|System: PS Vita|
|Release: November 26, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes|
by Becky Cunningham
The action-packed exploits of the red-haired swordsman Adol and his friends may not be terribly familiar to Western audiences, but Ys: Memories of Celceta is a persuasive argument for why they should be. This action RPG for the PlayStation Vita sports a charming cast and gameplay that is fast-paced, addictive, and fun.
Memories of Celceta is an origin story of sorts, beginning with poor Adol having lost all his memories, washing up in a frontier town on the edge of a dreaded Great Forest. We may have seen amnesiac Japanese RPG heroes a million times before, but at least this game has the grace to make the recovery of Adol's memories a major part of the game itself. He and his slightly sketchy friend, Duren, are soon hired to map the forest, and while doing so, discover magical orbs that bring back memories of Adol's recent adventures and even of his childhood.
As their journey of discovery moves along, Adol and Duren pick up a charming and diverse cast of companions such as the plucky hunter, Karna, and the serious young village chief, Ozma. They also become mixed up in important and world-threatening events, as RPG protagonists tend to do. The story rolls along at a brisk pace, with plenty of lighter moments and fun interactions between the party members. It may not be high literature, but it provides a good stage upon which to showcase the game's main attractions: combat and exploration.
Many twitch gamers tend to look down on action RPGs as having watered-down combat experiences, but the Ys series has always been an exception to that rule. Memories of Celceta features smooth, fast-paced, and challenging combat that is a joy to play. All the action takes place on the main screen, and the Great Forest is filled to the brim with nasty creatures that need to be mowed down.
Combat works on three levels. First, each character specializes in a particular weapon that does slashing, striking, or piercing damage. Different monsters are vulnerable to different damage types, and a single button press switches between active party members. Effectively killing mixed group of monsters involves swapping characters frequently, with the only downside being that weaknesses are largely dropped late in the game in favor of situations that require having Adol in the active party most of the time. On the plus side, although there are two characters that do each type of damage, the weapons they use are all unique and feel quite different from one another in combat.
Second, each character's combat rhythm involves basic, charged, special, and ultimate attacks that all build up to fuel each other. Use charged attacks to build energy for special attacks, and use special attacks to fill the meter that allows each character to use their ultimate attack. Four special attacks per character can be slotted at a time, and quite a nice variety of these attacks in each character's arsenal.
Finally, positioning and defensive moves are important for avoiding enemy attacks, especially during boss battles. Characters can either dodge or block, and doing either with perfect timing negates all damage and creates a “flash” advantage. A flash guard gives the party a few seconds of critical damage, while a flash move briefly slows down time for the enemy. Pulling off a flash move is a very satisfying feeling, and it's nice to see strong defensive play rewarded with a combat advantage beyond simply avoiding damage.
Executing all these offensive and defensive moves is done with simple face and R/L button presses. The controls are slick and responsive, and the moves are easy to pull off, leaving the player to master combat by learning how to read and predict enemy movements. A wide view of the battlefield is provided at all times, so there's no need to futz with camera angles. Altogether, it's one of the most fun combat systems I've experienced, especially on a portable console.
Not all the gameplay is fully combat-focused, as Memories of Celceta features forested mazes and dungeons filled with puzzles to solve and secrets to unearth. Most of the puzzles are relatively simple for observant players, but several (especially a touch-screen puzzle in the final dungeon) are fairly clever and entertaining. They help keep the game's environments from being too generic, and along with side quests in the game's many villages, they provide a nice break from all the action.