near the shore, and it's not too long until he's back in form eliminating local monsters and wildlife at a speed only he can. As the third evolution (and a big one at that) of the Ys Seven engine, he eventually gains friends that help him slash, strike, or pierce their opponents into oblivion. For the first time since Ys: Oath in Felghana (or Origin), they can jump again, which is great and was badly missed in Seven and Memories of Celceta.

    Another big change is that the perspective is slightly shifted; it's still a third person action game, but rather than being from an overhead perspective, you see Adol and his friends from a behind view most of the time. This makes the action much more personal; despite having to worry about camera positioning more than before, you are closer to what's going on. These two changes put you right into the thick of it, and are a net positive.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adol's longest adventure yet, and incredibly engaging every step of the way; very enjoyable action; fun bosses; fantastic music and voice acting; very memorable characters; fun skill and loot system
    Weak Points: Localization is uneven, with some terminology that doesn't match XSEED's previous efforts; delayed PC release
    Moral Warnings: Action violence, with occasional blood splatter; magic is used by some player characters and lots of enemies; some females wear extremely revealing clothing with lots of cleavage (like the titular Dana); Adol sees a woman with only a towel on, which falls (but he closes his eyes, as he is a gentleman) and he then gets slapped; one character mentions that he has lots of lovers to choose from around the world; alcohol is used on several occasions, with some being visibly drunk (though Adol mentions he doesn't like to get drunk); words like 'd*mn', 'sh*t' used, and some potty humor; undead enemies, and one scene where you talk to ghosts; many references to various gods and goddesses, including the Star Sculpt God and another reference to Tritheism from Ys Seven; hexagrams present

    There is a solid loot and crafting system here as well. When you defeat enemies, they often drop various resources. You can also farm some kinds at resource points throughout the map; neither of these have changed much since Ys Seven. Rather than exchanging things for money, you can instead exchange resources for others of equal value. Since this island has a small number of people on it, barter is the most appropriate system for local merchants to engage in, and it makes sense. You can improve your weapons at the blacksmith, have a tailor custom make things for you, or have various accessories made for you.

    Also not unlike Memories of Celceta, you can learn skills which require SP (skill points) to use. They seem to spark somewhat randomly in many cases, though there are books and even a trainer for some very powerful skills. There is also an Extra meter that allows you to use a very powerful attack once it's full. Though usually reserved for bosses, I found myself using my Extra skill a couple of times to get out of some really tough situations where I was being overrun by enemies.

    Your characters, skills, and weapons all have a level that can be increased. Weapon leveling is fairly simple – just bring your sword to the blacksmith along with whatever materials are required to make it more powerful. Max level is three. Skills require repetitive use to gain levels; they start at level one, and like your weapons, max out at level three. Characters gain experience and levels like they do in many other games. The maximum in this case is level 99.

    New to Ys VIII is the Interception or Suppression battles. They are two new tower defense style arenas, where Interceptions have you defending the town gate against hordes of monsters, while for Suppressions you go to their turf and capture points on the map to draw out the boss, which must then be defeated. They are fun and have good rewards, but they do interrupt the flow of the rest of the game.

    It's hard to put my finger on exactly what makes this game so special. Thinking more on it, it's probably a combination of the rock solid base game mechanics, as beating up Adol's enemies has probably never been more fun, and the wonderful characters that you meet as you map out this mysterious island together. The sense of openness and exploration is excellent as well; while certainly not as open as Elder Scrolls or Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there are tons of places to explore and lots of loot and lore to find.

    Each of the castaways have unique personalities, and are a joy to get to know as the game progresses. Each of them has at least one side quest and a gift that they can receive, which increases their approval of you. If you max that out, you also have a chance to get to know them even better, where you learn more about their character or back stories. Instilling confidence in a medical student, learning about a mother of six, or watching children grow up into the challenges of being stuck on an island together is a joy.

    What really took me by surprise is how much you come to love the titular character, Dana. Without going too far into spoiler territory, Adol has strange dreams about this woman in a seemingly different place throughout his time on the island. Before long, she becomes central to the plot, and much of the story has you taking control of her, where you get to know her more and more, before finally meeting her. She is a wonderful character, that could have easily had her own series of games. The emotional investment and impact of her and what she brings to the story is hard to overstate.

    Honestly, that may be one of the most challenging aspects of this game to me: how are they possibly going to surpass it when it's time for Ys IX? The story definitely veers into 'save not just us but the world' territory, and without just copying the same formula again and again in the future, I have a hard time imagining how they could possibly top this magnificent game for future episodes. This game is probably my personal game of the year and then some, which is most definitely saying something considering the incredible games that have come out in 2017.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 19/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 68%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Despite all of this (deserved) praise, there are a few things that are less than perfect. First of all, it has to be said that the localization is nowhere near the quality that Ys' previous publisher's releases have had in the past. There are also terminology inconsistencies between those games and this one, including some real head scratchers like what is clearly a fruit being called a 'Wall Nut'. Also some of the item descriptions were swapped, which can cause significant frustration when you want to use the correct healing item in the midst of battle. I even noticed a line that they forgot to voice over into English – the unexpected Japanese sure was a bit of a shock.

    Thankfully, NIS America has acknowledged the issues and is spending significant resources to solve it, even up to and including recording new voice lines. That is fantastic, because this game deserves that and much more. The PC version has also been delayed by several months because of similar issues, as well as some really bad technical ones. Again, thankfully they are going to make sure that when it is finally released, it will be to everyone's satisfaction. The PS4 version ran quite well for me on my PS4 Pro with a 4k screen; though there were occasional frame rate drops, they were never so bad that it impacted gameplay in any way.

    The graphical fidelity is a rather large step up from every Ys game to date, and has a very nice art style that I appreciate. The soundtrack is of course awesome. I would definitely enjoy the soundtrack CDs if I have the chance to grab them. The voice acting is excellent. This is also the first game where Adol actually has some lines; his voice is good most of the time, but I did not like his 'surfer dude' fishing voice lines one bit.

    The only thing that struck me as odd is that even to the end of the game I couldn't quite get the music vs. voices vs. sound effects volume quite right. I prefer voices as loud as they can be, and sound effects and music at a similar, but lower, volume. But no matter what I did, the attack sounds always seemed louder than everything else. Perhaps some of the attack sounds were affected by the wrong slider? I am not sure. I listened to this game in my home theater at fairly high levels, so having those effects be too loud (while wanting to hear the voices well) was an unfortunate frustration.

    Another bug I noticed is that if I tried to set the Extra skill key combination to anything other than the default, it would not activate. This is especially annoying since the dodge and block buttons are the same as those used to activate Extra, and I triggered it on accident many times as a result.

    From an appropriateness perspective, it has plenty of animated violence, as you battle creatures around you. There are some blood splatters, but it's not too frequent or noticeable. Enemies include animals, larger beasts like dinosaurs, and magical and undead enemies like dragons and skeletons. Dana uses magic a lot as a character, and her attacks do too. The rest of them use it far less so, though some attacks that are fire, wind, or ice based are probably easiest to explain as a magical attack. Adol dreams about Dana, and Dana has visions about Adol and his friends. She is a skilled energy user, which is like magic, and has an important role as a leader of the local religion which worships a massive tree. There are also discussions about various gods and goddesses, including a nun of the Star Sculpt God.

    Several females, especially Dana herself, wear very skimpy outfits. Her clothes are little more than ribbons around her top half, with a lot of cleavage shown on her and other females. There is a scene with another woman where Adol walks in on her as she finishes bathing. In surprise she drops her towel, and he therefore gets slapped, despite his best attempts to close his eyes. The nun mentioned previously had to tear up her habit a bit, and she exposes far more of her legs than were probably necessary. On the flipside, there is a well meaning man who says things that will likely draw a laugh, but are not things men would normally say in the presence of a lady. Things like he 'took a satisfying dump' and that his 'body shrivels up especially down there'. It's kind of a running joke, and he has noted how he 'ate and took a sh*t' and was ready to go. There are several moments of celebration where alcohol is consumed, even to drunkenness. Adol points out that he does not like to get drunk.

    Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA is a fantastic entry into the storied Ys series, and perhaps my favorite. It's Adol's longest adventure to date, and there's even post game and new game+ content as well. While there are some appropriateness issues to keep in mind, Ys VIII is now one of my new favorite games. I sincerely hope that NIS America resolves the localization and PC version issues, and that Falcom grants us another Ys game this great!

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Ys: Memories of Celceta
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: July 25, 2018 (Windows), November 26, 2013 (PS Vita)
    Available On: Windows, PlayStation Vita
    Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
    Number of Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: T for Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes
    MSRP: $24.99 
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us this game to review!

    Ys: Memories of Celceta on PC is a re-release of 2013’s PS Vita release, now available on Windows PC with quite the graphical upgrade – and not just resolution. This game is a replacement for several others made by different developers called Ys IV. There were two games back from the SNES and TurboGrafx-16 days, titled 'Ys IV: Mask of the Sun' and 'Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys' that claimed that title, and there was a PlayStation 2 era remake called 'Ys IV: Mask of the Sun ~a new theory~'. None of these releases were made by Falcom, and none of them made it out of Japan. Now we are given both a remake and a sequel – Ys: Memories of Celceta. To emphasize that this is really a new game set in the setting of Ys IV, they decided to drop the 'IV' part of the name.

    The main protagonist of the Ys series is a young adventurer named Adol Christin. He stumbles into the frontier city of Casnan, completely devoid of his memories, or even his identity. Duren takes him under his wing to help him get his memories back. Governor General Griselda of the Romun army enlists your help to map out the mysterious Great Forest, and Duren comes along for the ride, along with other friends you pick up along the way.

    What starts out as a simple cartography job becomes much more as you begin to discover not only the source of Adol's forgetfulness, but in somewhat typical JRPG style, become entwined in a plot that ends up balancing the fate of the world on your success. Despite the somewhat commonplace plot these days, what with the fate of the world relying on an amnesiac young adult (Adol is 18 in this game), it is still a fun ride with some interesting twists and turns, which all brings about more of what Ys does best: Combat.

    Ys games all have real-time combat, where the player controls Adol or another character, where you proceed to pound to a pulp all of the bad guys. This game is no exception, and it works really well. You are rarely alone, usually with Duren, and later on, up to four other people in your party, each with a slightly different feel and move set. Three characters can be active on screen at once, with you controlling one of them, and you can switch between them with just one button press. A competent AI controls the other two, but the active character does much more damage than they do, so you can't just expect the AI to win every battle for you.

    Ys: Memories of Celceta
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent, fluid, real-time combat action; fun, likeable characters; solid, lengthy adventure; good replay value; fabulous music; wonderful PC port with tons of customization options
    Weak Points: Skill system feels a little random; leveling up skills seems to take a very long time; doesn’t (yet) work properly on my GPD Win 2’s screen
    Moral Warnings: Lots of slashing mostly fantasy monsters to bits; small amounts of blood wounds for some creatures (ESRB mentions this; I didn't notice); alcohol mentioned in a positive light by several NPCs; some sexually suggestive conversations, with things like 'pervert' and 'Looking for a good time?'; a few female characters wear revealing outfits, showing cleavage and belly buttons; minor curse words like 'a*s', ‘d*mn’, and 'h*ll'

    You control your character's movements with the D-pad or left analog stick, and the right buttons are mashed to perform attacks, quickly dodge opponent's strikes, guard/block enemies, or switch characters. You can also perform skills with a button combo (usually left trigger + a face button) and perform a powerful Extra attack with the ‘Y’ button. All gamepad functions can be customized, or played on keyboard and mouse if you wish.

    Both skills and Extra attacks require filling meters up before executing. Attack combos, and killing blows help fill the SP (skill point) meter, and successful skill attacks and killing blows slowly fill up the Extra meter. Mixing and matching attacks feels remarkably skillful and fluid despite seeming simple at first. And mixing and matching skills can be fun as well, since the right skill can really turn the tide in a battle. The SP meter fills up fairly quickly, making battle a very dynamic affair.

    On top of simple attacks and combos, skills and Extra attacks, each character has a different type of attack that they perform. Adol and Frieda use slash attacks, Duren and Calilica strike enemies, and Karna and Ozma use piercing attacks. Some monsters are weak against certain types of damage, and strong against all others. This encourages you to switch between characters often as a means of dealing with them.

    Another layer of depth in dealing with enemies is your party makeup. If you have one character from each attack type, you get a party bonus: rare item drop rate up. This helps you get those items that you can sell, or craft with (more on that later). If you have two of the same attack type in your party, your bonus is to do increased damage, which can help a lot when trying to compensate for weaknesses, or fighting powerful bosses. This way your party can be filled with whatever characters you like best, despite the tradeoffs.

    While adventuring through the Great Forest, plants, rocks, and enemies drop items which can be sold directly for money, or used for crafting. In each town there are blacksmiths, accessory makers, and others who can use those dropped items in a few different ways. You can exchange lesser items for greater in some cases. In others, you can refine minerals into more potent, useful, and expensive versions. You can also reinforce your weapons and armor to make them more powerful. A fully reinforced item is much more potent than a base item – it has a chance to freeze enemies, poison them, catch them on fire, paralyze them, all while healing you at the same time. If that wasn't enough, you can also do similar reinforcing to your armor, making them quite potent. And, to top it all off, you can apply some upgrades from less powerful armor pieces directly to newer armors, sacrificing the lower armor in the process. While not immediately obvious, this can be quite a money saving measure.

    Your characters also gain experience when defeating enemies, and you gain levels in the usual manner. Anyone not in your active party also gains experience, so they should still be usably powerful if you don't use one of them for a while. The maximum character level is 60. Your skills also gain levels for use, up to a maximum level of 3, though I found the acquisition of skills to be somewhat random, and their leveling to take quite a long time. I am sure the game has a good set of rules on what conditions are necessary to gain new skills, but it did not seem obvious to this player. Skills are leveled by the number of uses, but the required usage counts are quite ridiculous – over three hundred uses to gain a level seems a bit much.

    Ys: Memories of Celceta
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Despite this, I found roaming around the map, exploring new areas, gaining new artifacts, crawling dungeons, and fighting monstrous bosses in the large, 3D rendered, isometric world immensely satisfying. While there were a few times that I wished I could rotate the map despite the fixed camera, at least you can zoom in and out easily enough. The graphics are pretty good, and given that the PS Vita is the source device, the PC version does a great job of making it look as good as possible given the original art assets. Not only is the resolution completely customizable, but the frame rate can be fixed, or set to unlimited, which is fantastic.

    They also added a new ‘HDR’ mode, which is an optional post-processing effect which makes whites whiter and adds a bloom-like effect to various things. It makes the existing lighting effects much more brilliant. I like it a lot when it’s set to the lowest setting. Anything higher is just too much white everywhere. It does seem to have an impact on frame pacing though.

    Since the game is a PS Vita port, some of the 2D elements look a bit low resolution, but overall, most of the art looks fantastic on the big screen, and everything rendered looks as good as it can without new textures, more polygons, and so on. As a port it looks great – they hired a proven team who continues to do a great job with their PC ports. It also scales down very well, though currently there is a bug with the screen on my GPD Win 2, as it won’t render at the screen resolution. Anything else works though, and performs just fine. They are aware of the bug; I hope they fix it soon.

    While the graphics are good, the music is downright fantastic. Falcom and the Ys series is well known for their hard rock musical themes, and this game certainly does not disappoint. I very much enjoyed even the less interesting themes, and the later areas really have rocking soundtracks. The sound effects are just fine, and the voice acting is well done. Not every word is acted, but enough of it is that you know how they would sound. Of course, like many classic heroes born of an older era, Adol is silent, though you do get to hear his grunts and such in combat.

    The game, for the most part, is hack and slash fun, but there is some content to consider. There is the expected violence. Enemies die in a way that did not seem gory to me; they pretty much fall over and disappear. Minor curse words like 'a*s', 'd*mn', and 'h*ll' are present. Exposed belly buttons and cleavage is there as well. It's not a constant barrage, but it's there. Some of the conversation arcs can be a bit risque. For example, a few ladies in the bar speak of giving you a good time. One of them turns out to be a comedic moment (where the end result is not what is implied), and in another case you can choose to imply you have already taken a girl as your bride to her father (embarrassment and backpedaling ensues, it was a joke).

    Several bar characters throughout the game speak of how wonderful it is to be drunk, or have a buzz. One character says that they could not live life without alcohol. Another guy drank too much because he wanted to impress a girl. Considering the many references to alcohol in this game, I am very surprised the ESRB missed that entirely in their warnings. At least the player characters stay clean for the most part. On the plus side, Adol is chided for being almost too helpful – he offers his help even when it would be much easier not to, and Duren gives him a hard time about it.

    For the more mature gamer, I find that there is a whole lot to like about Ys: Memories of Celceta. The graphics are fun, the sound is fantastic, and the story is compelling. And it's just a blast to play. I put in about 50 hours on the Vita, and I look forward to eventually doing a full playthrough again on PC. It was one of my favorite Vita games despite the technical limitations of that version, and now that it’s on PC I’m thrilled to play it again. If you like action RPGs, and if the appropriateness issues are manageable for you, I highly recommend you check this game out. I don’t know how to recommend it more than to say that I have every intention of playing through this game again on PC – in glorious high resolution with unlimited draw distance, HDR lighting, and a perfectly smooth frame rate.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: January 24, 2018
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Action Role Playing Game
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us this game to review!

    It has to be said that XSEED Games never ceases to amaze me. Several of their employees are true-blue Falcom fans, and they are willing to release games, at substantial effort and investment, that other companies would never even dream of releasing. How many localization companies, that you know of, would release a game originally published in Japan in 2001, and then localize it? I don't mean a remake – I mean the original game. And not only that, but they hired a programmer, who spent a significant amount of time reworking the game engine to work on modern computers. This includes making some of the more quirky features, like standalone desktop apps, integrate into the game itself in a way that makes sense. What they have done here is frankly mind-blowing.

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure, originally called Zwei!!, is one of Falcom's more loved cult-classics. The sequel, Zwei II, was released here last year as Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection. What makes Zwei: AA so special is the absolutely gorgeous hand-drawn artwork, the fantastic soundtrack, and the lovable, joy-filled atmosphere and characters. In many ways the game is a product of its time, and has old-school sensibilities, but the art, music, and characters are absolutely timeless.

    Pokkle and Pipiro are step brother and sister whose parents both passed away. They are fourteen years old, and live together in their inherited home in a backwoods floating island called Arges, in the only town there, Puck. Puck has a very homey feel, with a self-proclaimed archduke, a church, a temple, a doctor, a weaponsmith, a tailor, and of course, a pub. There isn't much to this little place, but the village as a whole, and the local nun especially, have raised Pokkle and Pipiro since their parents' passing and their mutual affection comes through wonderfully in every bit of dialog.

    Pokkle is a hopeless punster, whose goofy lines and constant search for humor is both hilarious and pathetic. He also has a wonderfully optimistic outlook, a kind heart, and a soft spot for attractive older women. Pipiro is an unfiltered, sarcastic fashionista, who also just so happens to be incredibly gifted with magic. He tends to want to help out of the goodness of his heart, whereas she leans towards looking out for number one.

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Absolutely fantastic hand-drawn art style; incredible soundtrack; really likable characters; tons of humorous dialog; lots of player freedom; best version of this classic game; quite challenging
    Weak Points: Resolution fixed at 854x480; game has very little player direction; simplistic game mechanics; occasional bugs and quirky controls; 3D rendered bosses that look out of place; quite challenging
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence; lots of magic use, by both the player and enemies; idols of the six elements present; enemies include demons; references to the dark and light goddesses; curse words used, including 'h*ll', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*st*rd', and the portmanteau 'fugly'; alcohol used by non-player characters, including drunkenness; a main character has the hots for older women; one character asks you if you like your stepsister romantically

    One of my favorite aspects of Falcom games has been their treatment of NPCs, and Zwei!! is no exception. Each character's dialog changes every time a major event happens, and you should always speak to each person at least twice, and sometimes even more times than that, as there will often be different reactions depending on who is talking. Even more than just the people, this game is filled with random items, trees, and more to examine, and some of the best puns in the game are there, just waiting to be discovered.

    Those familiar with the German language may notice something about the title: zwei is the German word for the number 'two'. One of the things that makes the Zwei series unique is that both entries (starting with this one, obviously) always have your team in a group of two. So both Pokkle and Pipiro (as Ragna and Alwen are in Zwei II) can be switched back and forth with the press of a button, and they are always together. In story sequences, the banter between them is one of the many ways that you get to know them and other characters better.

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure is a top-down 2D action RPG where Pokkle attacks through a jutting out motion, and Pipiro attacks through her ranged magic attacks. The mechanics are fairly simple – almost too simple, as there really isn't much to combat, but small upgrades are eventually added, like charge attacks, various armor pieces, and different kinds of magic. Zwei really makes the most of this simple combat, with various enemies and bosses that are quite challenging, as well as dungeon puzzles throughout that will keep you thinking.

    Despite the relative simplicity of the combat, the amazing art, the fantastic music, and the fun of stuffing yourself silly to gain levels is more than enough to drive you to keep going. There is actually quite a bit to do, as there are dozens of dungeons, and several hidden items and areas, and even a few things you have to go back later to get. There are also several secret and optional bosses, which are quite difficult – I eventually gave up on a few of them, because I had this review to write! It took me around 33 hours (and I didn't see everything), while Steam recorded closer to 44 hours, because it's difficult, and I died a lot.

    Speaking of which, there is a somewhat unique death mechanic here.  When you die, you have the choice of either going back to the title screen, going back to the last save, or going home.  The first one is the only one where you really lose progress (though that is sometimes still preferable).  The other two, you go back to the choice you made, but you keep what you picked up, while also losing whatever money and items you dropped upon death.  Depending on what you lost, it may be worth it – but any item – literally anything – can be lost; if you lose something important, you can buy it again from a merchant, for sometimes a hefty price.  On the plus side, if you saved in that dungeon, when you return to the level, what was dead before stays that way.

    I hinted at it before, but the art is nothing short of gorgeous. The screen resolution is actually really small, at 854x480 (which was an XSEED created enhancement; I believe the original was 640x480) but the watercolor-like art style, along with some simple blending, makes it all look great, so the resolution doesn't matter. The text suffers a bit, but it's really no big deal. The characters also look really nice, with a hand-drawn chibi art style that's pretty neat. The enemies are a bit of a mixed bag though; many of them are (poorly) 3D rendered with hideously bad looking polygons at a very low resolution. They really don't fit the art style at all, but I guess Falcom went that route because making larger enemies move about and attack in less predictable ways must have been difficult for them at the time using hand-drawn art.

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The music soundtrack is also equally excellent. Both the original PC music tracks, as well as the PSP arranged soundtrack, are available to choose from the settings menu screen. Both are pretty good, but I have to give a strong nod to the original soundtrack, as I feel that it's consistently better, though the arranged tracks do have a few standout ones also. It's hard to overstate how fantastic the soundtrack is, though. I cranked it many times, to the chagrin of my wife (the kids loved it too!). The sound effects do the job pretty well, though getting the volume balance right from the menu screen is a bit tricky.

    As far as the game itself goes, it's a lot of fun, though it definitely does not hold your hand. I didn't have too much trouble with it; after all, I've played through and beaten much worse back in the NES and SNES days, but you are definitely expected to explore much on your own, as there are only very occasional hints from townspeople on where to go next. Much of the time, it's a case of if you see an open dungeon, that's probably where you're supposed to go; though even that might not be enough, as there are a bunch of dungeons open at a time, so paying attention to the level requirements is probably your best bet. There are also a couple of secrets, or hidden dungeons, that are not easy to figure out at all. Knowing to right-click on (or activate) the sandbag at just the right place was far from obvious.

    The controls and interface, from what I understand, are massively improved from the Japanese version that this release was based on. The original PC version had very poor gamepad controls, where this one is almost completely playable without a keyboard or mouse, though there are still a few cases where it's much easier to have one. In one case, you have to drag an item from your hot bar to drop it in a lake. It's possible with a gamepad, but the mouse is much easier. And it's really easy to accidentally eat something, as the button to eat is also sometimes used to cancel, but you do eventually figure it out.

    From a moral perspective, this game looks like it should be squeaky clean, but it's not quite there. For one, several curse words are used, including 'h*ll', 'd*mn', '*ss', 'b*st*rd', and the portmanteau 'fugly'. Alcohol is used by non-player characters to drunkenness, and Pokkle finds himself wishing he could have some on more than one occasion. Fantasy violence is a given, though no blood or gore. Magic is used by both enemies and the player. The world was created by two goddesses, the goddess of light and the goddess of dark. There are six idols that you are tasked with finding, each representing one element. Enemies include demons, as well as your more typical fare. The church that the nun is in resembles Catholicism; there are also Bibles there.

    From a sexual content perspective it's mostly clean, though there is a womanizer wayward husband (who only talks and looks, but never acts), and others who consistently appraise some of the women in town. Pokkle has the hots for older women, and one character encourages the two of them to become a couple, which they thankfully respond 'eww gross, we're siblings!'

    Zwei: The Arges Adventure is clearly a labor of love from XSEED Games to Falcom and lovers of classic games everywhere. It's not without its rough edges, but the lengths that XSEED's developer went through to make the game work, including massive stability improvements from the original, incorporating mini-games into the base adventure, and so much more, it's simply incredible. If you love classic pixel art, challenging gameplay, and hilarious dialog, there is a lot to like in Zwei!!

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection
    Developed By: Nihon Falcom
    Published By: XSEED Games
    Release Date: October 31, 2017
    Available On: Windows
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Action Role Playing Game
    Mode: Single Player
    MSRP: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you XSEED Games for sending us this game to review!

    Falcom is one of Japan's oldest game developers. They go all the way back to the early 1980s, and have released some incredibly influential games in the ensuing decades. These include Dragon Slayer, The Legend of Heroes, Xanadu, and Ys. In the early 2000s, they released a new series called Zwei!! that did well enough for a sequel, which is this one here. As Falcom's last PC exclusive title, Zwei II (which we now know here as Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection) was originally released in 2008, just as their PSP era had moved into full swing. (For those not aware, all Falcom titles since then have been developed for PlayStation platforms.)

    Not content to just leave great games (especially Falcom ones) to wilt away alone in Japan, XSEED Games chose to localize this gem into English, while tweaking the game to work better on modern PCs. XSEED actually has committed to porting over both Zwei games, but they chose to do this one first, since Zwei!! is based on a much older game engine that was full of challenges of its own; this game was much quicker and more straightforward to localize. Not only that, but they explain that this game is also more friendly to modern gamer expectations. Thankfully, while there are references to the first Zwei!!, the games are basically otherwise standalone, and can be enjoyed in any order.

    Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Incredibly charming characters, world and atmosphere; wonderful soundtrack; great voice acting; fun action
    Weak Points: New Game+ makes you get almost everything again
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence; lots of magic use, by both the player and enemies; vampires, demons, and other dark creatures are not shown as inherently evil; goddesses referred to, in particular the dark and light goddesses; curse words used include 'sh*t', '*ss', 'd*mn', 'b*st*rd', 'hell'; some suggestive language (though received obliviously); some visible cleavage (though low detail enough that it's hardly noticeable); one female character is mistaken for a male; bathhouse scenes played for laughs, where you see a girl in a bikini

    Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection (Zwei II for short, and yes that was intentional) is an action RPG with some similarities to the Ys series, though also different enough to be its own thing. It is an overhead view, 3D rendered action game where you attack with your Anchor Gear as Ragna, or with magic spells as Alwen. Each character can be switched to with the press of a button, and what I really like is that you can even set it up to auto switch with the press of the ranged or melee attack buttons, rather than using a character switch button; I find this much faster. The battle system here inspired the transition to a party system for Ys Seven, and in some ways, I like the Zwei II implementation better.

    Ragna decides to go on a journey to Ilvard, where he has a package to deliver. Being an aeroplane junky, he flies in confidently, and with style. As he approaches, he is shot down by some rather unexpected foes riding on what appear to be dragons. After his crash, Alwen, a local vampire, chooses to save his life, and asks for his help in recovering her castle, as she needs a warrior to aid her. Ragna, ever one to pay his debts, agrees, and there the dynamic duo sets off to recover her powers and free her castle from its unexpected visitors.

    Both the game world and characters ooze personality. Each non-player character (NPC), like in many Falcom games, has their own life stories that you learn about over time. Everyone, from the local shopkeeper, to mysterious faeries, has something to say that changes after each story event. The most characters exude unique traits, from Ragna's swagger, to Alwen's reserved dignity, to Gallandeau's awesome muscles – there is far more than enough fun and bluster to go around. If Zwei succeeds at anything, it's the characters and fun world.

    The action is also quite entertaining, as battles are an interesting mix between Ragna's powerful juggling combos, and Alwen's very strong ranged attacks. Alwen tends to do much better than Ragna against most bosses until very late in the game – where Ragna just chews through everything, if you get his very difficult to find final weapon. (Hint: Do NOT feed the odd food to an animal!) Battles are very fast paced, with a decent but rarely overwhelming number of enemies on screen. Things can and do get pretty tense, but thankfully there is always a snack nearby. But do be careful, as food management is a major focus of this game.

    The reason food is so important is that it plays a double role – both as healing items, as well as your only means to earn experience, which helps you gain levels. You see, as you eat, you gain both HP and a certain amount of experience. But, if you collect ten of a certain kind of food, you can trade them in for their next level version. You can actually do this four times – so that the final level of food can give you hundreds of thousands of experience in one very hearty meal, rather than the tens from a base version.

    Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 70%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 6.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    As you can imagine, levels have a pretty big impact on how much damage you give and receive. So juggling your health, trade-in bonuses, and a rather constant risk-reward of holding back on chowing down is a constant consideration as you go through the game. Thankfully, each area, as well as many bosses, have suggested level plates in front of them so that you know about what level you should be before giving that area a shot. You can ignore it to a point if you have the skill to compensate, but I wouldn't expect to beat a level 1 run anytime soon (though it may or may not be possible).

    Graphics have never been Falcom's primary focus, even now, but it gets the job done well enough. The music is awesome as usual, and deserves a spot on the playlist for dedicated game music fans. The English voice acting has far more voiced lines than the Japanese version ever did, and they did a fantastic job in both casting and getting the characters to feel right. I have really enjoyed the obvious love that the folks at XSEED have had for this game, as they went well above and beyond even what Falcom did with voice acting.

    From an appropriateness perspective, Zwei II is overall very lighthearted, and comes across that way, but there is still some content to note. For one, there is the obvious fantasy violence that you find in most action RPGs. Various creatures, from animals to goblins to forms of demons and undead, are all defeated in large quantities in Zwei II. Alwen is a vampire, and some of her friends are faeries and witches. Demon Lords are generally considered bad or evil, but that is not always the case. There is quite a bit of ambiguity on what is considered evil. There is also mention of two goddesses, one of light, and the other dark. There is a nun to the light goddess that is incredibly disrespectful and even smokes in church.

    There are curse words used, like 'sh*t', '*ss', 'd*mn', 'b*st*rd', and 'hell'. There is no outright sexual content, though there are some situations where others think there might be – though Ragna is always a gentleman. There are a couple of scenes where girls join him in a hot spring; he is shocked and does nothing, but the player sees them in a bikini. He confused a girl for a boy, and much embarrassment ensues. A few characters show a lot of cleavage, but the graphics are generally low detail enough where much is left to the imagination.

    Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection is an absolute gem and a joy to play. I wouldn't say it's my favorite RPG release of 2017 or anything, but it also doesn't have to be. It's a very enjoyable, lighthearted game that continuously brings a smile to your face with its fun setting, dungeons, and characters. Though not without flaws or appropriateness issues, I enjoyed it a whole lot, and I highly recommend action RPG fans to take a closer look at it.

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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