Across the twenty-six year legacy of the Ys franchise, reoccurring protagonist Adol Christin has witnessed a multitude of remarkable events during his succession of globe-trotting expeditions. In many ways, the series has shared a similar fate. While the Ys titles have cultivated a fervent following in Japan, the games haven’t always enjoyed a corresponding popularity on this side of the Pacific. Beyond three releases for the SEGA Master System, TurboGrafx CD, Genesis, and SNES, it wasn’t until XSEED localized a trio of titles that the franchise starting accumulating a U.S. fanbase. Another notable incident occurred in 1993, when the series’ traditional developer, Nihon Falcom licensed the fourth installment to two separate studios. The result was Mask of the Sun and The Dawn of Ys- a pair of oddly dissimilar titles which fractured franchise canon. Hoping to mend this schism, Nihon Falcom has created Ys: Memories of Celceta – a quasi-remake which reveals the red haired adventurer true excursion through the Great Forest.
Prudently, the recently released PS Vita title reinvigorates series’ tenets, giving each element a thoughtful reworking. The franchise’s traditional action-driven combat makes a return- this time increasing the reward for finesse amidst engaging enemy encounters and boss battles. Light role-playing components and character exposition complement the exploration and engagements, providing an absorbing impetus for the title’s twenty-hour playtime. In execution, Memories of Celceta is poised to please both series stalwarts as well as newcomers- as long as both factions make it past the title’s lackluster prologue and the occasional middling flashback.
The game opens as Adol Christin stumbles into Casnan City- his vitality depleted by a recent foray into the adjacent Great Forest. Knocked to the ground by a passerby, the protagonist wakes up at the local bar with an acute case of amnesia, where he’s tended to by a kindhearted opportunist named Duren. Interaction between the two is interrupted, when a group on miners is attacked by subterranean creatures, forcing the duo into action. Between surviving a journey through the mysterious woodland and demonstrating prodigious swordsmanship against the underground monsters, Duran realizes that Adol is no ordinary adventurer, and soon the team is commissioned to explore and chart the Great Forest.
The introduction is overly verbose, awkwardly animated, and demonstrates some problematic punctuation- yet once players get past this setup, the game’s pace and narrative path improves considerably. Occasionally, uncovering a glimmering memory fragment reveals an expository sequence- and although these sequences often feel undeveloped, they are perfunctory and offer a stat boost as a dividend. The game’s twenty-odd main characters are generally well-developed, and the relationships that Adol forms with these people are consistently interesting. Largely, Memories of Celceta is at its best when characters are ensnared in conflict- such as Ozma- a village leader torn between tribal tradition and doing what’s best for his people.
Although the task of cartography is somewhat linear, with sections gated off until party member capacities are uncovered, Memories of Celceta rarely feels constraining. Reconnoitering the Great Forest is accomplished with the assistance of an overworld atlas as well as an interactive auto-map. Pleasingly, the world feels vast and with little geographical recycling, the Great Forest looks pleasingly organic. As such, it’s easy to plunge into Memories of Celceta for hours at a time-as players follow natural conduits and cross large landmasses on their journey. Sporadically, the title’s routine exploration is suspended as gamers are thrust into replicating, perplexing pathways. Here, the game wants players to survey the area, looking for reoccurring features or topographical tendencies which indicate the way forward.
Although antagonists run about on every footpath and waterway, Memories of Celceta doesn’t channel the irritation often associated with role-playing’s randomized battles. Combat feels snappy and is consistently fast paced- with players issuing up combos with the square button, switching between characters with the circle, guarding with the triangle, and dashing the ‘X’ key. The latter maneuvers are essential against elevated enemies, with a well-timed defensive maneuver able to freeze enemies or increase the chances of a critical hit. Further strategy is garnered from the title’s weapon system, which classifies arms into slash, pierce, and strike categories. Using the proper offensive object can shred foes with corresponding weakness, as well as reward players with increased and improved loot drops. Additionally, players can assign and initiate customizable special moves as well as take advantage of character specific abilities, such as Duren’s ability to pick locks.
Fallen foes (as well as their corpses), rocks, and flora release a multitude of items, which are dutifully gathered by your adventuring party. All these objects factor into Memories of Celceta straightforward crafting system, which allows players to refine a variety of materials before using these provisions to augment weapons and armor. In execution, the component allows for a surprising amount of flexibility, allowing players to construct weapons with strong stat bonuses or the ability to poison enemies. Pleasingly, Ys health regeneration system takes the burden out of potion management- normally allowing party members to heal by remaining motionless for a few seconds. Likewise, the burden of poison or paralysis is rarely life-threatening, with a trip to nearly monument or a bit of time alleviating the ailment.
Less successful is the incorporation of fast travel, which involves the use of color-coded shrines. In execution, returning to a city sporadically required multiple, time consuming steps. Ideally, these journeys would have been accomplished in a single trip- since players have to regularly return to their base of operation to obtain side quests, report on their cartographical progress, and upgrade their equipment. Later, the travel ability is adjusted eliminating the multiple-step requirement, but this amendment comes quite late in the adventure.
Beyond the game’s core quest, inns contain bulletin boards filled with optional side quests. Some of these errands are a bit too basic. Beyond the requite fetch and kill quests, one early elective mission has players milking an exotic animal through a coarse stealth sequence. Thankfully, others assignments are more enjoyable- such as running an item shop or collecting resources in a predetermined time frame. Another agreeable ancillary is Memories of Celceta’s New Game+ option, which allows players to take their bolstered characters and items as they begin the campaign anew. Courteously, the title offers players four skill levels which influence the stringency of combat. Players are advised to start with a higher challenge setting, levels can only be decreased during play.
Visually, Ys: Memories of Celceta is consistently competent, occasionally shining in some regards. Although panoramic shots can introduce a bit of graphical showdown, the framerate during battles remains resilient. Landscapes are wondrously varied, but output during adventuring doesn’t seem to exploit the PS Vita’s native resolution- revealing the polygons which make up characters and milieus. That said, the title’s menu screens are sumptuous, exhibiting details of the six playable protagonists. Sonically, Memories of Celceta provides an array of rousing melodies, seamlessly mixing electric guitar and violin into distinctive, driving pieces. Although only a small portion of the game’s dialog is dubbed into English, the performances are notably proficient.
Memories of Celceta is a masterful addition to the Ys franchise, offering a fetching blend of stimulating exploration and stirring, real-time combat. The game’s introduction makes an uneasy first impression, but once players pass the first half hour, the duration of the game is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. While Ys veterans will undoubtedly adore Nihon Falcom’s latest entry, Memories of Celceta is virtuous enough to add a new constituency to the franchise’s ever-growing fanbase.