Sometimes it can take a few attempts to get something just right. Obviously original Ys creators Falcom felt something wasn’t right with their previous games, because they went and developed Memories of Celceta to supplant both those titles as the canonical fourth entry. Originally released in the East a year and a half ago (and in the US in November), it’s finally made its way to European Vitas, and the wait was totally worth it.
The plot focuses on series mainstay Adol Christin towards the start of his adventuring career when, at the age of eighteen, he awakens in the city of Casnan with amnesia. Before you roll your eyes and click away, let me just say that although it’s hardly an original setup, Memories of Celceta handles the amnesia cliché fairly well. After learning that he was seen returning from the Great Forest of Celceta, Adol joins forces with an “information dealer” named Duren and, through accidental heroism, finds himself charged by the newly-appointed Governess with an important mission: they want him to fully map the Great Forest, a previously uncharted No Man’s Land, in return for a huge sum of money. Hoping to regain his memory in the process, Adol accepts.
Initial premise established, the actual plot takes an age to kick in, and it’s a credit to Falcom that Memories of Celceta begins on a highly entertaining note that it manages to sustain throughout. As you explore the forest, your map is constantly updated with caves, dungeons, harvest nodes, and colour-coded fast-travel waypoints that increase the completion percentage. Every 10% filled in will see you generously rewarded by the Governess, and so searching every corner and branching path is essential.
Along the way you’ll discover glowing blue orbs containing Adol’s fragmented memories, as well as various towns and settlements. Upon arriving at them, you’ll be greeted with mixed emotions from townsfolk whose previous interactions with Adol did not end particularly well. In one, he apparently poisoned their river; in another, he is believed to be dead. Solving these mini-mysteries often requires the help of the locals, several of whom will join Adol on his adventures once their issue is resolved.
The combat is fluid and surprisingly deep. Each character has a certain specialty, either to Pierce, Slash, or Strike, and the majority of enemies have a weakness to one or the other. Touching an enemy on-screen will reveal its weakness, and you can then switch to whichever of your three controllable characters is best-suited. Evading and blocking are simple enough, but time either just right and you’ll execute either a Flash Move or Flash Guard, both of which give you a momentary advantage over the enemy. In addition to a standard attack, each character has several special moves mapped to the face buttons (when R is pressed) that use up SP points, and a signature move that feeds off a refillable meter. It doesn’t take long to get the hang of guarding, mixing specials, and juggling characters to maximise your damage output, making the combat an absolute joy.
Looting is handled by killing monsters and smashing up plants and rocks, but instead of finding weapons and armour, you pick up crafting materials to reinforce your gear and create new stat-boosting accessories. Money comes thick and fast depending on the difficulty setting, and you’ll rarely find yourself short of a few bucks for curatives and upgrades.
It’s refreshing to play a game of this genre that’s so accessible. Without holding your hand, Memories of Celceta manages to make its huge game world easy to traverse, and the combat balancing is close to perfect. All in all, it means you don’t get bored or frustrated exploring the sprawling forest. The boss fights might be fairly formulaic, but they’re not overly common and always reward you handsomely.
Characterisation is also handled quite well, with the other playable guys and gals present for dialogue scenes whether they’re in your interchangeable team of three or not. Because of this they’re always following their individual arcs and resolving their own conflicts. Most of them fall into established JRPG traps such as being too young for their professions, too squeaky and immature to be considered dangerous, or too brooding and mysterious to be likeable, and yet the above-par localisation makes the scripting just about work. It’s not free from the usual misfiring jokes, uneven narrative tone and irritatingly written characters often seen in the genre, but at the same time it offers a coherent and compelling story that keeps you hooked regardless. It’s not on a level with, for example, Lost Odyssey, but it’s a solid framework for the action nonetheless.
Now and then player choice gives the illusion of informing the narrative, when you get to choose which order to tackle certain areas in or you’re allowed to steer Adol’s dialogue by choosing between two fairly black and white options. It’s a nice touch to keep you paying attention, and for the most part works well.
While Ys: Memories of Celceta has a style of its own, it’s far from the best looking game on the Vita. The blocky characters and basic animations just don’t push the handheld to its limits in any way, and though it’s certainly pretty in places and the spell and ability effects are often glorious, the washed-out palette can occasionally cause it to look a little bland. That said, the action is always smooth, even when you’re carving through mountains of enemies.
VERDICT: Fun, accessible and engaging, the return of Adol Christin is a successful one, all told. It isn’t hugely original and certainly doesn’t push the envelope in terms of aesthetics or gameplay, but somehow all the small elements come together and simply click. Falcom’s amnesiac adventurer provides another memorable jaunt through the world of Ys, and delivers one of the most likeable and, above all, playable Action-RPGs on the Vita.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.