Let’s start the show by letting everyone reading this know that I haven’t played an Ys game since 1990. Coming into the series with fresh eyes, I found Ys: Memories of Celceta a decent addition to the Vita lineup of role playing games. This combat heavy hack and slash has a great gimmick in that your adventure centers around revealing a map. Exploration is the name of the game and as every good RPG does, it is riddled with towns, quests, NPCs that need help and monsters that require slaying.
Ys: Memories of Celceta at its core is an action-rpg, and the combat is the strongest part of the game. It’s chaotic at times, but inspiring at the same time with a perfect balance between difficulty and strategy. Each monster has a particular weakness associated with it, forcing you to switch between party members that have a weapon that can properly damage it. The variety and population of monsters in any given fight forces you to be on your toes at all times. The skill progression grants you a surprising amount of choice in how you wish to unleash damage and defeat enemies. Positioning is key as different skills will move your character in certain ways, and there are experience rewards for stringing together combos and executing enemies with finishing moves. The beauty of the combat in Ys is that it is always moving you forward; weaker enemies will stop giving experience and even with an immense amount of backtracking I found I was always moving on to stronger enemies in new locations on the map.
The one constant in the Ys series (as I didn’t realize until a friend notified me) is Adol Christin starring as the protagonist. In true JRPG fashion, Adol suffers from amnesia giving the local townspeople a chance to take advantage of his memory loss and ask him for help. After a bit of expose, Adol is tasked with exploring Celceta to uncover the map and discover the mysteries within the Great Forest and here we begin the typical amnesiac storyline of discovering your sordid past as you venture throughout a mysterious land, helping everyone you find along the way. As you progress through Celceta, you will come across memory points that act as major plot points and fill in the gaps of Adol’s past, with the inevitable realization that somehow the world is doomed and you have to save it.
Adol is joined by multiple allies throughout the journey, each coming with their own unique backstory and playstyle. A party of three characters can be used any time you venture into the forest. The cast of characters is awesome, especially since you can freely swap between them at any time. They all have their own skillset, and weapon of choice so if you are getting sick of Adol you can grab someone that suits your fancy. Duren packs a punch with his fists, specializing in heavy attacks and busting faces while Ozama relies on finesse and timing with his spear. With a variety of playstyles for each character, it is awesome to see that it is a fully realized party and not just ‘Adol and some other people’ since you will be spending upwards of 25 hours with these folks.
The problem I have with Ys: Memories of Celceta is the pacing of the story. The content is innocuous but the rate at which you consume it is brutally unfair. Dialogue between characters for takes far too long, even for an RPG. I found myself wanting to get back into the action because the combat was so much fun, but it was painful to sit through conversations. The writing is predictable and suffers from monotonous cutscenes. It’s a bad sign when you want to skip through important dialogue, and trust me I sit through everything when it comes to these types of games. Hundreds of hours in Persona, Final Fantasy, Suikoden, and Xenosaga has trained me to be patient and wait for the payoff but in Memories of Celceta, it is just too much. It is a weird imbalance between story and action, and it rubbed be the wrong way. If there was something that needed to be dialed back a bit the story could have used some scrubbing. The memory thing is wrote in this genre and I think it’s time to try something new.
Aesthetically, Memories of Celceta is a weird specimen. While I enjoy playing RPGs on portable platforms, the unfortunate thing is that Ys: Memories of Celceta looks pretty bad on the Vita. It isn’t ugly, but I could swear I was looking at a PSP game. There is a weird dichotomy between the in-game graphics and the beautiful character illustrations that pop up during conversations. While this doesn’t suffer the gameplay experience, the illustrations tricked me into wanting something more tasty and the contrast between the two styles was distracting. Same goes for the sound; an inspiring soundtrack that dynamically changes throughout your adventure was muddled with terrible voice acting that was so sparse that it shouldn’t have been included.
You have to go into Ys: Memories of Celceta knowing what you are in for. It is a JRPG through and through but instead of an engaging story and passable combat, we get the inverse with an interesting fight system and a tired sub-par story. The combat is engaging and fun to experiment with, however it suffers from a terribly paced story that won’t resonate with players who are well versed in the genre. If you are into exploring, items, side quests, NPCs, and experience points then you can’t go wrong with this, especially playing on the Vita (which I firmly believe is the best platform for long ass RPGs). Despite the shortcomings, Memories of Celceta will fill the hunger of players who have gobbled through Persona 4 Golden and Dragon’s Crown, just don’t expect anything special from this one.