A long-overdue ode to Adol Christin
At this rate, Adol Christin may well end up the last traditional Japanese RPG protagonist standing.
Let me break it down like this: If you pine for a time when Final Fantasy protagonists wielded halberds more than they did hair gel, Adol Christin is your man. If you long for the days when Dragon Quest appeared on consoles and not on obscure Japanese cellphones, Adol Christin is the hero you seek. With his top-down action-RPG series now having seen four English-language releases over the past three years (and a respected publisher in XSEED that’s finally treating the series with the care it deserves after years of obscurity in the West since its 1987 Japanese debut), it looks like Adol might have the last laugh after all.
He’s the strong, silent type (quite literally—outside of a few regrettable instances throughout the series’ history, he doesn’t speak at all). Adol’s a no-nonsense, old-school RPG combatant with a simple way of doing business: He arrives at a new port of call, inspires a bevy of doe-eyed anime beauties to more or less worship the ground he walks on, casually vanquishes whatever godlike evil happens to threaten that particular part of the world, and then sails away (or sets off on foot, if he’s feeling particularly daring), sword in hand, confidently strutting forth to his next grand adventure.
The world this intrepid red-headed swordsman explores is at once familiar and foreign—and it’s appropriate that a vaguely obscure RPG franchise would be based on a relatively unknown legend, the lost Celtic city of Ys (pronounced “ease,” not “whys”—and keep that in mind if you want to stay on a fan’s good side!), which is said to have vanished off the coast of Brittany in modern-day France millennia ago.
The game world of Ys itself is developer Nihon Falcom’s adorably Japanese take on what appears to be circa 2nd century B.C., with obvious homages very loosely based on Rome, Carthage, and Alexandria. It’s as goofy as you’d think (I mean, can players really take something named the “Romun Empire” seriously as a threat?), but it works surprisingly well at making players feel quickly and easily at home.
Ys: Memories of Celceta does tinker with this traditional franchise formula in a few ways, and the biggest change is clear right from the start. I’ll give you some time to walk away from the computer, clear your head, and get all your primal rage out after reading this sentence: Adol has amnesia.
…OK, back? Yes, I know. The amnesia rate in Japan must be at least 75 percent, given how often (and how lazily) it’s used as a plot device over there. Thankfully, Memories of Celceta handles this worn-out JRPG trope about as well as could possibly be expected. Firstly, this actually serves as an enjoyable in-game mechanic, with Adol’s various lost memories “scattered” throughout Celceta (a verdant land in the western portion of Ys’ vision of the Iberian Peninsula) and its imposing sea of trees. Secondly, this helps bring new players into the fold, since they’re learning along with Adol as he remembers who he is—and recalls his myriad gallant deeds as well. And thirdly, longtime fans will notice a few nods and references to characters from previous games (including the other three incarnations of Memories of Celceta, two of which released in Japan in 1993 on the PC Engine and Super Famicom, the other in 2005 on the PS2).
Indeed, it’s all quite convoluted. To give a little background, this is the fourth telling of Ys IV (similar to The Oath in Felghana, the excellent Ys III reimagining that released on the PSP in 2010), but the previous versions weren’t developed by Falcom, so this is the first time they’ve taken complete ownership of the characters and setting. Memories of Celceta uses the same general plot and protagonists as those classic Japan-only games, but it’s an all-new adventure that bears little resemblance other than superficially.
But, really, those are just the obsessive details that longtime Ys devotees (and, for the record, I count myself among them) care about. The good news is that the series has always been incredibly accommodating to newcomers, and you don’t need to know your Dogi from your Darm to have tons of fun with Memories of Celceta. The real-time combat—a Ys tradition—is refreshingly retro, particularly during the first few hours, where Adol’s simply set loose and allowed to do what he does best: explore uncharted lands…and kick copious amounts of monster keister.
You’ve got one goal: map the Great Forest of Celceta. You aren’t given anything other than a couple of landmarks as a guide, and you’re free to use whatever means you’ve got at your disposal in this assignment in amateur cartography. After this initial quest, the game unfolds a little more traditionally, but you’re still free to explore the forest and its surroundings at your leisure, for the most part. It’s not quite the boundless newfound freedom recently on display in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, but it’s great to see another developer eschewing the excruciatingly dull tutorials and handholding so prevalent in so many RPGs.
Throughout its history, Ys has been more about the action than the yapping. That’s changed a bit in recent entries, but the characters don’t overwhelm the gameplay with incessant lip-flapping. Memories of Celceta does a nice job of introducing the cast at a measured pace so that you get to know them and form a particular bond with each one—and while they generally fit particular archetypes, they’re all more complex than they initially appear. By the time another character was ready to join the fold, I didn’t feel like the game was throwing another person in my party simply for the sake of adding a warm body. Instead, I felt like the narrative was naturally ready to expand.
Adol’s first Vita excursion is, not surprisingly, also one of the best-looking Ys games—sometimes to its own detriment, since it’s clearly more than Sony’s handheld can handle at times, both in battles and in towns. The slowdown wasn’t enough to ruin the experience for me, but players who prefer a consistent, locked-in framerate will likely be annoyed.
The only other issues are ones related to the shortcomings of the Vita itself. Accessing the pause menu and map—via the finicky Start and Select buttons, respectively—is a lot more of a hassle than it really should be. It’s a necessary evil, though, since the various special attacks (Adol, as well as everyone in his crew, can amass at least a dozen each) are mapped to the face buttons. This makes combat fluid and seamless, but when you want to select a new piece of armor or check your surroundings, it’s a bit of a pain.
Unfortunately, the Vita’s exceedingly unnecessary back touchpad also prevents combat from flowing as smoothly as it should once you round out your party. With a simple pinch on the pad, you can adjust your partners’ AI from offensive to evasive, but this is more of an annoyance than a help. Several times, my cohorts simply stopped attacking, and I was at a loss to figure out why. I finally realized my partners’ sudden turn toward pacifism was due to the touchpad incorrectly interpreting my touches, and since there’s not an option to turn off sensitivity on the pad, you’re stuck with the occasional unnecessary AI snafu.
That’s the thing about Memories of Celceta—it’s a list of little technical annoyances that slightly sour the experience, not a collection of major, game-breaking problems that completely destroy the adventure. Combat is simple but varied, the sidequests are interesting enough that they don’t feel like busywork, and Falcom has done a superlative job updating the original PC Engine/Super Famicom tunes into something special on the Vita. The Ys series is known for its great soundtracks, and while this might not be the absolute tops, it’s certainly one of the best.
Hard as it is for me to believe (and type!), Ys is just about the healthiest JRPG franchise I can think of at the moment. Falcom may be far smaller than the likes of Capcom, Konami, and Square Enix, but they’ve proven themselves far more resourceful than the big boys as the years go by: They’ve managed to keep their iconic hero and series fresh, relevant, and innovative while successfully maintaining the nostalgic elements that made players fall in love with Ys all those years ago. In fact, those aforementioned companies should be ashamed of themselves for letting their flagship JRPG franchises wither on the vine. Falcom has far fewer resources, yet they’ve managed to modernize Ys just fine. It can be done—you just have to give a damn. And Falcom clearly does.
I do have one request for them, though: Just promise this will be the last time the word “amnesia” graces the world of Ys! Once is more than enough, guys.
|Developer: Nihon Falcom • Publisher: XSEED • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 11.26.13|
Adol Christin is one of the oldest heroes in Japanese RPGs—and he may have aged more gracefully than any of them. Ys: Memories of Celceta reimagines his previously Japan-only PC Engine/Super Famicom quest from 20 years ago and delivers one of the Vita’s best role-playing experiences, infusing the classic concept with modern sensibilities and respecting the player’s ability to chart their own course of adventure.
|The Good||Old-school action-RPG concepts infused with modern-day sensibilities; characters and storytelling generally do a nice job of staying out of the way of the action.|
|The Bad||Framerate slows down severely during some chaotic moments; the Vita’s finicky controls can hamper the experience at times.|
|The Ugly||Just how many booty calls does ginger playboy Adol Christin have across Eresia and Afroca at this point? I count double digits.|
|Ys: Memories of Celceta is a PS Vita exclusive.|