Nihon Falcom has created a wide range of games across multiple genres and numerous platforms, but since the late 1980s, the Japanese developer has regularly revisited two IPs in particular. The first is The Legend of Heroes, a story-heavy series of RPGs that places hard emphasis on character development and world-building. The other franchise is Ys, a lengthy collection of action RPGs that instead puts full focus on fast-paced, ultra-satisfying combat.
While Ys are generally more about the action and aesthetic than a mind-blowing narrative, there are still story beats to follow in the never-ending tales of Adol the adventurer. No game in the series has tried quite so hard to balance the scales of narrative and gameplay as Ys: Memories of Celceta. Originally released on the PlayStation Vita in 2012, the game lives on with an updated release on the PlayStation 4 that delivers a silky smooth framerate, a boosted resolution, and that same old unforgettable Ys action.
Ys: Memories of Celceta is a sort of alternate version of the events of Ys 4: Dawn of Ys and Ys 4: Mask of the Sun. Like the rest of the series, the events of this game are a standalone affair that hardly require knowledge of any previous entries in the series. In fact, even regular series protagonist Adol lacks knowledge of his previous globe-trotting exploits.
Our crimson-haired hero starts the game with a wicked case of JRPG amnesia, unaware of who he is, where he is, or what he’s meant to be doing. When an information broker named Duren stumbles upon Adol alone in an inn, he claims to have met him before, and decides to partner up with the injured adventurer. Together, they’ll end up tackling the challenge of charting a map for the massive, mysterious forests of Celceta.
Ultimately, while there’s a magnified focus on narrative in Ys: Memories of Celceta compared to most other entries in the franchise, don’t expect a mind-blowing and magnificently choreographed story here. Many of the plot beats are predictable, and most of the characters you encounter are little more than the JRPG cast-member trope that they’re designed to fulfill. Your party members aren’t lacking in charm, despite their one-note personalities, and I certainly grew fond of plenty of Adol’s unlikely gang by the end of the game, but likeable characters and well-written dialogue don’t equate to a narrative powerhouse. The only inventive element of the story in this game is the fragmented manner in which Adol’s past comes to light through his slow rediscovery of his memories.
The fun thing about obtaining new memories for Adol is that they tie into the gameplay as well. You’ll obtain new memory fragments from certain story scenes, resting at campfires, and discovering mysterious glowing orbs scattered around the massive forest of Celceta. While each fragment grants you another peek into the past of Adol, they’ll also often gift you with new combat knowledge that manifests in incredibly helpful new skills for Adol. In battles against fodder enemies, new skills often won’t matter nearly as much as ensuring that you’re playing as the proper character to counter each enemy creature’s weakness. Some foes are weak to Adol’s slash attacks, while others will only go down if they’re hit by Duren’s meaty fists.
It’s when you get to boss battles that utilizing skills, dodges, and perfectly timed blocks turn the usually mindless and flashy action combat into a fast-thinking test of dexterity and coordination. Regular attacks build up the SP you need to use special attacks that can rapidly drain the health of a boss, but you’ll need to frequently interrupt your combos to avoid the devastating blows of each boss. Memorising their attack patterns is vital, but dodging and blocking at the perfect time before a blow lands in order to slow time or completely nullify damage is often the key to a solid victory.
Combat is, hands down, the most fun part of Ys: Memories of Celceta, but the wide-open expanses of the forest that you’ll need to navigate and chart between battles provide the best sort of unguided, exploratory downtime that the game needs to stay fresh all throughout.
Ys: Memories of Celceta was a sharp-looking game on the PlayStation Vita, but on PlayStation 4, it’s showing its age and origins. Not much has been reworked or updated in the visuals department for this game – party members look a little rough, and minor NPCs are practically Super Mario 64 stand-ins – but it softens the blow with a solid frame rate and 1080p resolution. The real aesthetic genius of the game has got to be the soundtrack. Full of mood-setting ominous forest-exploration tunes and guitar-heavy, wild boss battle themes, the music of Ys: Memories of Celceta puts some absolute work in.