I’m actually quite unfamiliar with the Ys series. I had heard of it in passing before, but it wasn’t until I had watched Evan play through Ys I that I took an interest in it. After having seen an Ys game in action, and subsequently learning a bit about the crazy series chronology I decided to give the newest game in the series, Ys: Memories of Celceta, a try.
Memories of Celceta doesn’t make a very good first impression. Adol Christin, the hero of the majority of Ys games, stumbles into a town, weak and dazed. He collapses, but not before going so far as to be picked up by an acquaintance who gets him some lodging in the local inn. Upon waking up Adol realizes that he has no memory of who he or anyone around him is. The idea of playing a protagonist that suffers from amnesia is one that has been done frequently, and it usually never ends in a satisfying way. Luckily, Memories of Celceta turns the worn out idea of amnesia around and integrates it into the RPG elements and story of the game in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Adol finds out from Duren, the aforementioned acquaintance, that Adol had been sent into the Great Forest of Celceta to gather some information for Duren. The reason Adol was chosen specifically is because the forest has a reputation for messing with people and Adol, being the great swordsman and adventurer he is, was the most well equipped to face the dangers of the forest. It is nice to see a game that up front presents a threat like the Great Forest and shows that even the game’s hero will have trouble with it, which is evident by Adol’s amnesia. One thing leads to another and Adol and Duren find themselves mapping out the Great Forest for the leader of a nearby town, both for a lot of money and for the possibility of Adol recovering his memories.
Between the trees of The Great Forest is where the majority of the game takes place, and the request to complete the mapping of it feels like an actual task that, while not necessary, is fun to do. As the story progresses and Adol and Duren (along with some of the other colorful cast of characters they pick up along the way) explore the forest, the map will fill in with the paths they have taken, marking unopened treasure, locations of mining spots and plants you can harvest, and caves that may or may not have been explored yet. Also on the map screen is a percentage counter in the top right hand corner, always keeping the player aware of the progress they are making. All of these mechanics make mapping out the forest feel fun and rewarding, especially since you can stop back in to the leader of the town to get a reward after certain percentages are achieved.
Adol’s quest to get his memories back leads him on an adventure through The Great Forest, though large sections will still be optional only for those who want to explore more of the map. The story focuses on the recovery of Adol’s memories for about half of the game, and on arrival at the very clear second half, the game switches focus to a dire conflict that centers itself around Adol. The writing has a very constant sarcasm to it, with characters being aware of the ridiculous situations they find themselves in, especially in that first half. Adol is the evolution of silent protagonist that the RPG genre needs. While he is still silent, there are some dialogue choices that the player can choose and the rest of the cast reacts to, and the two options usually fall under one of two categories, you have the serious answer that the normal hero of an adventure would say, and you have the tongue in cheek answer that fits the bill for how people in the game describe Adol.
While taking part in this journey, you can seek out memory fragments scattered throughout the forest. Many of these fragments serve to further the story of Memories of Celceta, but a few of them reference the first and second game in a way that still keeps newcomers in the loop but is rewarding for those who have played the past games. Some of my favorite memory fragments could be found late game where Adol uses his ability to gather memories by picking up memories that aren’t his, giving insight to what is going on with some side characters parallel to Adol’s adventures. Each memory fragment also boosts a stat of Adol’s when found so piecing the memories back together is worth it for both players invested in the story and players who find the combat to be the draw of Memories of Celceta.
The approach to Memories of Celceta‘s combat is a strategic real time combat system. As players level up they gain new skills they can use by filling up a meter, and using those skills fills up another meter which unleashes an EXTRA skill which is an ultimate finisher-like move helpful for clearing rooms and taking down large enemies. Each character is controllable and has a different playstyle, and some characters have different attack types which play into the strength and weakness system of enemies. If an enemy is weak to Adol’s slash-type sword swings and Duren’s smash-type punches, switching to a pierce-type ally will exploit the weakness of the enemy and let you drop them quite easily. This forces the player to find a balance between the characters they pick up along the way as you can only have three active party members at a time.
Item customization is a big element to combat, and it feels rewarding and empowering. Players are able to load up any weapon with every status effect and max them out given enough money and crafting supplies, which are always easily found throughout the forest. While obviously using late game weapons is more efficient than the beginning swords and gauntlets, players can still make those initial weapons into forces to be reckoned with if they are upgraded fully. There is something incredibly fun and fulfilling about maxing out every active party members weapon and seeing the status ailments roll on to the enemy immediately.
Did I mention everything in this game looks really pretty? Because everything in this game looks really pretty. The environments are detailed and varied in a way you wouldn’t expect from a game where everything takes place in a location called “The Great Forest”. Character models move well and the art for characters during their dialogue segments looks clean and colorful. For some reason the game has issues with holding a stable framerate in very random areas. During the last boss fight when objects were swirling around and flying across the screen trying to hit me the game ran as smooth as ever, but in the first town the framerate always took a dive.
Like Adol’s memory fragments, all of the pieces of Ys: Memories of Celceta come together to make something very enjoyable. While it may not be the most refined RPG on the market (not even the best on the Vita) it is still a game of note, and one that shows just how far a series can come while still holding true to its roots.