I have a suspicion that Ys: Memories of Celceta is named the way it is, precisely because a marketing team at Falcom (of Ys and Legend of Heroes fame) decided that this made it more accessible in the West, rather than less. But it really doesn’t help you work out where you are jumping in. Ys is a long-running series (first one came out in 1987, the same year as Final Fantasy 1) and frankly a daunting prospect to dive into. There are ten main series entries, some of which are non-canonical (that’s tricky enough to start with). Then there’s the remakes of the classic entries in the series, so that more people could jump in during the 2010s when Ys Seven was launched to some higher praise. Now, hot off the heels of the success of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana in 2017, Falcom are firing on all cylinders, porting previous Ys titles to the PS4.
So to clarify, Memories of Celceta (hereafter just Celceta) is a remake of Ys 4 but that installment was already three different games. In 1993 there was both Ys Mask of the Sun on the SNES, and Dawn of Ys on the soon to be defunct PC engine, and then a remake of the Mask of the Sun property on PS2 in 2005. Celceta takes story beats from all three (confusing, much?) and combines them into what is now the canonical Ys 4, and released exclusively on the PS Vita (remember that?) back in 2012. But they’ve dropped the numbering system.
Ys functions a little like classic sword and sorcery novels of the 1960s and 70s, where plucky heroes (like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser) or bodybuilding brutes (like Conan) would go on adventures in every installment, and an over-arcing story was a massive afterthought. There would be common threads, and the same basic world and political systems, but from one adventure to the next it didn’t matter where you were getting started. Ys is the same.
All that confusing numbering and remakes doesn’t actually matter one jot, because Adol Cristin stars in every instalment and what happened in one adventure rarely has any effect on what happens in the next. There is a loose continuity, in that he gets a little older, giving the series an order, but that’s about it. As such, Ys is far easier to dive into than it first appears.
Helpfully I suppose for such a long and daunting series, flame-haired hero Adol is suffering from (yawn) amnesia and this helps make him a foil for the player. We learn everything for the first time just as he does, and we need everything explained to us, same as he does. Yes, it’s the oldest trick in the book, from Star Wars to the Matrix, but it’s tried and tested, and in Ys, it’s helpful, because it means it doesn’t matter that there’s a dozen other titles and remakes.
Adol staggers into town from the notoriously dangerous forest of Celceta that no-one has ever returned from, and a purple-haired governor gives you the task of mapping the uncharted forest as you’re clearly the only one up to the job, sans a little amnesia. Eh, never hurt anybody. You set out with your brand new burly friend Duren to explore, and for a few hours that’s all there is to it. We’ll cover the combat later, but seriously, mapping the forest is where it’s at. There’s no real intrigue to draw you into your mapping the forest task – Celceta’s plot does not start strongly.
However, once you hit about 25% of the forest, you start to encounter that plot, and good job too. There are hidden villages, temples, shrines and caves in the forest, and each is usually home to a new friend who’ll join the party, give you a bit of backstory, and then it’s back to the main dungeon. The story is kind of funny really. The amnesia means that in every new area you reach, everyone already knows you even though you don’t know them, and seeing as you’re the only outsider they’ve ever met, they blame you for all the ill that has befallen their village. You get locked up and misunderstood multiple times, and then get the chance to go about setting right the wrongs the people think you have caused. Obviously, Adol is a nice and somewhat naïve adventure boy, and he didn’t do any of it, and therein lies the beginnings of uncovering the villains of this piece.
Soon the plot ramps up to much more recognisable RPG fair; villains are trying to awaken ancient evils, take control of the world, that sort of thing, and it’s up to you and your new gang to stop them. What I really enjoyed was that everyone in your party has got a secret, and when you start to uncover them the plot gets far more interesting. It’s pretty well tied together, it’s just a bit pedestrian.
You also go about finding your lost memories, represented by a few scarce orbs on the map and finally coming full circle and uncovering exactly how you lost your memories, and who was in on it etc is quite satisfying. The secrets and lies, jeez! Where many RPGs are globe-spanning walking sims, Celceta is focussed. One massive forest. But that forest is quite large enough to fit in all manner of nefarious villains and excitable heroes.
For comparison, if you’ve played them, think Tales. Those games have the same plucky heroes, workaday scripts and a certain feeling of tameness to proceedings even with the world at stake. Just take out the globe-trotting and you’d have Ys. However unlike Tales, it’s very short by RPG standards. The main plot can be done in about 20 hours,with maybe another ten for all the quests and optional extras. It’s short and sweet, but it’s focussed. From what I can gather most Ys games have been like that, apart from the recent Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, which is supposedly double that. Maybe if you like this one, that’s your next fix.
As you might expect from a game that originally came out in 2012 and on a handheld system no less, the graphics are not up to much by today’s standards. But even compared to other Vita games, they have aged a lot. Character models are not very well animated making them very PS2 era – if I’m being generous it looks like a poor Star Ocean 3, if Tri-star didn’t bother to animate as well as they did, or maybe Grandia II. Textures are dull if there are textures at all, and everything is very blocky and not in the good Minecraft way.
But look beyond them, I say. It’s one of those where, yeah it’ll hurt your eyes a little to look at, but once combat and story start to kick in and you know you’re in a good place, the graphics won’t matter.
Combat is a fluid slaughter with enemies on the overmap with you, and no random or turn-based battles. Everything is realtime and you can just slice and dash your way from one group of enemies to another. As in Tales, you have a variety of special moves and your normal hits power up the gauge that then allows you to unleash these arts. For the most part, enemies aren’t especially tough, but there are some that will kick your ass, so you need to be careful. Your characters have three battle types, slash, pierce and strike, and if you aren’t using the right affinity, you’re only making your life harder.
You can control Adol or one of two other team mates during battle, but you can also pause and swap in the others at any time except bosses. Duren is a heavy-set steel gloves fighter, Karna a nimble long-range knife thrower, Ozma and Frieda have far-reaching spears and Calilica has some kind of hammer wand. My favourite by far was Karna, but it depends on your play style. She’s different to all the others in that she is non-contact and long range, allowing you to fight from a bit more distance and avoid a large number of enemy attacks. Bosses with Karna were vastly easier than without.
Combat has some fun power ups to keep things interesting; aerial combos refill a tiny bit of life, defeating enemies grants SP back. You can also evade and block a hell of a lot of the incoming attacks simply by getting good at timing your dodge rolls out of the way, or a quick triangle guard. Timing it perfectly gives increased critical damage or slows the enemy for a few seconds allowing you to put the hurt on like crazy.
The dodge roll is also very available outside of battle and allows for much quicker traversal of the world, so just like in Dark Souls you’ll find yourself rolling the shit out of every area, fighting and pulverizing enemies and then rolling on. It looks kinda ridiculous, but hey, if it gets you where you need to be that little bit faster, you can handle it looking stupid.
The AI however is not great. Your allies often will not fight enemies unless you have already gotten stuck in, and also seem far more interested in collecting battle spoils than taking on the enemies that are hurting you. Then they will run off at the slightest provocation to kill an elite enemy you had been carefully avoiding. Bosses and enemies unfairly target the player character far more than the rest of the party, to the point that, just like in the recent FF7R, it was sometimes worth switching to absorb an attack, and then switching back to your favoured character.
There are a few other quirks. If you stand still out in the field, your HP recovers slowly, although speeds up after a minute. It’s a neat, but probably accidental, way of forcing you to take a one-minute break once or twice per dungeon. Item use is completely in the pause menu at any time, even in the thick of battle, so you have no excuse for your team members to die really, just stop the fight, get everyone back to full health and then unpause.
Combat is fun and fast, but a number of perks stop it from actually being difficult, and a number of strange design choices make it kind of absurdly easy. For a game with battles out in the open, a lock-on would seem pretty standard at this point, but there’s no lock-on here, and no way to move the camera. There is thankfully, some kind of passive lock-on happening, because the Tales-like specials rarely miss and Karna’s knives more often than not found the target I wanted them to.
Apart from combat, Celceta has a few other things to keep you motivated and hunting through the story. Once you have unlocked each town, you can do quests for the townspeople. They are all just basic fetch-this-item and kill-this-creature quests, nothing very inspired, but it serves to break up the story a little.
There is also a halfway-to-robust item synthesis mechanic, coupled with combat. As you go, you’ll collect an insane amount of worthless items, but thankfully there is the Exchange to take them off your hands. The exchange is the oddest store. Bring them 10 shit items and they will exchange them free of charge for a better one, of greater value. I just don’t see how this exchange keeps going. If they repaired the items it might make sense, but you can’t repair ten rotten fruits into any good one, they’re still just rotten. For my ten silver, I get one gold, which implies an exchange rate, but for them to make profit they would then have to go and find others who want to go in the opposite direction selling gold for tonnes of silver. Otherwise there’s no profit in it. Realism aside, it’s a relatively pointless way of having a larger trading system or adding an item layer, when in actual fact it’s really that only very few items are actually worth having.
When you have the items you need from this system you can upgrade your weapons and a nice touch is adding poison, flame or freeze magic to your normal attacks, however this been done a lot better in other games, both older and newer than this one.
Fast travel unlocks slowly over the course of the game, based on getting to particular coloured shrines, and then warping back and forth. About halfway through, you get a far better fast travel and can basically warp to any shrine from anywhere on the entire map. There is something satisfying about exploring one huge dungeon over the course of the game, slowly bringing your percentage up to 100. It’s a very in your face way of giving you an idea of completion status even though it’s not directly tied to the story. With such a large and complicated map of the main forest, it was a shame that there was no larger map of each dungeon, only a small minimap in the bottom corner.
Though there are one or two pretty fun battle tracks, and a few areas with a better than average theme, the music in Celceta is pretty forgettable. This is not an RPG where you’re going to want to run out and buy the soundtrack.
Ys is already a well-loved RPG series, finally getting its moment in the west, and this PS4 port will doubtless mean that yet more people can experience one of the earlier titles without emulation. I had a lot of fun and I would happily play another Ys game in future. They have a new series convert. I’m sad I missed Ys VIII Lacrimosa of Dana, because from what I’ve seen, that’s the one that got the rave reviews. We can also look forward to the European release of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox which is coming west hopefully later in 2020.
Memories of Celceta is like a bite-size RPG for kids or for the millennial with time constraints who still wants to play RPGs, but can’t commit to 100-hour behemoths like Persona 5. It’s fun and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Combat is fast, but it also suffers from being simple and heavy on the button-mashing. The story takes you for a ride, but it’s also pedestrian and does nothing new – it’s like deja vu, in that it feels like an RPG story you’ve heard time and again. I think it had all the right ingredients, but needed more depth to the characters and events. There are all these great secrets, but they are often presented without build-up, and therefore lack impact. Ironically for a game about memories, it’s just not that memorable.
A trip down memory lane for long-time fans, but with little in the way of originality, is it actually just deja vu?
Ys: Memories of Celceta is launch on the PS4 (review version) on June 9, 2020 in North America and June 19, 2020 in Europe. The game is already available on PS4 in Japan as well as the PlayStation Vita and PC worldwide.
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Marvelous Europe
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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