Ys: Memories of Celceta Review (PS Vita) – “Fond Memories”

memories_of_celceta

I first caught a glimpse of Ys: Memories of Celceta at New York Comic Con 2013, the upcoming game’s vibrant intro cinematic playing on loop on a giant screen overhead. While it didn’t give much indication of the gameplay to be experienced, it certainly showed off the artistic talent Namco-Bandai had brought on board for Ys. Given the Ys series’ long-running success in the Action RPG genre, it stood to reason that Ys: Memories of Celceta was a highly-anticipated title. Nearly a year after my first encounter with Ys: MoC, it’s made its way to the Vita. So after spending some time with it, the question to answer is: is it a memorable adventure, or better left forgotten?

Story: 3/5

Ys: Memory of Celceta is actually a modernized re-imagining of Ys IV. The central elelement to its story is a core JPG trope: Adol Christin, the series’ central protagonist, is suffering from Amnesia and finds himself wandering the city streets while the game uses nearby NPCs to fill the player in on some general background information about the city, its nearby mine, and the escalating disparity between the government and its citizens. A chance encounter with an old acquaintance helps to begin jogging Adol’s memory, and when trouble begins to rear its head, Adol feels compelled to act. A couple of heroic exploits later, Adol finds recognition with the city’s lordship and is granted the task of charting the mysterious forest regions around the city, where explorers are said to enter but never return.

This forms the core of Ys’s story, leading Adol and his companions to new locations and challenges to overcome. This fits in well with Adol’s personality in earlier installments of the Ys series: a young man with a thirst for adventure and exploration, and he begins to come into his own as the game progresses. A colorful cast of characters waits to be met throughout the story, with some of them willing to join your party. This leads a large part of Ys: MoC’s experience to dialogs between Adol and other characters; from a story-telling standpoint, it’s a thorough method to keep the player up to date with the game’s story, though has a slightly adverse effect on the gameplay experience; see below for more. When it comes down to it, Ys: MoC’s story supports the gameplay, not the other way around; its characters are where the game’s colorful writing shines through, but otherwise the story elements of the game aren’t anything special. Players also have the opportunity to choose dialog options at times, but these don’t really do much to offer branching story paths or shaping character decisions, they just spice up the dialog a bit.

Overall Ys: Memories of Celceta’s story isn’t anything memorable, but it’ll provide the contrast needed between the game’s exciting action sequences.

Gameplay: 4/5

Speaking of action, this has always been the story’s hallmark, and it’s certainly the focal point of Memories of Celceta. The game’s combat is open a free-flow, not instanced or turn-based. Enemies simply present themselves in the game’s environment, just waiting to be battled. In order to carry out said combat, Adol and his party have a couple of means of attack. The central combat mechanic is a sort of push-and-pull between using special attacks to exhaust your special meter, then chaining together basic strikes to fill it back up. Indeed, only one of the Vita’s four face buttons are dedicated to single strikes; the other three can be allocated to a character’s special moves. There’s a large variety to choose from, and you’ll be able to expand your list of specials as your characters gain experience. You can also dodge enemy attacks to keep your health high.

Each of Adol’s party members have their own strengths and tactics that they lean on in combat; while Adol is skilled with a blade and has many special attacks to make use of it, your earliest companion prefers to jump in and pummel enemies with his fists. You only control one character at a time, but can switch between party members at any time. While you’re controlling one character, the game’s AI does a fairly decent job of managing the rest of your party – they’ll attack enemies while you focus is elsewhere, but one area where this AI falls short is in dodging attacks. At the game’s first major boss fight, my companion seemed to content to face-tank the boss’s hardest-hitting special moves while I dodged out of the way. At times like this, it’s good to have healing items on hand to recover your party’s strength.

Overall, the combat system is simplistic and accessible to new players, but rewards practice and is extremely satisfying. The wide range of party members available means you’ll be able to build a party to your specifications, and even choose a character whose fighting style you enjoy using yourself. Don’t be afraid to delegate Adol to the AI if swords aren’t your thing. You’ll be itching to find enemies to fight, unlike turn-based RPGs where random encounters can be tedious and avoided whenever possible.

The high-octane action of the game’s combat sequences is intensely juxtaposed against the much slower, duller pace set by the game’s dialog sequences, however. It can be a bit jarring to come off of a set of intense combat, only to be exposition-dumped by an NPC for minutes on end, followed by even more intense combat right after. This is understandable, as frequent dialog is a central hallmark of JRPGs in general, but it doesn’t work in Ys: Memories of Celceta’s favor. You might find yourself trudging through dialog sequences, anxiously mashing on the X button to get past it and move on to the game’s next fight sequence.

Ys: MoC doesn’t just offer up a linear story – bounty boards present around the game world allow you to undertake sidequests for extra rewards, or just to blow off some steam between story segments. While it’s a nice feature in theory, the quests are often insultingly simple, or offer dull fetch quests that really take a back-seat to the idea of going to a new location and fighting new baddies. Still, much like the story, the sidequest system of Ys: MoC is a vehicle for the game’s excellent combat and exploration opportunities.

Adol and Duren’s expressions sum up the side-quests pretty well.

Graphics: 4/5

Graphics are yet another mixed bag with Ys; as previously-mentioned concerning the game’s intro movie, the hand-drawn art, including the menu and character sprites, are absolutely gorgeous, boasting incredible levels of detail. Given that the Ys series has had several animated movies created for it, it’d be a fair comparison to say that the in-game sprites are on the level of an animated motion picture. However, when making the shift to 3D, Ys: MoC stumbles quite a bit. While character and creature models boast a decent amount of polygons, textures on models and the environment are quite blurry for a Vita game. Special effects during combat are competent, but nothing special. Character animations during dialog tend to be somewhat limited as well, with Adol visualizing his dialog responses with stiff head nods and other simplistic actions. If the game’s 3D graphics had been bumped up to the same standard as the hand-drawn art in the game, Ys: MoC would have easily gotten a perfect score. The game’s downright last-gen graphics keep it just shy of perfection, however.

Even up-close, the 3D graphics lack polish, especially when juxtaposed against the game’s beautiful 2D images.

Sound: 4/5

Ys: Memories of Celceta boasts an aboslutely astounding soundtrack, with engaging tunes that play at just the right time during gameplay. I consistently found myself re-playing some songs in the game in my head, and that’s a hallmark of an excellent game soundtrack. Combat audio effects are decent, and are certainly functional for keeping you aware of when you land hits or take your lumps yourself. The area in the audio department where Ys: MoC falls flat, however, is the voice acting. While the talent is there, and all characters are voiced competently for a JRPG, you simply don’t hear enough of it. Most character speech in dialog consist of grunts or one-word responses, and you’ll find that not much chatter goes down in combat either. For a game with such a vibrant cast of characters, it really takes away from their personality to have them speak so infrequently. Not unlike the game’s graphics, the audio is of an excellent grade, but is flawed in some small but significant way to keep it just shy of perfection.

Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10

Ys: Memories of Celceta stands as an excellent example of beautifully-crafted gameplay. The game’s combat systems are simple and accessible, yet fun and challenging to explore and master. The multitude of characters you’ll meet and join forces with in the story are vibrant and colorful, and each of them brings their own unique twist to battle, ensuring there’s a character for just about every playstyle. The hand-drawn art and soundtrack are absolutely gorgeous too. While a couple of caveats keep the game’s overall quality from reaching stellar heights, Ys: MoC is a great addition to the Vita’s game library and a good buy for any owner looking for an action RPG on the go.

PROs

+ Combat is tight and fun

+ Gorgeous hand-drawn artwork

+ Memorable soundtrack

CONs

– Story merely drives the gameplay

– Side-quest system is tedious

– 3D graphics look last-gen

– Voice acting is light

A special thank you to XSEED Games for providing us with a review copy of “Ys: Memories of Celceta”!

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