Weaving a Story
In 1993, Nihon Falcom had hit a bit of a wall in the Ys series. After the drastically different direction they took Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, changing it from a top-down perspective to a side-scroller a la Zelda 2, the popularity of the series waned. Around the same time, a number of staff had quit from the company, making it even more difficult to work on another installment.
Game publisher Hudson approached Falcom around this time about developing another installment in the Ys series for their console, the PC Engine (Turbografix-16 in the West), as the series had done well for them. Since Falcom was in a bit of dilemma, they decided that rather than develop a sequel themselves, they’d let Hudson develop it instead. Falcom gave them a basic idea for the story and some music to go with it, and sent them on their way to create what would become Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys.
After creating the outline for Hudson, Falcom decided to pitch the game to other developers as well. The publisher Tonkin House jumped on the idea and, using the same resources, developed a version of the game for the Super Famicom, entitled Ys IV: Mask of the Sun. Each version of the game, while working from the same general outline, ended up becoming completely different from each other in terms of story and gameplay.
Nineteen years later, Falcom had returned to the Ys series and reclaimed it as their own. After creating a few new installments in the series, they began to go back and revisit past entries, remaking them so that they’d fit closer with the overarching story that was now being created. In 2012, the company decided to take back the entry that they were unable to make in the past. Released in North America at the end of 2013 and in Europe in 2014, Ys: Memories of Celceta is Falcom’s official telling of the Ys IV story.
Searching for the Past
Celceta’s story takes place in between Ys II and Ys: The Oath in Felghana. Rather than starting with the arrival of main character Adol to the game’s setting, Celceta begins in medias res. Adol arrives in the city of Casnan, broken and weary. He has succumb to full amnesia, to the point that he can’t even remember his own name at the outset of the game. He begins to restore some basic memories by speaking to the city’s locals and a man named Duren, who claims to be a friend of Adol’s.
It turns out that Adol had been in the city previously, and had set out to explore the adjacent Great Forest of Celceta, known among the city’s locals pretty much as a deathtrap. Shortly afterward, the armies of the Romun Empire (the Ys world’s thinly-veiled version of the Roman Empire) arrive to Casnan with the intent of exploring the Great Forest, hiring soldiers and locals to assist in mapping the forest. Adol and Duren take this as a chance to return to the forest and help Adol regain his memories of the time spend within.
Blade of the Angels
The gameplay of the Ys series has changed quite a lot over the years. Early installments used the “bump” system where you would ram Adol into enemies to attack. In Celceta, though, you have full control over Adol and his weapons. Battles are extremely fast paced, with one button controlling a weapon strike, options to block or dodge enemy attacks, and various special moves that can be called up by holding the R button and tapping a face button. Timing your blocks and dodges become crucial as well, as perfect timing is rewarded. A perfect block restores some health, while a perfect dodge will slow down enemies for a few seconds. Each character also gets their own ultimate attack, called up by simply pressing the L button after filling the attack’s gauge.
Adol is not the only character you will control. This game borrows the party system first introduced in Ys Seven. Rather than just Adol, you are in control of up to three characters (out of an eventual six total). Each character’s weapons fall into three categories: slash, strike, or pierce. Some enemies are weak to certain attack categories, while some are strong against others. In the midst of battle, you can simple tap the circle button to cycle through which character you are controlling. Each of the six has their own style and set of specials, but they are not so drastically different that switching to a new character is difficult.
Each character also has certain environment abilities, ranging from opening locked chests to activating magical devices. Much of the game’s story revolves around Adol’s environment ability. As you explore the overworld and dungeons of the Great Forest, you will occasionally come across balls of light. These represent Adol’s lost memories, and his ability to interact with him reveals bits of Adol’s past, ranging from his time in Celceta to his childhood.
Lastly, being an Ys game, I do have to mention the boss battles. As expected from this series, the boss battles are grandiose affairs against grotesque creatures. Some involve simple slashing and dodging, while others require a bit more work to reveal a weak point to attack. Unfortunately, though, these battles seem to peak around the 3/4 point of the story. Bosses after this point become more about brute force and their attacks become more predictable, making the battles much easier and quicker than prior bosses. This culminates in a lackluster final battle against an easy-to-dodge boss, during which (for this review’s playthrough) I only got hit once.
The Foliage Ocean
On it’s own, Celceta is beautiful to look at. The light streaming through the trees of the Great Forest, the dark and dank feeling of underground caverns, and the rushing water of riverside towns show that care was put into the graphics of the game. Up against other Vita releases, though, Celceta can be a bit lackluster. Many have commented that the game looks like it was built for the PSP then ported to Vita. While I wouldn’t take it that far, the graphics definitely aren’t pushing the Vita to its limits.
The variety of locales, though, is amazing…about halfway through the game. The first half takes place almost entirely in the Great Forest, and while the forest environment looks great, it can get to be a bit samey. The game does eventually open up into more variety, and when it does it becomes even more beautiful. One portion that sticks in my memory, without getting into spoiler territory, involves a rush across a lightning-filled plain. The effects used in this sequence are beautiful to look at.
The Call of Adventure
This is a Falcom game. Of course the music is going to be great. The company’s in-house music team, Falcom Sound Team JDK, is probably one of the most well-known groups of JRPG musicians. Celceta‘s score definitely stands up with the rest of the team’s compositions, and is one of the most memorable parts of the game. The soundtrack encompasses everything from power metal to epic orchestras to calm melodies. Particularly memorable, at least to me, is the first final boss theme, “The False God of Causality.”
The game also includes Falcom’s recent trend of occasional voice work. Each of the main characters gets a fully voiced introduction, with intermittent voiced lines here and there afterwards. Even Adol, traditionally a silent protagonist, gets a few voiced lines. The English voice acting is done relatively well, and each of the voices is a fairly good fit for their respective characters.
Guiding the World
Overall, Ys: Memories of Celceta is one of the best entries in the series to date, if not possibly one of the best games currently available on the Vita. Despite the graphics not being cutting edge, the gameplay is easy to pick up and consistently addicting, the story is quite interesting, and the music is just excellent. If I have one gripe, it’s that the story becomes rushed at the ending, closing off very quickly after the final boss fight.
The game is perfect for a handheld console, and with its save anywhere abilities, it’s easy to pick up and play for a half hour at a time here and there. The action-focused gameplay is appealing to just about any gamer, rather than just fans of the JRPG genre. A few faults hold it back from a perfect score, but Celceta is a game that every Vita owner should have in their library.
~ Final Score: 9/10 ~
Review copy purchased by reviewer for Vita. Screenshots taken by reviewer.