First impressions can either hold true or be deceiving. In the very beginning of Ys Seven which I reviewed the last year, the adventuring heroes meet a mute flower girl. If treated kindly, she handed an extra flower. Based on that touching scene, I knew I was going to love the game and indeed, I did. In the intro cutscene of Ys: Memories of Celceta, however, the first thing we see is a ridiculously badly animated low poly cat, passing the series mainstay Adol who drags himself through box-headed, expressionless NPC characters. Oh no, I thought. Not a very good first impression at all.
Ys: Memories of Celceta is a conversion of the Vita game by the same name, released in 2012. On one hand, it was meant to be a soft reboot of Nihon Falcom’s long-running JRPG series featuring a few years younger Adol (like he was old to begin with!). At the same time, Memories of Celceta was also a remake of SNES game Ys IV but including non-canonical additions that were made to its PC Engine conversion, Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys. As a result, the game has chronic identity crisis symptoms it really can’t shake off at any point. For starters, Nihon Falcom has resorted to the oldest plot device of fantasy adventures; an amnesiac hero. It works well enough but at the same time I couldn’t help but feel it was a bit cheap, ignoring a more linear drama arch.
The adventure kicks off when Adol, clearly having gone through some great effort, finds himself into the frontier town of Casnan. After solving an incident in the local mine accompanied with a burly information broker Duren, Adol is hired to chart the great forest of Celceta. It turns out the forest is not unfamiliar to him, as people who he encounters instantly recognize him – for better or worse. Mainly worse. In the wake of adventures Adol doesn’t remember, he’s accused of every misfortune that befell inhabitants of Celceta. Righting the wrong and eventually gaining the people’s trust, Adol is joined by heroes and heroines joining his cause of regaining his memories.
As an intended reboot, Ys: Memories of Celceta is isolated from the series so it doesn’t need previous knowledge of the franchise. In that sense, Adol’s amnesia serves the purpose well. The player is literally put in his shoes, equally baffled by everything he encounters. When asked questions, you really don’t know what to say, so you pick up the answer that feels better – or you have a hunch of based on the information you have gathered from Adol’s memories scattered around Celceta. While following the usual JRPG tropes along Adol’s odyssey and sometimes taking itself a bit too seriously, the game still has a healthy sense of self-irony. It defines perfectly a typical JRPG hero with Duren’s words when he steams out that he hates nothing more than naïve, meddlesome little do-gooders who just have to try and solve everyone else’s problems, dragging others down while doing it. Nuff said!
While lacking in production values, the biggest advantage Ys series have over its JRPG brethren is the fast-paced gameplay and real-time combat that’s always fun. You’re not stuck with Adol either as the game incorporates a party system first presented in Ys Seven, having an active party of three members you can switch between instantly. Each character has either slashing, striking or piercing attacks, suited against different monster types. Party members also learn several skill-moves during combat and they have feats which are essential in overcoming obstacles in the team’s way, like Calilica is the only one who can charge devices with her electric mace.
Unlike in Ys Seven, you don’t need to grind levels to advance. The natural progress through the story paces gains enough experience to beat anything in the way, down to the bosses. They come off as disappointment, though, needing mostly only dodge and spam tactics. Characters who aren’t in the active party also gain experience so you aren’t forced to shuffle the roster. I liked leading the way with Karna with her fast and ranged hunting knife attacks, ideal for keeping distance to bigger baddies. Crafting is also made hassle-free. Handy craftsmen throughout Celceta will construct trinkets and reinforce weapons and armors from materials collected from monsters and nodes.
I didn’t expect being disappointed with Nihon Falcom’s writing, though. The fun gameplay and the story doesn’t meet each other properly. It’s as if the game tries to be more than a typical Ys experience but while doing so it doesn’t try hard enough. More often than not, a huge build-up led to half-arsed story scenes. When the game reaches metaphysical layers later on, it goes outside the developer’s comfort zone. Nihon Falcom’s games are usually charmingly grounded despite of their fantasy settings but here, certain plot elements would be more home in Final Fantasies than in Ys canon. Also, fitting the story into a so-called grey area between good and evil and the need to understand baddies to such an extent that the heroes themselves start to question their own motives go to waste, as even the best efforts at that are ham-fisted.
The first impression was indeed an indication of things to come. It’s not about admittedly outdated graphics. After all, the PC conversion is technically flawless, running butter smooth even on a modest hardware and with tons of configuration options you can make the game as pretty as it can be. I’m used to that Nihon Falcom’s games exist in a timeless bubble, always visually a bit behind of current standards but making up for that with catching stories and intricate characterizations, but it’s there where Ys: Memories of Celceta sadly fails. It's unquestionably a good game and I may sound a bit too harsh with my criticism but I know why I love and admire Nihon Falcom’s games and that’s why I felt I was let down.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.