Unless you’re a long-time JRPG fan, you don’t recognize this strangely named series. But those in-the-know followers are aware that Ys dates back to 1987 and is developer Falcom’s claim to fame. Those fans also know that these games were often genre-defining titles with a fair amount of charm, style and innovation. The only problem is that up until 2005, only three Ys titles had found their way to the US. Now, with the help of XSEED Games, the franchise is allowed to spread its wings, and Falcom has finally delivered an official fourth entry.
As Memories of Celceta is more of an homage to the legacy of the IP, you probably shouldn’t be surprised at the dated visuals. PlayStation Vita owners have come to expect a certain level of clarity and detail; unfortunately, this game looks as if it was made for the PSP. There’s an old-fashioned graininess to the presentation and the simplified animations are dated as well. The overall design isn’t bad, merely limited in terms of eye-catching environments. That being said, you will appreciate the general world and character design, and there’s plenty of appealing color.
The sound is better thanks to a solid soundtrack that embraces the game’s fantastical adventurous nature. The voices aren’t too bad, either, especially considering that JRPGs have become notorious for including comically amateurish voiceover performances. The balancing between the crisp combat effects and the compelling score is excellent, and some of the intense boss battles take advantage of the Vita’s sound capabilities. Again, though, the general audio presentation may seem somewhat dated, depending on your expectations and experience. The fans will be satisfied and as they’re the only targeted audience, that’s what ultimately matters.
It’s true that Memories of Celceta is really only designed for the veteran faithful; hence, I shouldn’t have to explain the back story. But this is a review, after all, and besides, not all JRPG followers are familiar with the history of Ys . So— Falcom didn’t actually make a fourth entry way back when; they opted to hand out the story concepts to various developers. This resulted in numerous titles that claimed to be “Ys IV” but none were considered an official sequel. Now, Falcom has decided to give us a legit fourth entry, and they put it on the Vita. It’s an action/RPG with a ton of content and although it’s hardly revolutionary, it’s almost exactly what the fans want. In fact, it's what many have been pining for.
We once again step into the capable shoes of the long-running protagonist, Adol. The flame-haired youth apparently did some amazing things while out and about but sadly, he has developed amnesia. He doesn’t remember any of his accomplishments; he doesn’t even remember his own name. But due to an inherent drive to taste the life of a successful adventurer, he almost subconsciously dives back into the mix. However, without the assistance of a man named Duren, Adol probably wouldn’t make it very far. At first, Adol and Duren set out to map the uncharted territory that is the great forest of Celceta, at the behest of the government.
As you might expect, that’s only the start of this rousing, captivating quest. Adol recovers his memories in pieces as they progress, and although the story isn’t anything special, it’s at least functional. As for the gameplay, it’s wonderful traditional RPG fare: You visit exotic towns, explore the sprawling and extraordinarily dangerous woods, check out dungeons and caves, find new recruits for your party, and find all sorts of treasure. This format has – and will always be – the backbone of the traditional role-playing experience, and it’s just so refreshing to see it once again. However, bear in mind that you won’t be finding turn-based combat here.
No, this is an action/RPG in the truest sense of the term. Your party can consist of up to three characters and they all move about in real-time during an encounter. Enemies are also encountered in real-time as you wander; there is no separate battle screen. During combat, you control one of the party members while the others fight via AI. You can switch to any other character at any time (just press the Circle button) and of course, you have to keep an eye on everyone’s health. You can pause battle and bring up the main menu screen if you wish; it gives you a chance to take a breather and administer healing, if necessary.
Attacks are dealt in standard combo style by rapidly pressing the Square button. There are also special charged attacks that can be stored by not attacking for a few seconds, and a variety of unique abilities that require skill points. The latter is essentially the magic mechanic for this game; each of the skills are very similar to spellcasts in other RPGs. You can reacquire the necessary skill points simply by attacking, so you’re always encouraged to be on the offensive. You can, however, dodge and guard, and the result is a dynamic yet accessible combat system that has plenty of depth. One aspect of the battles actually reminds me of Vagrant Story to some extent.
Rather than enemies having specific elemental weaknesses, they’re either weak or strong against certain types of physical attacks. For instance, Adol’s sword delivers a slashing strike, which is great for slimy or rubbery enemies you face, but Duren’s fists of steel deliver a blunt strike, which is effective against foes with stout armor. There’s striking, piercing and slashing and each character utilizes one of those types, which means you’ll often switch to different party members to deal with different opponents. You’ll also want to switch to pull off those highly damaging skills; it’s desirable to have control of that because unfortunately, ally AI isn’t great.
Additionally, there are a few irritating moments that should’ve been added to the gameplay cutting board. They may have appeared like good ideas during the development phase but really, dodging lightning bolts that instantly kill me isn’t much fun. It’s reminiscent of the lightning-dodging from Final Fantasy X , but those strikes didn’t kill you; they just drained a bit of health. They were also easier to evade. And I suppose that if you have something against the dated visuals, this can also hinder your enjoyment of the game. But overall, this is a game that understands its fans. For the most part, it knows what the die-hard JRPG followers want, and it delivers.
Ys: Memories of Celceta is an appreciated thank you note to the fans. The combat flows nicely and despite the seemingly frenzied style, it rewards the strategic and the tactful. The world design is fantastic and it’s always nice to explore an engaging, intriguing fantasy world. Having towns is always a big bonus to traditional RPG fans and despite the dated look, it still feels exactly as it should. This is why it deserves praise. In an industry that has seen the drastic shifting and even outright dissolving of beloved gameplay styles, a game like this reminds us that some developers understand that in fact, the fans were fans for a reason .
The Good: Top-notch trademark soundtrack. Decent voice performances for a JRPG. Excellent world design that’s both immersive and intriguing. Combat is fluid and accessible, yet deep and rewarding. Plenty of content and a long, involving quest.
The Bad: Definitely looks old-fashioned. Story isn’t anything special. AI can prove disappointing at times.
The Ugly: “Yeah, it’s dated. But that’s not ‘ugly,’ that’s ‘character.’”