The Ys franchise is probably the most prolific RPG franchise you've never played. It started in 1987 as a game for a Japan-only computer system and has since been a long-running franchise on home consoles and Japanese PCs. English releases were few and far between, with a gap of over 13 years between, despite common re-releases and new games in Japan. Newer versions are more readily available, due in no small part to fan translators and the ease of Steam releases. There's a reason the franchise has lasted this long: Ys titles offer some of the best action-RPG combat in the genre.
Ys: Memories of Celceta, like most Ys games, follows the adventures of Adol Christin, an adventurer who has saved the world on multiple occasions. He's just a regular guy who happens to really, really love adventure. Memories of Celceta begins with him suffering from that familiar JRPG ailment: amnesia. While on a quest to explore the Great Forest of Celceta, Adol is inexplicably robbed of his memories. He wanders to a nearby town and only has a few fading memories to remind him of what happened. As you'd imagine, he sets out on a quest, eager to discover the secrets of Celceta and find out what happened to his memories.
Memories of Celceta is a by-the-numbers JRPG with the usual plot twists, cast members and enemies. It's still quite fun, though. A top-notch localization means the cast is likeable and the banter is funny and witty. It isn't a game that takes itself too seriously, and you won't be stuck in JRPG melodrama for too long. Adol may have amnesia, but he doesn't have any dark secrets. Similarly, the supporting cast also consists of good, adventurous people, not folks who are on a quest to save the world from a dark evil.
Memories of Celceta is an action-RPG game that's closer to a fast-paced Zelda than Final Fantasy. You attack, block, dodge and move, but each element has more complexity. When you guard, you reduce damage, but if you guard right before you're hit, you'll flash guard, which nullifies the damage and briefly makes your attacks stronger. Dodging moves you out of the way, but dodging at the last second causes you to flash step, which makes time stop for everyone but your characters for a few moments, allowing you to launch a devastating counterattack.
In addition to a regular attack, you also have a bunch of special moves that can stun enemies, inflict status effects, juggle enemies for item drops, or deal lots of damage. These special moves require SP, which is the game's magic meter. Using an attack drains your SP, and killing an enemy with a special attack refunds part of the expended SP. To completely refill your SP bar, you have to wait a moment before attacking so you can charge your regular attack. This means combat involves balancing between your regular attacks and allowing it recharge so you can get the precious SP boost. Using special moves also charges your EX gauge, which allows you to launch a devastating EX special move.
The party system adds some more complexity to the game. Adol is joined by up to two other characters at once, and all three are on the field at the same time. One character is directly controlled by the player while the other two function as AI partners, but you can switch between any of the three at any time. Each character has different attacks and special moves, so you may prefer the heavy fists of Duren or the long-range knives of Karna. Maybe you'd rather use Ozma's defensive buff to help your party before switching back to Adol to go all-in. Certain enemies are only vulnerable to certain attack types. Having two characters with the same attack type in a team increases your damage but lowers your versatility, while having three different attack types makes enemies drop more items.
Although your allies are AI-controlled, they do a reasonably good job in combat. They avoid taking too much damage and deal plenty of damage of their own. However, there is one very annoying problem with the system. In theory, you can order your allies to be on the offensive or defensive, but this feature is bound to the touchpad on the back of the Vita. You have to either "pinch" or "expand" the touchpad to switch between the two modes, which is awkward in the middle of combat. Even worse, it's possible to accidentally switch modes in the middle of a fight if your fingers slip, causing your characters to suddenly stop attacking or to rush in and get brutalized. This function would've been better had it been bound to a simple button press. It gets in the way of a perfectly serviceable AI partner system.
Combat in Memories of Celceta is delightfully fast-paced. You are constantly doing something, and it feels awesome to tear through a pack of enemies while earning tons of combat bonuses. Chaining flash steps and flash guards into long combos while switching between characters is some of the most fun you can have on the Vita. The combat system has some high twitch skill aspects. You may not have to think hard about what you're doing, but you certainly need the reflexes and timing to make it worthwhile. You're always doing something in combat and balancing your resources to keep the attacks going as long as you can.
It helps to fight well, as switching characters and performing long combos causes enemies to drop more loot. You'll get materials, which you can sell for upgrade items, which you can use to refine your equipment. Weapons can cause poison, paralysis, regenerate HP, or other special abilities, or you can get armor that reduces the impact of enemy status effects. It isn't necessary to craft super-gear. You can get by most of the game with store-bought items and pressing the proper buttons. Crafting is just a fun feature that adds more RPG to this action-RPG.
If there's one major problem with Memories of Celceta, it's that the game is too easy. The combination of high-pace combat and an involved upgrade system means that it's very easy to reach the point where you can crush enemies with little difficulty. You can encounter difficulty spikes in new areas, but you'll overcome them as soon as you get a few upgrades. You need to start at a higher difficulty level to keep the game going strong, but you can't upgrade the difficulty in the middle of the game — although you can drop down to an easier difficulty level, if you want. Combat is fun, even when it's easy. It's just way more satisfying to win fights when you're not overwhelming the enemy. There were a couple of boss fights where I obliterated the boss with a single EX attack, and that felt distinctly unsatisfying.
Memories of Celceta suffers from some frustrating elements outside of combat. There are a lot of minor problems. The early fast-travel system is needlessly complex and is tied to multiple different-colored stones, so traveling between towns takes longer than it should. Likewise, the maps are too awkward. Everything you need is available on the map, but information is sometimes obscured, so it's annoying to read the map to figure out where you're going. Even in exploring dungeons, there are tiny annoying foibles. You have to switch between characters to use their dungeon-specific skills to open chests and doors. You have to constantly equip and unequip the Dwarf Bracelet when you want to venture into a tiny hole. The maps are often unclear, so you may miss a chest that contains an item you need to progress in the dungeon. None of it ruins the game, but it's a long list of tiny annoyances.
Memories of Celceta is probably the best-looking game in the Ys franchise to date, although it still isn't exceptional. The environments look rather dull, and some of the character animations are awkward. Things like Ozma's "wall break" look lazy and have no sense of force or impact. Combat is fast-paced and fun to watch but suffers from noticeable slowdown in some of the busier areas. It isn't enough to cause a problem while playing, but it's annoying.
The soundtrack is one of the best I've heard in recent memory. For almost every area in the game, the music is exciting and memorable and helps make every fight feel intense and cool. The Ys franchise has always had good music, but Memories of Celceta outdoes itself. The voice acting is passible but also minimal. Only a small handful of lines are voiced, so it doesn't stand out as good or bad.
Ys: Memories of Celceta is one of the best games on the Vita. It is frustratingly flawed in ways that would be easily fixed, but the strengths more than outweigh the weaknesses. A solid cast of likeable characters is backed up by one of the most intense and fast-paced combat systems you'll encounter in an RPG. It's easy enough for casual players to have fun with the title, but it also offers enough depth and complexity for die-hard RPG nuts. If you're an RPG fan and a Vita owner, then you owe it to yourself to play Memories of Celceta.
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