Ys, where have you been all my life?
I’ve heard murmers here and there of the Ys series, but never enough to make me go out of my way to look for it. What a pity. Ys: Memories of Celceta is a Japanese Action RPG that centres on the Great Forest of Celceta, a mysterious and uncharted forest that rumours state nobody who enters will ever return. It takes place in the middle of the Ys series, as it is a remake of the fourth installment out of 7.
Amnesia Done Right
The ‘amnesiac hero’ is such a common trope, especially in Japanese games, that most people will just roll their eyes these days upon seeing it used. So often it’s used simply to give characters an excuse to explain the basics to the player. While it is used for that purpose at the very start of Ys: Memories of Celceta, they also make use of it to actually drive the story.
The story starts out as a simple quest to try to recover our protagonist Adol’s memories by retracing his steps throughout his last adventure, seeking fortune along the way. However, as you recover these memories, a much more interesting story begins to unfold. The story is a gradual progression that gives you both a chance to learn the origin of our main character and also to discover more about the mysterious events leading up to his amnesia. They’ve managed to tie a lot of different stories together by making use of the act of recovering Adol’s memories, and in some cases getting a glimpse into the memories of others.
There are a variety of characters you interact with, and even some of the characters outside of your party have personalities and characters. This game isn’t on par with Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky for making NPCs memorable, but it certainly does a better job of it than most modern games. And the characters who join Adol are definitely some of the most entertaining characters I’ve seen in a while.
If there’s one thing this game does well, it’s taking the tropes are so used to in Japanese games and modifying them just enough that they feel new and unique while still retaining that familiarity that we take for granted. And it is thanks to that familiarity that you are able to get attached to these characters so quickly.
High Speed Zelda
It’s been a while since a game has really scratched that particular itch that only Zelda games can reach. Even the most recent Zelda game, despite being a very good game, failed to do so. Fortunately, the itch has been scratched with Ys: Memories of Celcetta. They make very good use of the Zelda formula – where each dungeon contains an item that gives you the ability required to solve the puzzles and complete the dungeon. What is kind of cool is that the abilities aren’t always as predictable as the abilities in most games of this genre often are. And, another interesting element is that each character also has a unique ability that is used in solving various dungeons. It’s a nice blend, and it encourages you to use each character without making it feel like you have to level everyone.
The combat, on the other hand, is a lot more reminiscent of an action RPG with high-paced skill-driven combat. The skills develop as they’re used, and over time you’ll unlock additional abilities for each character that you can use. Making matters more interesting is the fact that each character has a dramatically different combat style. Whatever style you prefer, the game features at least one character to fit your needs and you can switch between them at will, even being able to substitute in party members at prettymuch any time outside of a boss fight.
This style of game is rarely a good showing of graphics, and Ys is no exception. The graphics are not incredible… but they pick their battles well. The graphics are very clean, crisp, and virtually flawless. The character models, while fairly simple, are defined enough that you can differentiate enemies, allies, and npcs throughout the game which is often a problem in this genre. And those simple models play into a minimalist and charming art style. I was also impressed by the ability animations, which offer a good counterpoint to the simple models.
The sound effects used for those special abilities are quite good as well, but that’s really to be expected these days. Less expected is the quality of the soundtrack. The game does wonderful things with music, creating emotion when important and using ambience beautifully. Sadly, the game doesn’t use voice to nearly as good effect. In my eyes, there are three ways to use voice in an RPG. Either voice nothing, voice everything, or voice cutscenes… Ys tries to only voice very specific moments, and the voices always seem really out of place. I almost wish they’d just left them out entirely.
Unlike so many games, Ys does not give in to the temptation to badly use the touch screens on the Vita. Many games use them for really awkward or downright stupid features that just make playing the game unpleasant… but Ys makes really elegant use of them. The front touchscreen is mostly used to get shortcuts to the various parts of the menu, while the rear touch screen is used to switch between the two different AI patterns for your ally characters. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it works. This makes the game feel like an absolutely perfect fit for the Vita, which is nice to see.
Ys: Memories of Celceta is a perfect entry point to the franchise because of it’s amnesia-focused story. The game makes brilliant use of its self-awareness, showing a clear understanding of the tropes it evokes. It also features one of the best soundtracks I’ve heard in a while, along with a simple, clean art style that compliments it well. But what is always most important is the gameplay, and Ys: Memories of Celceta cures that Zelda itch that Nintendo no longer seems able to scratch mixing in interesting and fast-paced combat. It is a perfect showcase of the Vita, and a fantastic game in its own right.