Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: XSEED Games
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: November 26, 2013
ESRB: T for Teen
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review
Founded way back in 1981, developer Falcom has a gaming influence so strong that they published one of the very first, if not arguably the very first, Japanese RPG ever with Dragon Slayer back in 1983. Of course, being the plebeian that I am, I barely found out about them only after diving into their most recent iterations and remakes of the long-running Ys series on PSP, which embodied some of the most pure action-RPGs I“ve experienced in recent memory.
Continuing Falcom“s recent trend of Ys remakes, they decide to completely overhaul what is sort of the black sheep of the series, Ys IV, with the Vita release: Ys: Memories of Celceta. Bearing very little similarity to its two different and non-canonical incarnations of Ys IV, Ys: Memories of Celceta brings the core gameplay spirit of the PSP release, Ys Seven, but with a new story, setting, and characters.
Ys: Memories of Celceta yet again brings the main character spotlight on Adol Christin, or the aptly nicknamed â€œAdol the Red". To the dismay of Adol, however, he has lost all of his memories at the game“s start after what is believed to be due to venturing too far into the forests of Celceta. In spite of that, by unconditionally helping to protect the local townsfolk, Adol proves that his combat skills aren“t nearly as rusty as his memory, and shortly thereafter is scouted by the Romun military to help out. After a short explanation, Adol is encouraged to chart and explore Celceta“s mysterious â€œsea of treesâ€ for both his insatiable thrill for adventure and to help recall his lost memories, while his traveling partner, Durren, simply intends to line his pockets with gold in the process.
What is particularly interesting about Memories of Celceta is that Adol feels like he has a more deliberate presence in this game through the use simple dialogue choices as well as some as some background flashbacks, rather than entirely being a mute protagonist like in most previous games. Granted, it would still be stretching it to say Adol is a defined character even in Memories of Celceta. Like a lot of Ys games, the overall storytelling will probably fade from the subconscious of most players beyond some light-hearted character exchanges and nods to other entries in the series for fans. The storytelling has some interesting ideas, but, as in Seven, the narrative scenes are more bloated than they should be, particularly early in, for both a narrative and cast that don't make a particularly lasting impression.
That said, if you want in-depth storytelling from a Falcom title, you can easily turn to something like Trails in the Sky, or its wealth of currently unlocalized sequels, but when you want fun and fast-paced action-RPG gameplay- that's where Ys delivers.
Celceta maintains the three-person party structure system of Ys Seven, but with minor refinements to the controls and additional skills. Combat is easy to learn, with one button relegated to normal attacks and many others for special attack shortcuts and defensive maneuvers. In addition, each character has strengths against different enemy types: like Adol with his slash attacks for grounded enemies, Durren against sturdier enemies with his blunt attacks, and Karna with her piercing attacks for aerial foes. Despite its simplicity, the tight controls, playable characters, varied enemy types, and constant progression of new skills make the general combat pretty engaging. Bosses in particular are quite a treat, due to their variety in attack patterns ,which encourage mastery of the game's mechanics, and they become quite the force to be reckoned with on higher difficulties.
My favorite combat mechanics in Celceta have to be the 'Flash Guard' and 'Flash Dodge' skills. Flash guard is a perfectly timed block which completely negates enemy damage while also turning all player attacks into critical hits for a short-time, and while it is not new, it is way more functional control-wise than it was in Ys Seven. Flash Dodge is new to Ys, however, where a perfectly timed dodge makes enemies move slower and the characters temporarily invulnerable to attacks, reminiscent of Bayonetta's 'Witch Time.' You can probably get by without intentionally mastering either on the Normal or Easy difficulties but they become an absolute necessity on higher difficulties, especially against bosses, and when successfully utilized they are super satisfying to pull off.
As much as I enjoy the core gameplay of Celceta, I don't feel completely the same about the structure. Since Adol needs to chart a map of Celceta, the game tries to present an open-ended structure by making it more akin to earlier Ys games, like 1/2. This doesn't completely work in Celceta, unfortunately, because progress is made in a linear fashion, like gaining new skills or obtaining party members to open-up parts of the world. This in turn, leads to some pacing issues, early in especially, because it's very easy to wander around aimlessly into one road block after another. After you get past that awkward initial hump, primarily after you gain a couple new party members, the title definitely has a more natural progression. Later on, it certainly does become tempting to check every nook and cranny for that extra treasure chest, or find Adol's optional memory cutscenes, or report to the Romun general for a lucrative reward, and the game only rewards you even more as it progresses. Still, because the meatiest game of the series, it's hard to not overlook the parts where it sort of drags it feet in terms of pacing.
On a technical level, Memories of Celceta is pretty underwhelming. While it isn't offensively bad (like Valhalla Knight 3), I'd say it's less pleasing to look at than even Ys Seven. I'm sure sheer polycount will easily point towards Celceta being technically superior, with less deformed character models than Seven, but the environments and overall aesthetic are generally rather drab and usually just not interesting to look at regardless on the OLED screen. Thankfully the visuals don't really hinder the gameplay aside from when using certain equipment that allows for extremely fast traversal that causes the framerate to chug down. I'd say the same goes for the soundtrack, in comparison to the very high-caliber score of the more recent Ys remakes or Seven, which is less consistent and varied, despite its attempted musical throwbacks to IV. It's a solid score with some definite standouts, but maybe I've been too spoiled by other recent Falcom titles.
Ys: Memories of Celceta is definitely a fun game as it marries tight, fast-paced Action-RPG combat, engaging design choices, and is very approachable for newcomers as well as fans. Vita owners would certainly be doing themselves quite a disservice by not at least checking it out, especially as it is unquestionably the strongest Action-RPG on the system. As a whole, however, it doesn't really move the series forward in too many meaningful ways, making it feel like a rather safe sequel without quite the heart of other recent titles. It does not represent the series at its best, but it serves it pretty well all the same.
+ Fun, fast-paced combat with very tight controls
+ Great boss fights
+ Flash guard and dodge mechanics are super satisfying to pull off
+ Biggest game in the series
- Forgettable storytelling
- Lackluster presentation
- Rather slow start and has some pacing issues
Overall Score: 8.0 (out of 10)
Without a doubt the best and most fun Action-RPG on Vita, but as a sequel it does little to try to overachieve its fellow brethren.