It’s almost a natural impulse to dismiss Ys: Memories of Celceta as yet another condensed revisioning of Ys IV, but doing so would be to overlook one of the better JRPGs on the PlayStation Vita. Many tend to forget that the Ys series has been around just as long as genre titan Final Fantasy, and has had an equally solid track record, despite a few minor bumps along the way. The fourth chapter in the Ys canon has now been reimagined thrice over, once by Tonkin House (Ys IV: Mask of the Sun) and again by Hudson Soft (Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys). And roughly 20 years after the original pair of Ys IV titles were released, Nihon Falcom, the sole creators of the franchise, have finally put their own spin on arguably the most revered installment in an elastic mythology, essentially replacing the two antiquated entries that came before, hereby presenting the true heir to the Ys throne.
Unusually, the central storyline and character roster of Memories of Celcelta may be its weakest links, tacking on an unnecessary amnesia plot-propeller to the tale of iconic red-haired protagonist Adol Christin. While it’s smart of Nihon Falcom to give Adol another reason to do some expansive exploration in the mysterious wildwoods of Celceta, slowly regaining his recollection as he goes, the overall arc of the journey never grabs hold as tightly as it should. Luckily, nearly every other aspect is in top form, from the vibrant graphics (complete with beautifully rendered anime-style cutscenes) and eclectic musical score to the intuitive, smooth battle mechanics, Memories of Celceta quickly establishes itself as a must-have for any Vita-owning action RPG fan.
A major key to the game’s success is Nihon Falcom’s keen understanding of how a real-time combat system should function. By limiting frantic button-bashing as much as possible, battlefield tactics are allowed to evolve and flourish within the player’s mind as they adapt to a variety of unique skirmish situations, implementing a number of varied skill sets. Appropriately, defense is just as important as offense; attacking foes wildly, even early on, will result in many an expedited fail. A slew of incentivizing bonuses, including benefits for the game’s satisfyingly complex crafting options, come into play as you dispatch enemies in certain ways, like blitzing them with specific weapon types or blocking their assaults at the precise moment of impact, initiating a sightly multi-hit counter. All of this is done via an easy-to-learn, arduous-to-master control scheme that rarely devolves into over-familiarity.
Memories of Celceta’s devious boss fights may very well be the choke point for the uninitiated, as the difficulty spikes creep in with minimal warning. Even with a hearty helping of level grinding in your future, these large-scale encounters will put your collective abilities to the ultimate test. Realizing which of your party members is best suited for the task at hand, and chaining combination maneuvers together is paramount when destroying the tricky, screen-filling Big Bads that populate the Great Forest of Celceta. Free-roaming exploits are just as challenging and entertaining, from solving puzzles in a myriad of lengthy dungeons to running various errands for NPCs in sidequest-centric villages, the game gives you plenty to do when you’re not heavily engaged in fending off a revolving door of tireless assailants. As is customary, there’s a fair amount of backtracking to be done in Memories of Celceta, and while an effective fast-travel mechanism does eventually appear, its arrival is too late to be of much use if you’re a stage-by-stage objective completionist. Regardless, even with the additional running sprees, the intricate overworld is so fully realized that spending extra hours immersed in it isn’t much of an issue.
Its narrative may be commonplace and its characters mildly cliché (ironic, for a game based around memory loss), but Memories of Celceta does such an outstanding job of artfully revitalizing a somewhat dormant series that the preponderance of its faults can be written off. Nihon Falcom’s modern yet slyly nostalgic design and XSEED’s superb localization have combined to produce a thoroughly superior Vita JRPG, one not likely to be forgotten any time soon.