Adol Christin’s debut Vita outing is a glorious fast-paced RPG that shines among other handheld offerings.

Developer Nihon Falcom
Publisher
Franchise Ys
Genre Action; Role-playing
PSTV Yes (NA)
Physical English Yes – EU/NA

 

World-building & Story

Red-haired adventurer Adol Christin has found himself in countless predicaments in different areas in the past – in Memories of Celceta he awakens in a strange town with no understanding of how he got there or the path that took him to this point. With a little help from information dealer Duren he quickly sets off on a journey through the sprawling forest of Celceta to discover what happened to him and in the process uncovers a plot that threatens the very existence of the land itself.

2018-06-09-004506The amnesia plotline is one of the oldest in JRPG’s and it’s no less clichéd here, but at least the game embraces it fully. You’ll uncover various pieces of Adol’s memories throughout the forest and these help piece together the overall plot – it’s quite interesting to see how things have changed in the time since he was last in a town or village and generally the amnesia aspect acts as a framing device to tell the story through, which works well enough.

The main plot is standard JRPG fare – there’s an evil that threatens the world (in this case involving masks), multiple bad guys that will slowly be revealed as things progress and plenty of dungeons and towns to visit along the way. It’s fine (although does flit all over the place a little too often) – there’s a few twists and turns but nothing special and things like the enemies you’ll face are quite forgettable, but it gets the job done and is engaging enough throughout a playthrough.

2018-06-28-200928Adol is mute, speaking only through narration (a series trademark) so it’s up to the side cast to step up to the mark and fill any characterisation gaps, which they manage to achieve for the most part. Characters like the hunter Karna are instantly likeable with her naive views but powerful presence, while others like Leeza are more mysterious and it’s interesting to peel back the layers to discover their connections and relevance to the main story.

With that said, a couple of the cast are given duff deals and are brought in only to be mostly forgotten about. Most of the introductions are done via Adol reaching a village and helping to uncover the mystery in it during which time you form a bond with one person in particularly, but some of these storylines are hastily resolved later on – Calilica and Ozma in particular suffer from this. Commander Leo and his cronies also feel under-developed, but at least they provide some amusing comic relief for whenever the story gets a bit more serious.

2018-06-09-004527What’s most intriguing about Ys is the world it takes place in though – this is a proper old-fashioned adventure where you’re mapping out undiscovered lands and encountering native forest tribes who haven’t seen technology before (and use carrier pigeons for communication). It’s hugely refreshing and beautifully realised, dispelling any issues with the otherwise standard plot.

 

Presentation & Sound

Memories of Celceta is what I would describe as the perfect example of a standard Vita game in terms of graphics – it doesn’t excel in any one area, but everything works well together to create a cohesive whole.

2014-05-19-135955Character models are your standard mid-budget JRPG fare – somewhere above Tales of Hearts R but below the later Atelier games, although the proportions are slightly off. In cutscenes they’re detailed enough, with moments like Karna hugging Adol or Leeza riding on Sol animated pretty well, with some slight jank. Enemies receive a decent bit of attention too with the bosses being the most notable – most are sprawling monstrosities that provide a fantastic sense of scale and intricate detail to their designs.

In combat is probably where the game shines most though – Ys is a fast paced action series and the spectacle you’ll see on screen is always fantastic. Special attacks are activated on the fly meaning the screen is often filled with particles and colours as your party of three chain powerful attacks into each other, then enemies explode into a shower of collectables when destroyed (similar to Kingdom Hearts). Surprisingly the framerate keeps up too – it’s not rock solid, but is never bad.

2018-06-28-084302Environments are split up into dungeons, towns and wide open field. The latter are easily the most impressive – vast green spaces that you can poke around at your leisure and you’ll often stumble across beautiful vistas that show the sprawling forest or upcoming areas you’ll explore which are gorgeous, if a little blurry. Towns too are universally gorgeous – you’ll flit between treetop settlements and underground caverns, each designed with a different colour scheme and little pieces of detail like house layouts being different in each one. Certainly it seems a lot of love went into this area of the presentation.

Where the environments stumble is in the dungeons – sometimes they’re brilliant, such as a later section where you’re rotating rings around a gigantic central hourglass which felt every bit the fitting conclusion, but other times they’re just a bit run-of-the-mill. There’s a few too many instances of underground caves that feature little more than dirt and rubble and offer nothing impressive graphically, which is a shame.

2014-05-21-231846All of Falcom’s games are known for their fantastic soundtracks and Memories of Celceta is no different, providing that traditional Ys sound of screeching electric guitars alongside some absolutely killer melodies – it’s the kind of OST where you’ll be searching tracks on YouTube after you’ve finished playing. Conversely, voice acting is disappointing because there’s so little of it – occasional voiced lines but I’d say 90% of the game’s dialogue is silent, which is a shame.

Soundtrack highlight – Underground Ruin

 

Gameplay & Content

One of the most fast-paced action RPG series in the industry, Ys provides an addictive package of smashing foes with weapon weaknesses and collecting the spoils that has made it flourish over the years – Memories of Celceta refines the party-based formula from Seven into one of the most essential purchases on Vita.

2014-07-17-182101At all times while playing you’ll control a party of three characters who can switch on the fly with a press of the circle button – when AI, your companions tend to hold their own in combat capable of taking down most foes without much assistance. The quirk here is that each character has a certain type of weapon (i.e. blunt, slash etc) and this makes them stronger or weaker against certain enemies – encouraging you to switch things up often.

Aside from normal attacks, you can assign special skills to a combination of the shoulder buttons and face buttons, which drains a meter which is filled by normal attacks – meaning you’re constantly weaving in different skills which keeps the combat feeling fresh. In general there’s a nice mix of playstyles in the characters here too – Karna attacks from afar with throwing knives while Frieda gets up close with her spear and casts magic hexes. It was fun getting to know the strengths and weaknesses of all of them and I was always encouraged to keep switching to strike the weaknesses of the enemies.

2018-06-16-113253The biggest thing that makes Ys unique is the movement – as enemies don’t let up at all with constant projectile and close range attacks during battles. To counter this you can block and roll, but unique systems called ‘flash guard’ and ‘flash move’ activate if you press these buttons the moment an attack from a foe connects. When this happens, time briefly slows allowing you to get attacks in uninterrupted – it’s a brilliant reward for skilful play and works extremely well to train you in how to play the game.

As previously mentioned, you’ll come across a variety of monsters in your journey to map the forest of Celceta and each has unique attack patterns which you’ll need to adapt to if you wish to take them down. In one later snowy zone for example, you’ll encounter penguins who slide down the icy slopes at you, mixed with yetis who throw snowballs at you and smash the ground if approached – requiring you to adapt your dodging and blocking on the fly based on the combination you’re up against. The game is littered with moments like this which always made me smile and kept me on my toes.

2018-07-02-091358Boss battles are undoubtedly where the Ys series shines brightest and Memories of Celceta is no disappointment in this regard – you’ll face a variety of monsters that will challenge your reflexes, pattern recognition and skill. You’ll usually fight them in purpose-built arenas that restrict your movement space, forcing you to quickly adapt to their attack patterns. At times it’ll feel more like you’re playing a bullet hell shooter, dodging bullets and falling pillars while waiting for the perfect moment to strike – they’re difficult but not impossible and very much the gameplay highlight as they require both brains and skill to take down.

The only area where combat isn’t a tonne of fun is the water battles – these are slow and cumbersome which I suppose is a design choice, but certainly aren’t enjoyable to play as you plot through and occasionally swing an attack. Thankfully these are few and far between and can mostly be avoided, save for one boss fight that actually uses some clever mechanics to mask the underlying frustration.

2018-07-06-114852Elsewhere, you’ll be doing two major things – exploring the overworld and spelunking in dungeons. The former is the title’s main purpose – you’re tasked with mapping out the whole of the forest of Celceta, so you’re encouraged to poke in every nook and cranny which is incredibly satisfying and a brilliant design choice. Even though the journey is decidedly linear, you get a real feeling of exploration by uncovering long forgotten caves and towns on the map – making Adol feel like a true adventurer.

Dungeon crawling is great too – each feels like a well-designed zone that is neither too long or too short, which stops them from getting tedious. They’re assisted by dungeon items helping you to explore different areas – some will shrink you to tiny proportions so you can creep through holes in the wall, others will let you breath underwater. Best of all are the running shoes which – aside from letting you get around faster – provided a brilliant section where you’re scaling a building dodging lasers that I totally wasn’t expecting but really loved.

2018-07-02-132857Aside from dungeon items, each character has a specific skill which can be used to solve the various puzzles you’ll come across. Some are straightforward – Duren picks locks to open chests, but others are smarter such as Ozma’s ability to smash rocks which is used to help flood a chamber. They’re all integrated well enough, although Frieda gets the short end of the stick due to her late introduction to the plot. Very occasionally the game also throws touch-screen puzzles at you which seems to be a somewhat cynical attempt to use the Vita’s features, but are mostly harmless and over fairly quickly.

At various points you’ll also be given mini-games, ranging from running a shop for the day to going on a treasure hunt with a group of kids – they’re a nice enough distraction, but nothing special. Similarly, you’re often given two dialogue choices when speaking to other characters which is fun, but this doesn’t do anything more than provide a comedy answer once in a while.

2018-07-06-094146A playthrough will take you in the ballpark of 20 hours which was the perfect length for me and you can start new game+ afterwards keeping your levels but bumping the difficulty. You’ll want to do this too because Memories of Celceta is such a fun, rewarding game that you’ll happily return to it for another round – I know I did!

 

Conclusion

One of the most enjoyable JRPG’s on Vita, Ys: Memories of Celceta mixes lightning-fast and rewarding combat (that’s a particular highlight against a sea of memorable bosses) with a great sense of exploration-based adventuring. Adol Christin’s journey to recover his lost memories may not be the most interesting and memorable story, but everything else about the game shines and it’s a must-own for any fan of the handheld.

9.0/10

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