The lost memories trope has been used so many times that we can sniff it out a mile away. That means I’m not giving out prizes for guessing that Ys: Memories of Celceta is going to star a hero with amnesia. Luckily for us, developers at Nihon Falcom just use it to sprinkle a bit of intrigue into the plot. Center stage is given to finding the secrets of an old forest.
Memories of Celceta is one of the more recent games in the Ys series, initially releasing on PlayStation Vita in Japan back in 2012. Seeing XSEED port another of these games to the PC is great, not least because things get a bit hidden away and forgotten on the Vita. The game’s been given a bit of HD polish in the graphics department, as well, with better framerates and more customizable controls than before.
So what’s Adol Christin got himself into this time? Well, at first, even he’s at a bit of a loss, found stumbling out of the mysterious Celceta forest with no memories of who he is, let alone what he was doing in there. Yet when monsters attack local miners, he can’t ignore their cries for help. Impressed with his bravery, the army is quick to ask Adol for a favour – to map out the very forest he just lost his memories in.
What starts off as a simple mission soon gets more complicated. Adol’s previous venture into the forest clearly caused quite a stir with the locals. If only he could remember why. Oh, and there’s some bad guys looking to control the future of the world. Standard JRPG stuff.
We’re not looking at some thought-provoking moral tale or deeply complex characters here. What Memories of Celceta does manage is a good ol’ adventure. I easily got wrapped up in the little story. Questioning what happened to Adol, who’s hiding secrets, and how about those masks that take over the wearers minds? Bits and pieces of dialogue and plot do crop up pretty often, but don’t worry if it doesn’t grab you. Things never stay away from the action for long.
I love how satisfying Memories of Celceta’s combat is. Fight monsters in real time right on the map, destroying all in a couple of sword swings. It’s button mashing at its best, while the need for quick choices keeps the game from feeling dull.
There’s a rock, paper, scissors-style system at play here. Each party member is associated with one of three elements (slash, pierce and strike) which monsters have strengths and weaknesses to – Duren’s fists are pretty useless against squishy enemies, but Adol’s sword will easily cut through them. While you can only control one at a time, it’s easy to switch between the other two party members who are happily kicking butt by your side.
Of course combat is more than just repeatedly hitting the A button. Characters gain skills as they fight, which can be assigned to each of the four face buttons, or use the “Extra” special attack to obliterate practically every enemy that isn’t a boss. Despite the simplicity, the 6 characters do feel different to play. Like how Ozma uses a close range spear with water based skills, while Karna uses daggers from a distance to attack with wind and fire.
The further you get in Memories of Celceta, the more your skills in combat are put to the test. Timing is key, whether it’s using an ability, or knowing exactly when to switch characters. Dodging or blocking at exactly the right moment can even slow down time, or grant invulnerability that is invaluable against hordes of status-afflicting enemies. And boy, does it feel good when you pull off combos of skills and dodging to have bosses explode in front of your eyes. Yeah!
What’s more, there’s no crazy grinding required. Ys SEVEN stopped me in my tracks multiple times, but Memories of Celceta offers a much smoother ride. I did find normal mode very lacking in any real challenge, though, so you may wish to start off on hard or nightmare unless you’re looking to easily float through.
Other than the combat itself, the biggest draw to Memories of Celceta is the exploration. Filling out the forest map is a constant drive. Not only is it satisfying to see the gaps getting filled in, but you get paid for it! Who says no to that? I really appreciate how bothering to go the wrong way is rewarded with item chests, materials, or rare monsters –it isn’t just a gimmick for upping the map completed percentage. (Also, all praise the teleport system, keeping backtracking to a minimum).
This is probably the best place to mention the graphics. Now, we’ve got to remember that the game came out in 2012, but then so did Dishonored and Borderlands 2. I guess they wanted it to fit in with the style from the rest of the series. It just feels a bit PlayStation 2 rather than Vita or PC. The touched-up colors do look good on the PC, with character icons in particular being really vibrant. There are lots of unique locations too, from dark caves to poison filled swamps, keeping things visually interesting.
Similarly, the accompanying soundtrack tries to add to the atmosphere of each location, but doesn’t always hit the mark. In fact, I only really noticed it during boss fights or when I stayed in one place too long and it got repetitive. Also, voice acting is super minimal. Actors will deliver the odd line of dialogue, but it’s so rare that it often made me jump from surprise.
In any case, running around the 3D forest means destroying monsters, and discovering lost villages. Each town has its own feel to it, from a tribe of people living in a tree to a tower surrounded by lightning. More importantly though, civilization means shopping! Each place will offer new equipment to buy as well as some other extras, such as exchanging materials gathered for better ones, the ability to enhance weapons and armor, or item crafting. There’s also a notice-board where locals will pop up quests they want you to help with. They’re always easy, but good for grabbing that extra cash.
Enhancing weapons sounds cool, but soon gets ignored. Equipment is quickly outmatched, either from the latest available shop, or from dungeon pick-ups. So using lots of items just to gain a few buffs really isn’t worth it – although adding status effects like burn and poison can be useful. In general, material drops are much better saved for the item crafting workshops. Here you can create (and equip up to 2 per character) buff items with useful effects such as increasing health, boosting the exp gain, or preventing stat effects.
After getting kitted out, it’s time to take on a dungeon. These are pretty similar to the outside exploration areas really. There’s just a bit more focus, with the occasional puzzle thrown in to change things up. Standard Zelda-esque format applies here. A dungeon will be based off a character ability – such as Calilica being able to activate switches and mechanical devices – or artifacts that are usually gained from defeating mid-bosses – like a gauntlet that lets party members swim and breath underwater. Later on dungeons will mix up all the gained character actions and artifacts. Again, don’t come here expecting a challenge. I think I was only stumped on a puzzle once. And even then it was less than a minute before I had the answer.
Ys: Memories of Celceta holds up well for its age. So what if it doesn’t have modern graphics or the most original story? Satisfying combat and exploration combined with fast pacing makes for a fun adventure. Anyone who’s been eyeing up the Ys series will find no better place to join Adol on his journey.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, provided by XSEED Games.
There’s no revolutionary story, gameplay, or graphics here, but Ys: Memories of Celceta is still super satisfying to play through.