While JRPGs with turn-based battle systems are a dime a dozen these days, genuine action JRPGs are a bit harder to come by. Falcom has answered the call of duty and blessed the PS Vita with Ys: Memories of Celceta. The title comes as a rich, much needed shot of high speed RPG goodness that would be welcome on any platform, but seems especially lean on the Vita.
You take control of Adol Christin, an unfortunately clichéd amnesiac adventurer that has just come around from being passed out for who knows how long. Little is known about Adol, except that he is an adventurer and that he’s been deep into the forest of Celceta.
You begin with only your ally Duren and you’re quickly tasked with mapping the labyrinthine forest. As you explore the forest you recover fragments of Adol’s memories, which help piece together his mysterious past. The journey into the forest triggers a long series of events which will eventually see the player meeting several colorful allies, exploring various dungeons and locations, and facing many powerful enemies.
Although it obviously has its less inspired elements, I thought the story in Celceta was fairly unique and entertaining. The writing is funny and the characters are all very likeable and cool. You’ll frequently be required to make a dialogue choice during scenes, although the choices seem to have little to no significant impact on the course of the game, only on perhaps the next line of dialogue.
Celceta’s visuals are colorful and bursting with anime flair. The art style is familiar and far from stunning or visually impressive, but all of the environments, character and enemy models and special effects look adequately detailed. There is a big variety of different environments in Celceta, and they all look exciting and ripe for exploring. Some of the memories you discover will reward you with a nice piece of artwork.
The user interface is also exceptionally clean in this title. The menu is fast, bright and snappy, and I especially liked the sharp character portraits. The character and enemy designs are diverse and interesting. Celceta has a bit of a Star Ocean thing going on, where characters are basically from different worlds, so one party member can be a primitive tribal warrior while another can wield advanced weaponry and technology. Many of the weapon designs look awesome and there are several to collect.
The fast paced action combat is captured well on the Vita’s screen. I very rarely encountered camera issues and generally felt like I could control and see everything fairly easily. All things considered, I found Celceta to be a generally decent looking game.
Most character voices are fine (even if they’re used extremely sparingly) and the sound effects are fine too, but I simply could not vibe with most of Celceta’s soundtrack. It has a really upbeat, old school retro kind of electronic sound going on that I just did not find very deep or compelling. I often felt that the music lacked drama or emotion, and during some battles it just sounded like cheap filler rock. Some of the town themes were quaint and redeeming, but the music was mostly forgettable and unimpressive.
This is the kind of thing I think comes to mind for non-gamers when they think of “videogame music.” Celceta’s soundtrack left me wanting a lot more. This is a matter of taste though.
Fortunately the worst soundtrack in the world couldn’t detract from Celceta’s game-play, which is varied, well nuanced, and just remarkably solid. The jewel of said game-play is the game’s combat. Characters attack in real time the instant you hit a button and most attack skills have no cool down time. Activating skills consumes skill points, but simply attacking builds skill points. This means that you will almost always have some reserve of SP, with which to continue pressing an assault.
A wide variety of skills allows you to get creative with the combos you use on enemies, which you are inclined to do since the game rewards things like defeating an enemy using a skill or an air combo with, you guessed it, more SP. Attacking an enemy with a skill fills the EXTRA meter, which when full can be exhausted to use a powerful showstopper EXTRA attack. The result of this is very fast combat that is easy to grasp, fun and rewarding.
You’ll amass a fairly large party by the end of the game and you can directly control any character. This gives you a wide variety of fighting styles to choose from and it’s cool seeing the different attacks you can unlock. You can easily and quickly switch characters on the fly, which gives you good control over your party in intense situations. Skills are not only unlocked but also upgraded in Celceta. Character progression feels significant as skills grow more powerful and devastating.
The game handles the characters who aren’t in the party very well, meting out experience points and keeping all of your characters at around the same level. The game gives you a lot of freedom and choice in building your party, but it also firmly nudges you into being versatile and switching up your team.
This is thanks to the character specific actions and the specific enemy weaknesses. As you explore and journey through the various environments, you’ll be faced with various obstacles that only certain characters can clear, using their character specific action. In the sections where the characters are needed, it’s easier to simply add the character into the party and mix things up than it is to keep switching them in to use their action and then switching them back out.
Each character also has a specific type of weapon attack: pierce, slash and so on. Certain enemies are week against certain types of attacks and resistant to others. You are also rewarded for exploiting enemy weaknesses. So of course you’ll want to rearrange your party continuously to be most effective. This dynamic really stood out to me because you feel like you can still have whatever party makeup you want, but you are strongly encouraged to switch up your party and enjoy the great variety set out for you.
There is a big variety of enemies in the game. Many of them can be tackled the same way, but there are a few interesting exceptions. Boss fights are all exciting, but the small circular platform they all take place on feels a bit generic by the end of the game. The big dungeons and areas you’ll explore are occasionally broken up by puzzles. Some of these are more challenging than others, but they are a great distraction from all of the fighting and most of them are fairly entertaining.
As you explore the world, different memories, towns and dungeons are set up in such a way that you always feel like you are journeying somewhere – never just traveling from point A to point B.
From the world map you can warp to different locations using various stones. This helps cut out backtracking to handle minor tasks like quests. You can take a break from the main story and complete some quests for more gold and experience points, should you feel so inclined. Some of the weapons and equipment can be very expensive later into the game, so you’ll need all the gold you can come by.
The game totes a rich crafting system to compliment the wonderful combat. As you explore you’ll want to collect materials from plants and minerals you come across, as well as those dropped by enemies. These materials can be used to create accessories and to strengthen equipment. You can also refine multiples of a material into a rarer, more potent material. In addition to outright creating useful accessories, you can also use the materials to reinforce weapons and armor, giving them useful effects such as added elemental damage or increased SP recovery.
This is important, as it allows you to devastate your opponents using your own combinations of effects and coming up with them is flat out addictive. The game does a great job of concisely introducing these systems to you and encouraging you to dive in. Crafting and reinforcing will keep you strapped for cash, but the benefits are definitely worth it. The game has something of an open world element, and players will at times be able to complete tasks in any order they wish.
I do have a couple of complaints about Celceta though. The game is generally so fast that it even seems to go by quickly. I completed my first play through in roughly 25 hours, which is modest for a JRPG. On top of that, the nonexistent post-game or endgame content makes a rerun on a different difficulty or a completion run – the only real options for continued play – a bit repetitive, although it does have new game plus, if you’re into that. The best games in the genre have more things to see, do and discover after the ending credits roll, but Celceta does not.
My next complaint is a technical one. I encountered an issue while playing where my party members would randomly stop fighting. Loading did not rectify this issue – I had to close and then reopen the game to get them to behave normally.
Celeceta’s issues are an afterthought compared to its merits. The fantastic combat sets the stage for rich character building, crafting and exploring. You’re compelled to finish the story of Adol and the varied cast of likeable characters. The portraits are slick, the UI is clean and responsive. Perhaps it could have been better, but the game does so many little things right that the end product is extremely solid and addictive. You simply won’t want to stop playing. Ys: Memories of Celceta is excellent, a breath of fresh air, and another sharp arrow in the Vita’s quip.