All-ac­tion Dana hits high notes

Irish Examiner - - Arts - with Ro­nan Jen­nings

THIRTY years ago, a woman called Dana cap­tured the hearts of a small is­land by win­ning a Euro­pean singing con­test. 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.

UN­FOR­GIV­ING NIOH

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 full­price game, feel­ing cor­nered into pay­ing more just to progress com­fort­ably might make some gamers un­com­fort­able.

Ys: Lac­rimosa of Dana has a ter­ri­ble name but is one of the best games you’ll play all year.

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