Role-playing games can catch static for their heavily codified nature. Indeed, this kind-of-but-not-really-a-remake of the third and fourth Ys titles leans on some questionable conventions with its premise. Frontman Adol kicks off this latest release tattered and spit out of a vast forest called Celceta, the mysterious confines of which struck our hero down with a rough case of amnesia tha–
Hey, don't close this tab! OK, so your character suffers a severe memory loss that conveniently allows everybody in the land of Casnan to spout exposition and keep you moving forward. It hasn't been an acceptable plot device for some time, and Memories of Celceta doesn't do much to justify its reliance on it. The unlockable memories you find throughout said forest hold a lot of the game's most weighty scenes, but they lose punch strewn sparsely between oodles of vicious battling. The good news is that the game has no interest in keeping you tied up in cutscenes for very long. Within fifteen minutes of a new game, you're in your first combat situation. Before the first hour ends, your main directive is already clear: explore and map the confines of Celceta for your kingdom...who are more than a little interested as to how you survived in its dangerous, uncharted expanse.
Plot elements get better once the groundwork is firmly laid, but letting you delve into therousing real-time combat is the clear focus. Memories of Celceta hacks away the sticky movement that's been synonymous with this series in the past, and the result is a brisk third-person action RPG that has more in common with games like Diablo than ever before. Adol is nimble, quickly changing attack types and orientation nearly as fast as you can work the buttons. Timing blocks or evasive rolls feels natural. You start only with a basic attack, but the combat quickly builds out and follows a brisk and challenging curve over the course of the adventure. Earned skills require wise timing and proper positioning to pull off correctly, and increasingly voracious mobs are a great motivation to further investigate the battle system. You'll typically have one supporting character with you, and they do a competent job switching between offensive and defensive paradigms. Thankfully, you can swap to them at any time if you don't like their deductions or need their attack type to penetrate a defence. Every skill drains a bar that slowly refills through regular attacks, but finishing a foe with a skill gains you half of its cost back. Parrying a strike gives you a brief period of massively increased damage. Leveraging these particulars becomes necessity as your foes show more and more teeth, and I only grew to appreciate the design more as I progressed.
Celceta's simple crafting system is an excellent compliment to skill-building. Ore and plant deposits abound in Celceta, and most enemies drop materials too. Refining them and taking them to a town blacksmith becomes an equally addictive meta game. Metals typically provide some all-around oomph for your gear, for example, while coloured gems provide the kinds of elemental boons you may expect. I took a shine to status effects early on, starting with the poisonous properties of emeralds. There's a ton of different angles to build out from, and these upgrades never overly distract from the snappy action. Growing your character, pushing your luck against greater foes and forging more powerful gear is irrevocably and cleverly tied to your directive of going deeper and deeper into the forest. The game wisely sticks with that addictive loop, and the result is a satisfyingly focused and portable-friendly RPG.
The occasional side quest halts the action, but many surprised me with their character. One particularly clever diversion depicts a common rite of passage; a first day of work. If you agree to help a local merchant run his store while he takes a day trip, he quickly and concisely relays a list of produce he sells, along with all the specials and discounts he runs. You then get sent through a montage of short moments throughout your shift, fielding customer questions and discounting their groceries as best you can. These pleasant stops along the main journey are lovely window dressing and were some of my favourite moments.
Ys: Memories of Celceta is one of the best games available for the Vita and a fine action RPG in its own right. Past some dated visuals and a sparse story are enticing battles and exciting exploration that can suck you in with a ruthless efficiency. If these kinds of character progression treadmills are your thing, don't let it pass you by.