Ys(pronounced as “ease”) is a highly popular Japanese action RPG franchise with a long and strange history of development and releases, both overseas and abroad.
Nihon Falcom is known for developing iterations of the Ys series for over 25 of them, and has since released definitive revisions of the first three Ys titles for PSP. And thanks to US video game publisher XSEED’s discerning choice for the best of Japan’s overlooked works, the ever-popular action-RPG series now enjoys a massive international fan base.
In 1993, Ys IV was licensed to two external 16-bit devs, a fiasco that resulted in two entirely different variations of the same game. With Falcom rewriting the series canon, this Ys IV remake – now dubbed Memories of Celceta – is the company’s first entry in the PS Vita scene. The game is technically a reboot of the two 1993 releases, though it doesn’t require players to have any knowledge of the two games nor any previous Ys titles to enjoy it.
Ys: Memories of Celceta takes place a couple of years after the events that took place in Ys II. Set in the mystic land of Celceta (also known as the Great Forest of Celceta), Memories of Celcetacenters on red-head protagonist Adol Christin, a young vagabond who finds himself in the quiet town of Casnan in an amnesic state. He then meets an information dealer, the brawny Duren who claims to have met him before. Not knowing his true identity and objectives in Celceta, Adol is assisted by Duren in search for his lost memories around Celceta, thus awakening the adventurer spirit within him.
Although the events occur chronologically after Ys II, references to Adol’s former exploits in Esteria are sparse. It follows the series’ tradition of bespoke adventures that don’t have any explicit ties to each other, although Memories of Celceta is somewhat different from the original Ys IV incarnations as it chose to cherry-pick plot components and make a few characters playable for the first time.
Perhaps the first thing you’ll notice about Memories of Celceta is that it looks old-fashioned. The low-res character models and texture will remind you more of a PSP games than a high-res PS Vita game. What’s more, the frame rate has an odd tendency to drop at certain points in the game where you wouldn’t think the game is putting a burden on the hardware.
However, the game isn’t hideous by any stretch. In fact, it’s refreshingly vibrant, with beautiful settings and architecture, and some cool character and enemy designs. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but you’ll soon get over the disappointment.
Ys: Memories of Celceta doesn’t waste time with overly tedious tutorials. Instead, it thrusts you right into the heat of the action. Gameplay is akin to other Ys titles in that it’s an action-RPG that features real-time combat. Besides the standard attack button, you can use special moves called ‘Skills’ by pressing certain button combinations. For the most part, Adol is accompanied by Duren, although other party members can also join at different times. Each party member comes with a specific attack type classified into three types: Slash, Pierce, and Strike.
Memories of Celceta is an RPG through and through. You travel to town; explore the vast yet unfamiliar terrains of Celceta; encounter labyrinths, caves, and dungeons; solve mind-numbing puzzles; reach another camp; get plot details; meet and recruit new party members; and so on. The concept of asking the player to map out all of Celceta works quite well, since exploring the various non-town areas is one of the most exciting parts of the game. The whole world is filled with treasures, artifacts, hidden areas, and natural resources that the process of finding everything, using newfound abilities, and seeing your map gradually expand is satisfying.
While the storyline isn’t entirely new to us, the game’s “amnesia as plot impetus” manages to do more with it than you might expect. As you further explore Celceta, the screen would occasionally become fuzzy, indicating that a fragment of Adol’s lost memory is nearby. When he touches the memory, he sees a brief glimpse of his youth or his earlier adventures. These fragmented memories also come with hints and stat boosts, so finding and collecting all of them is beneficial from a story and a gameplay perspective.
But make no mistake. Traversing the wilderness isn’t a walk in the park because it’s teeming with dangerous creatures, all of which view our flame-haired protagonist and company as a threat. Almost every area has a pack of vicious beasts to beat down.
Good thing combat is one of the best parts of this game. Long gone is the obsolete Ys combat style that had you running into enemies and hoping for the best; replaced by more traditional combat that’s amazingly fast, skillful, and rewarding. But enemies aren’t just going to sit back and take your punishment, because they too can perform some pretty nasty attacks that will take you down if you play carelessly. Dodging and guarding is as simple as a button press, but performing them with perfect timing will yield additional rewards. Finishing off enemies with skills and taking advantage of their weaknesses also results in greater rewards upon their defeat.
While combat in Celceta is easy to understand and fun to engage in, it’s not all cakes and bubbles. Some enemies are made to give you a hard time, giving and withstanding punishment and leaving you to decide whether or not it’s worth the risk to engage them. The boss challenges are cleverly designed as well, with unusual patterns and lethal attacks that will prompt you to change tactics from time to time in order to beat them down.
There’s a lot to love about Memories of Celceta: the thrill of exploring, the adrenaline-pumping combat, and even the trademark Falcom synth-rockin’ soundtrack.
The unfortunate thing is that the game’s most glaring weakness is the story. It’s not necessarily poorly told, but it’s just extremely disruptive in most parts. Some conversations are interesting and enlightening, while some are not so much – typically carrying on for way too long and happening way too often. The game is weighed down by predictable chatter and unnecessary exposition, combined with occasionally endless cut scenes. If anything, Memories of Celceta would have benefitted if the story was trimmed back a bit.
Strangely enough, these setbacks are simply a testament to how fun it is to actually play, because it’s then that the game really gets to shine. The mechanics are fluid and easy to digest, with a plethora of options like unlockable skills for each character that make it feel unique, challenging, and highly engaging.
Ys: Memories of Celceta is a welcome addition to PS Vita’s roster of RPGs. The complaints imposed against it are fairly minor: the visuals aren’t so hot, AI teammates can be questionable at times, and the story progression can be quite dragging. But the fact that it’s built around something as simple as completing a map makes it easily accessible, plus there are systems within (specifically when it comes to combat) that make it dynamic and deep. It’s a lot of fun to play. Somehow, it’s just unfortunate that you have to cut through some nonsense to get to the heart of the matter.
Despite its shortcomings, Memories of Celceta is an adventure well worth embarking on for any RPG-loving PS Vita owner. The game will keep you busy for 20-something hours, although it’s too bad it doesn’t bother to use the power of the Vita to make something more visually appealing.