I’m the sort of person who, as soon as I see an incomplete map in a game that gets filled in through player exploration, will go out of my way to ensure every inch of every room just to make sure I don’t leave any gaps. This is why I like metroidvanias and dungeon-crawlers as much as I do: they’re games that make cartography a core of the experience, and always find interesting ways to build on that with items and exploration puzzles. Ys: Memories of Celceta is neither a metroidvania nor a dungeon-crawler—it’s an action JRPG—but it still scratches that same itch.
Longtime Ys hero Adol Christin wanders into Casnan, a town on the edge of a dangerous, uncharted forest, with no memory of who he is or what he’s doing there. That doesn’t stop him from jumping in to save the day when the local mine gets attacked by monsters, and having proved himself a more than capable fighter, Adol finds himself tasked by the ruling Governor-General with mapping the Forest of Celceta. Thus begins your cartographic adventure.
It’s not long before the labyrinthe nature of Celceta becomes apparent. Paths branch and wind and reconnect, with many a shortcut to be opened up once you’ve gone the long way round—a drawbridge lowered; fallen tree trunk used to create a ramp down from the top of a ledge. There’s no shortage of those telltale “come back here later” flags, like sunken treasure chests that you have no way of diving to get, pathways blocked by overgrowth, and enemies that are far stronger than others in the area standing guard.
As you delve further into Celceta, you gradually discover new things that’ll help to fill in those blanks on the map. Whenever someone new joins the party, they bring with them a unique skill they can use to interact with the world: Karna can throw her daggers to cut ropes and spiderwebs, for example, while Ozma can break cracked rocks with his lance to alter water levels. You’ll also find artifacts that, when equipped, let you do things like swim underwater, shrink your party to fit into small tunnels, and dash up steep hills, feeding into that loop of exploration and discovery.
That said, the map in Ys: Memories of Celceta isn’t quite as intricate or expansive as what you’ll find in what you’ll find many other games; it’s closer to The Legend of Zelda than it is to Wizardry. Working your way across the map and watching the completion percentage go up is still a satisfying experience, but on a smaller scale than, say, Ys VIII (which, it’s worth noting, is the newer game of the two.)
Being an action RPG, combat is the other thing that really makes Ys: Memories of Celceta tick. It finds a nice balance between being easy to pick up and having enough of a layer of strategy that it’s never just mindless button-mashing. Each character’s weapons fit into one of three attack types—slash, strike, or pierce—and most enemies are weak to one of those and resistant to another. AI for party members is somewhat limited, so if you really want to exploit those weaknesses, you’ll need to keep aware of what you’re fighting—especially in big groups with lots of different enemy types—and regularly switch characters.
Each character also has a growing arsenal of special skills, many of which have helpful effects like inflicting status ailments or launching foes into the air for a hard-hitting juggle combo. Use these well, and you can really limit your enemies’ ability to fight back. The final piece of the puzzle is the reward you get from a well-timed block (guaranteed critical hits for a few seconds) or dodge (time slows down for everyone but you for a moment). It all adds up to a battle system that dials up the action and rewards quick reflexes, while also adding a light element of strategy.
Where Ys: Memories of Celceta falls somewhat short is in its story. The amnesiac hero is one of the most well-worn tropes in JRPGs—that isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, but Celceta doesn’t do anything noteworthy with the premise. Really, the whole game amounts to an entertaining but not particularly memorable save-the-world adventure, with a cast of likeable but not especially interesting characters.
It feels like a missed opportunity to do more with what can be an intriguing setting. Much of the Forest of Celceta is exactly the sort of lush, ruin-filled jungle you’d expect from a fantasy game like this, but it’s also home to some curious anachronistic settlements and more mysterious locales. Across its expanse, Celceta straddles a line between high fantasy, Roman society, and Victorian architecture and engineering. It makes for an interesting world to explore, it’s just a shame it’s so underutilised by the story that unfolds within it.
Ys: Memories of Celceta originally came out for PlayStation Vita in 2012. The PlayStation 4 version, though not titled as such, is something of a remaster, with upscaled HD visuals and controls reconfigured to account for not having a touchscreen. The most significant addition is the option of Japanese voices—the English performances aren’t bad at all, but it’s always nice to have the option of Japanese voices in a Japanese game.
Despite its narrative shortcomings, Ys: Memories of Celceta is still an enjoyable adventure, especially if you’re the sort of person that loves mapping your way across a game. It’s got plenty of the action that Ys is known for, but it’s in the loop of exploration and cartography that this game is at its most satisfying.
Ys: Memories of Celceta is developed by Nihon Falcom and published by XSEED Games and Marvelous Europe. It’s available now for PlayStation 4 (reviewed), PC, and PlayStation Vita.
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.