If you read RPGFan, you’re probably somewhat familiar with the curious history of Ys IV (and if you’re not, my E3 preview should serve as a quick primer). Ys: Memories of Celceta is a from-scratch remake of Adol Christin’s fourth adventure, which has become the “canon” entry in series lore with the inclusion of a reworked plot, new characters, and fresh gameplay elements to appease Ys newcomers and veterans alike. The game does have some strange technical hiccups, but it’s a worthy addition to any Vita owner’s library, especially for those who love exploration, good music, and red-headed swordsmen. (I prefer blue-haired wall-crushers, but that’s a story for another day.)
Ys: Memories of Celceta may use the JRPG-standard “amnesiac protagonist” plot device, but things don’t play out as predictably as one might imagine. Series hero Adol Christin’s fierce desire to explore the world leads him to the great forest of Celceta, an uncharted territory being colonized by the Romun Empire. At some point during his travels, a traumatic event causes him to lose his memories, and with the help of an information dealer named Duren, he sets out anew to rediscover Celceta’s mysteries. It wouldn’t be an Ys game if Adol wasn’t dragged into a global crisis along the way, of course, and a lively cast of supporting characters drives the plot along at a brisk pace, making this the most story-heavy Ys game yet. It’s perhaps not Adol’s most riveting adventure ever, but it’s consistently enjoyable, save for an abrupt ending that raises more questions than it provides answers.
Adol’s lost memories are more than a narrative tool. They’re literally lost — scattered about the forest of Celceta as hovering orbs of light. Some of these memories are integral to the game’s main plot, but most provide optional (and fascinating) backstory that is completely new to the Ys canon. Adol is shown as a child for the first time ever, and the origin of his wanderlust is made clear by his relationship with his father. In addition to unlocking cutscenes, the memory orbs raise Adol’s base stats, making them doubly valuable. I made their reclamation my primary goal every time I visited a new area, and as an Ys junkie, I found the added exposition fascinating.
Exploration is also a key element of the game. At its outset, Adol and Duren are bequeathed a blank map by Griselda, the governor-general occupying Celceta, and tasked with filling it in. Much like the classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Memories of Celceta keeps track of Adol’s mapping progress down to a tenth of a percent, and every 10% discovered entitles him to a heap of gold from Griselda. The mapping system is robust, displaying the location of treasure chests, gathering points, teleportation monuments, dungeons, and towns, which the player can adjust by height/depth and add waypoint markers to. Completing the map is something of a huge, addictive side-quest, and because there are frequently several paths to the same mandatory destination, it’s easy to spend hours immersed in joyful cartography.
Ys is known for two things above all else: wicked-fast, skill-based combat and kickass music. Adol fights like an amped-up Link, unleashing swift combos and nimbly dodging enemy attacks. Memories of Celceta retains the party system from Ys SEVEN, wherein three characters can be swapped on the fly with the push of a button, and each member has a weapon type (slashing, piercing, and strike) that is effective against different types of enemies. Defensive maneuvers include the Flash Guard and Flash Dodge, mechanics initiated with a perfectly-timed guard and dodge, respectively. The former provides complete damage mitigation and a temporary boost to critical hit rate, while the latter puts the game into “Witch Time” (thanks, Bayonetta), slowing enemies down for a few seconds while Adol and friends zip around at regular speed. Each character’s standard combo is augmented by a large number of special attacks, which can be set to each of the Vita’s four face buttons, allowing for extensive customization and a number of different approaches to any given encounter. My only complaint is that the game leans on the easy side; I expected an even challenge on the Normal difficulty, but I decimated every enemy I came across, and bosses rarely lasted longer than a minute or two against my assault. I have yet to attempt playing on Hard or above, but I was a bit disappointed in how easily I plowed through Normal. Your mileage may vary.
While Memories of Celceta is a colorful game, its presentation is undermined by a bizarre graphical filter that makes everything look blurry and washed-out. I stopped noticing it as I progressed through the game, but it’s jarring at first and really got under my skin. It’s especially incomprehensible because the character models are unfiltered in the equipment menu, where they appear crisp and vibrant; in the game proper, however, they lose much of their charm. The interface is also excessively compact in places, with tiny text and icons that could easily be expanded without obscuring the action. The framerate, too, suffers from some unsteadiness, but it thankfully never interferes with the speed of combat. I hope Falcom is able to refine their engine for the next Ys title, because the potential here is huge.
This blazing-fast action RPG may fit into an established series, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable stand-alone experience that shines as one of the best games to grace the PlayStation Vita. Some technical issues and an anticlimactic ending keep Ys: Memories of Celceta from being the most exciting entry in Adol’s myriad travelogues, but it is absolutely worth playing, whether you’re a long-time fan or an apprehensive newbie. The great forest awaits.