Ys (pronounced “ease,” no apostrophe!) is a legendary, highly influential Japanese action role-playing game franchise with a long, strange history of development and releases, both overseas and abroad. One of the strangest things about the series is that its original developer, Falcom, didn’t make an Ys IV, instead giving the story concepts to different developers and letting them run with them individually. As a result, there are multiple Ys IVs, but none have been considered a true part of the series. Until now, that is: Falcom decided to make an “official” Ys IV as its debut Vita game, calling it Memories of Celceta. The result is one of the best action RPGs yet released on the platform.
Celceta puts us back in the shoes of the fiery-haired Ys series hero, Adol. Adol has just wrapped up what seems to be another adventure, but he’s got a serious problem: he doesn’t remember any of it. In fact, he doesn’t remember anything about his life. Fortunately, he runs into an old acquaintance, an “information dealer” named Duren, as he’s recovering at a tavern. With Duren’s help, he remembers that he is a traveling adventurer who had set out into the great forest of Celceta–uncharted territory that is fabled to consume the memories of those who enter. The pair is offered compensation from the local government if they can create a map of Celceta, but will Adol be able to conquer its dangers again and recover his lost memories in the process?
Cleverly designed bosses challenge you with unusual patterns and devastating attacks.
Memories of Celceta is filled with strange and intriguing locales
The first thing you’ll most likely notice about Ys: Memories of Celceta is that it looks dated. The low-resolution character models and textures look more akin to a PSP game than a high-resolution PS Vita game, and the frame rate has an odd tendency to drop at certain points where you wouldn’t think the game would be taxing the hardware. Celceta isn’t ugly by any stretch–it’s refreshingly colorful, has some beautiful settings and architecture, and features very cool character and enemy designs–but it could have looked significantly better. Fortunately, you get over the disappointment of the graphics pretty quickly.
Memories of Celceta is an action RPG through and through, and does little to stray from the established formula of that genre. You travel to a town; exit to explore the unfamiliar territory of Celceta; encounter a maze, cave, or dungeon; solve some puzzles; reach another settlement; get plot details and/or a new party recruit; and continue forth. The idea of being asked to map out all of Celceta works well in context, since exploring the various non-town areas is one of the most fun parts of Memories of Celceta. The forest is vast, filled with treasures, artifacts, hidden areas, and natural resources, and the process of finding everything, using newfound abilities to connect areas, and seeing your map gradually expand is immensely satisfying. Ys, as a series, has always used “the spirit of exploration” as a motivation for hero Adol, and it’s nice to see that spirit captured so well. While the “amnesia as plot impetus” trope is almost comically overused in games, Celceta manages to do more with it than you might expect. Every so often, the screen grows fuzzy, indicating that a lost memory for Adol is nearby. When he touches the memory, he sees a brief glimpse of his youth or his previous travels. There are hints and stat boosts scattered throughout his fragmented memories, so seeking them all out is beneficial from a story and a gameplay standpoint.
Hearing a sweeping synth-rock melody punctuate a flurry of sword strikes, mace combos, and stalagmites exploding into a shower of loot is a delightful event that you’ll experience countless times.
She’s stunned by the lack of detail in her character model.
But the wilderness is also teeming with creatures, all of which view Adol and company as a threat. Almost every area has a pack of vicious beasts to beat down. Thankfully, combat is one of the best parts of Celceta. Long gone is the antiquated early Ys combat that had you running into enemies and hoping for the best; it has been replaced by more traditional combat that is fantastically fast, skillful, and highly rewarding.
A team of up to three of your party members can be onfield at any time, and they all participate in combat. You control one of these characters while the CPU handles the other two. You’ve got a pretty solid arsenal: basic combo strings you can use to pummel enemies, charged attacks you can store by not pressing attack buttons for a few seconds, and Tales-style special attacks that cost skill points (which you recover by using basic strikes). While there isn’t a magic system, some characters’ special skills make use of attacks like fiery explosions and gravity spheres. Instead of the typical RPG elemental weakness/resistance, enemies have vulnerabilities and resistances to striking, piercing, and slashing physical attacks. Since every character wields only one weapon type, you may find yourself wanting to switch whom you control when you run up against a group of foes with a weak point to exploit or a pattern that makes certain weapons more advantageous.
Foes aren’t just going to sit back and take your punishment, though, and they can perform some pretty nasty attacks that take you down if you play carelessly. Dodging and guarding are as easy as a button press, but performing them with perfect timing yields additional rewards: dodging at the right time slows the enemy down for a precious few seconds, while a well-executed flash guard not only nullifies damage, but guarantees a few critical hits afterward. Finishing off enemies with skills and using their weaknesses against them also results in greater rewards upon their defeat. Combat in Celceta is easy to understand and fun to engage in, and it rewards you for playing well, but it’s not a total cakewalk. Some enemies are made to give and withstand punishment, leaving you to decide whether it’s worth the risk to engage them or not, and the cleverly designed bosses challenge you with unusual patterns and devastating attacks, and you must employ less obvious strategies to take them down.
The forest is vast, filled with treasures, artifacts, hidden areas, and natural resources.
There’s a lot to love about Memories of Celceta: the thrill of exploring, the rush of combat, and the trademark Falcom synth-rockin’ soundtrack. The complaints that can be levied against it are fairly minor: the visuals aren’t so hot, your teammate AI can be questionable at times, and there are a few frustrating spots, such as a sequence where you must dodge instant-kill lightning bolts in a field. But perhaps the biggest complaint could be its relative lack of innovation: when it comes right down to it, there really isn’t much new here. Celceta is a fairly standard action RPG that takes many of the best elements of the genre and assembles them into a single terrfic game. Those elements are assembled quite skillfully, but everything you’ve seen in Memories of Celceta–even nonessential features like weapon enhancement and side quests you accept at town pubs–is something you’ve probably encountered before. If you’ve only heard of Ys as an amazing, genre-defining classic series (which it most certainly was when it first hit the scene), you might find yourself disappointed at how familiar the gameplay and story progression are.
Taken strictly on its own merits, however, Ys: Memories of Celceta is a wonderful adventure. It’s great fun to wander in the forests and dungeons, bashing foes and finding lost treasures to uncover ancient secrets. Hearing a sweeping synth-rock melody punctuate a flurry of sword strikes, mace combos, and stalagmites exploding into a shower of loot is a delightful event that you’ll experience countless times in the journey through the mysterious forest. Memories of Celceta is an adventure well worth embarking on for any Vita owner.