It’s Ysy to Enjoy
The action-packed exploits of the red-haired swordsman Adol and his friends may not be terribly familiar to Western audiences, but Ys: Memories of Celceta is a persuasive argument for why they should be. This action RPG for the PlayStation Vita sports a charming cast and gameplay that is fast-paced, addictive, and fun.
Memories of Celceta is an origin story of sorts, beginning with poor Adol having lost all his memories, washing up in a frontier town on the edge of a dreaded Great Forest. We may have seen amnesiac Japanese RPG heroes a million times before, but at least this game has the grace to make the recovery of Adol’s memories a major part of the game itself. He and his slightly sketchy friend, Duren, are soon hired to map the forest, and while doing so, discover magical orbs that bring back memories of Adol’s recent adventures and even of his childhood.
As their journey of discovery moves along, Adol and Duren pick up a charming and diverse cast of companions such as the plucky hunter, Karna, and the serious young village chief, Ozma. They also become mixed up in important and world-threatening events, as RPG protagonists tend to do. The story rolls along at a brisk pace, with plenty of lighter moments and fun interactions between the party members. It may not be high literature, but it provides a good stage upon which to showcase the game’s main attractions: combat and exploration.
Many twitch gamers tend to look down on action RPGs as having watered-down combat experiences, but the Ys series has always been an exception to that rule. Memories of Celceta features smooth, fast-paced, and challenging combat that is a joy to play. All the action takes place on the main screen, and the Great Forest is filled to the brim with nasty creatures that need to be mowed down.
Combat works on three levels. First, each character specializes in a particular weapon that does slashing, striking, or piercing damage. Different monsters are vulnerable to different damage types, and a single button press switches between active party members. Effectively killing mixed group of monsters involves swapping characters frequently, with the only downside being that weaknesses are largely dropped late in the game in favor of situations that require having Adol in the active party most of the time. On the plus side, although there are two characters that do each type of damage, the weapons they use are all unique and feel quite different from one another in combat.
Second, each character’s combat rhythm involves basic, charged, special, and ultimate attacks that all build up to fuel each other. Use charged attacks to build energy for special attacks, and use special attacks to fill the meter that allows each character to use their ultimate attack. Four special attacks per character can be slotted at a time, and quite a nice variety of these attacks in each character’s arsenal.
Finally, positioning and defensive moves are important for avoiding enemy attacks, especially during boss battles. Characters can either dodge or block, and doing either with perfect timing negates all damage and creates a “flash” advantage. A flash guard gives the party a few seconds of critical damage, while a flash move briefly slows down time for the enemy. Pulling off a flash move is a very satisfying feeling, and it’s nice to see strong defensive play rewarded with a combat advantage beyond simply avoiding damage.
Executing all these offensive and defensive moves is done with simple face and R/L button presses. The controls are slick and responsive, and the moves are easy to pull off, leaving the player to master combat by learning how to read and predict enemy movements. A wide view of the battlefield is provided at all times, so there’s no need to futz with camera angles. Altogether, it’s one of the most fun combat systems I’ve experienced, especially on a portable console.
Not all the gameplay is fully combat-focused, as Memories of Celceta features forested mazes and dungeons filled with puzzles to solve and secrets to unearth. Most of the puzzles are relatively simple for observant players, but several (especially a touch-screen puzzle in the final dungeon) are fairly clever and entertaining. They help keep the game’s environments from being too generic, and along with side quests in the game’s many villages, they provide a nice break from all the action.
There are few negatives to Memories of Celceta . The story has a lot more political possibilities than actually play out, so what appears at first to be a deep plot filled with political struggle ends up being fairly black and white by the end. In addition, it might be nice if enemies had a five or ten minute respawn timer instead of coming back immediately when the player swaps screens or sees a cutscene. Otherwise, the game is strong in nearly all of its elements and was completely bug-free for my playthrough.
Perhaps the weakest overall element in the game’s strong field is its graphics. Celceta is full of interesting towns and diverse forested environments, but a fixed camera angle prevents truly impressive views of these wonders. In addition, character models are a bit fuzzy, and the camera’s angle doesn’t show off the inventive enemy design as well as it could. These graphical tradeoffs seem to have been made in the name of stronger gameplay, however, and the overall graphical impression it leaves is still fairly attractive.
On the other hand, the music in this game is top-notch. It’s a title that deserves to be played with headphones on, as the well-composed, energetic music tracks help drive combat forward and provide emotional warmth during quieter scenes. Headphones also allow for a better overall sound balance, making the sparse voice acting more audible and the sound effects fuller and less tinny.
The full Ys Celceta campaign lasts about twenty hours, just long enough to provide plenty of entertainment without overstaying its welcome. Doing side quests posted in the taverns (some of which are quite amusing) and fully exploring the map of Celceta adds extra gameplay value, as does the post-game Boss Rush and the New Game + mode. Note that if you want to fully explore the map on the first playthrough, you’ll need to do so before taking on the final boss, because once the game is over, you can’t go back to finish exploring.
If you own a Vita, you owe it to yourself to pick up Memories of Celceta . It’s a genuinely fun-to-play, feel-good experience that joins Tearaway as one of this year’s best Vita games. I suspect that few gamers can resist being addicted to the excellent combat, or fail to crack a smile at the party’s banter during conversations. Ys: Memories of Celceta is a game that’s all about having fun, celebrating the spirit of adventure, and enjoying the company of the people you meet along the way. How can anybody say no to an experience like that?
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Nice diversity of environments, but quality has been sacrificed in the name of gameplay. 5.0 Control
Perfectly reactive and smooth, combat is a blast. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The soundtrack is superb–minimal voice acting. 4.4 Play Value
Plenty of gameplay to enjoy plus post-game activities like Boss Rush. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|