Ys Series Review Part 3: Ys IV
Welcome to the next part of the Ys Series Review. Last time we looked at Wanderers From Ys and its remake, The Oath in Felghana. We focused on how the original version deviated a bit from the gameplay of Ys I and II— at least from a cosmetic standpoint— and how the remake improved upon it. Today we will be looking at Mask of the Sun, The Dawn of Ys, and Memories of Celceta. What do these three games have in common? Well, all three of them are called "Ys IV." We will be looking at all three of these games and why all of them are called "Ys IV" despite being completely different games with some common elements. Spoilers lie ahead for all three games, so proceed with caution.
1. Mask of the Sun
The first of the three, Mask of the Sun, was released in Japan on November 19th, 1993 for the Super Famicom and it never made its way outside of Japan. It was developed by Advanced Communication and was published by Tonkin House, who had previously handled the Super NES port of Ys III. Note how the developer was not Nihon Falcom like the previous Ys games. That will be important for later. The game was later remade for the Playstation 2 in 2005 by Arc System Works and was published by Taito, who had previously released the PS2 remake of Ys III. Like the original Mask of the Sun along with Taito’s previous Ys remake, it never made it outside of Japan. A Genesis version was planned at some point, but it was canceled.
While Ys III changed things up a bit by switching to a side-scrolling style, Mask of the Sun returned to the style of the first two games where players had an overhead view of the game and had to run into enemies to kill them while also using magic from time to time. The game is fun to some extent, but it feels very unrefined and it almost looks like it was rushed into market. In fact, I’m almost certain that it was. More on that later.
Mask of the Sun's Plot
The plot takes place about a year or two after Ys II, but is set before Ys III, making Ys IV a midquel, and it mostly takes place in the land of Celceta, although there are a few points where Adol has to return to Esteria, the land from Ys I & II. At the start of the game he runs into one of the doctors from Esteria who is looking for a rare flower from Celceta with medicinal properties.
After the first of many run-ins between Adol and the members of the Romun Empire, Adol travels around Celceta and meets all sorts of characters such as the information dealer, Duren, a woman from the forest named Karna, and her brother Remnos, who was turned into a monster by an evil witch named Bami. This witch is a part of a group known as the Clan of Darkness that includes the game’s other main villains, Gadis and Gruda. While pursuing them, Adol ends up in an Earth village and meets Leeza, a woman who serves a being named Eldeel who has been corrupted by the Clan of Darkness.
Eldeel is a winged being who is revealed to be the last member of a race known as the Eldeen, which is the race Feena and Reah were a part of, and it is a race that Adol would encounter in some form during most of his adventures. A great cataclysm resulted in the end of this race and would go on to be explained in great detail in a future game that was released a decade later.
The Clan of Darkness is after a powerful artifact known as the Mask of the Sun and Adol must find its counterpart, the Mask of the Moon. He is told by the ghost of an ancient king of Celceta named Lefance, that the Mask of the Moon was taken to Esteria since many people from the ancient kingdom of Celceta fled there when it fell.
Adol returns to Esteria to find the mask and learns that it was brought there by Lilia’s ancestors. She had brought it to Celceta and was hoping to give it to Adol. He returns to Celceta and learns that the Clan of Darkness has kidnapped Lilia and taken the Mask of the Moon. And left Bami behind to face Adol. Adol slays Bami and revives Lilia before getting rid of Gadis and slaying Gruda, but not before he gives Eldeel the full power of the Mask of the Sun. Adol then fights Eldeel and defeats him, bringing about the end of the Eldeen. Eldeel realizes the error of his ways in his final moments and Adol, Dogi, and Lilia return to Esteria. Adol then sails away from Esteria with Dogi, paving the way for his next adventure in Ys III.
2. The Dawn of Ys
The next version of Ys IV, The Dawn of Ys, was released just over a month after Mask of the Sun on December 22nd, 1993. It was released for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM. It was developed and published by Hudson Soft, who had handled the ports of the first three Ys games on the TurboGrafx. The gameplay is similar to Mask of the Sun and was the last Ys game (not including remakes) to use the bump system. Most of the music tracks are the same and we encounter many of the same characters from Mask of the Sun (albeit with different character designs) like Duren, Karna, and Leeza, but some gameplay and cosmetic differences exist.
The Romun Empire is just as prevalent in this game and their commander in Celceta, General Leo, serves as a secondary antagonist. The layout of the land of Celceta is completely different and the experience is well-polished. Hudson Soft went out of their way to craft an excellent game that is far superior to Mask of the Sun and is probably one of the best action RPGs not just on the TurboGrafx, but of the entire fourth generation. The Dawn of Ys takes full advantage of the PC Engine’s capabilities by including full animated cutscenes and voice acting. The in-game music also sounds wonderful on the PC Engine system. Like the other Ys IV, this game never made it out of Japan, which is unfortunate because the rest of the world missed out on a masterpiece as a consequence. If you can’t tell already, I really enjoyed this game and I think it is one of the best games Ys ever offered.
The Dawn of Ys Plot
The basic story is the same as the story in Mask of the Sun, but Hudson took some creative liberties with the plot. The game starts out in Esteria where one of the doctors is interested in a special plant. Fortune Teller Sarah tells Adol about something that is going on in the land of Celceta. And here we have creative liberty number 1, since with the exception of the TurboGrafx version, Sarah was murdered by Dark Fact in Ys I. Like the other version, the game’s plot focuses on the Clan of Darkness and their corruption of Eldeel.
The main difference is that in this game, they want the mask to resurrect their clan’s ancient master, an evil tyrant named Arim, and Gruda kills Eldeel as a sacrifice to awaken the Mask of the Sun earlier in this version of the game. The game attempts to explain the past of the Eldeen, Celceta, and even Esteria to some extent.
A connection to Esteria is a man named Sieg Fact who took the Mask of the Moon and went to Esteria in centuries past and the game suggests that he is Dark Fact, the villain of the first game, and it is revealed that the Mask of the Moon is a random item from Ys I known as the "Mask of Eyes." It doesn’t end there, though. It is mentioned at one point that when the Eldeen fell, two twin girls who had just been born were sent away to a distant land. This is an obvious reference to the twin goddesses. The Black Pearl is prevalent in this game despite its destruction in Ys II. Still, even with these creative differences, The Dawn of Ys is still an excellent game. The Dawn of Ys is still an interquel and it ends with Adol and Dogi sailing away. As they are leaving, Dogi starts telling Adol about his homeland of Felghana.
Why Are There Two Different Versions?
So how did these two similar yet different games come about, and why didn’t Nihon Falcom develop either version? There is actually an interesting story behind that. After the TurboGrafx CD versions of the first three games proved to be a success for Hudson Soft, they approached Nihon Falcom and asked if they could make a fourth Ys game. It is important to note that Falcom has never been a big company and that fact makes their games even more impressive than they already are. When Hudson Soft requested another game, Nihon Falcom was already focusing on creating Legend of Xanadu for the PC Engine. However, they were able to draft up a basic design document and compose some music for the Ys fourth installment. Both the music and the design document were given to Hudson Soft so they could develop the game themselves. This would not be the first time as Hudson Soft had done a good job of making games based on their franchises in the past, such as Faxanadu on the NES. Hudson got to work on The Dawn of Ys and during that time, Tonkin House was also given the same resources and had started working on Mask of the Sun. Tonkin House completed and released their game first and possibly rushed its completion in order to beat Hudson Soft.
Now out of these two games, which one counts in the Ys canon? Neither of them do for reasons I will eventually explain, but for the longest time Falcom considered Mask of the Sun to be the canonical version since it is the most similar to the original design document. As a result of this, for years afterward, fans were left with an interesting situation regarding Ys IV where the inferior game was the canon version and the one that was never canon was considered to be the superior game.
Before I continue, I should note that the next section might contain spoilers for some of the later Ys games as the third game to be called Ys IV makes several references to some of the later games. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include it here or write about it after covering the other games, but I ultimately decided it would be best to cover all three versions of Adol’s adventure in Celceta in one go.
Fast forward to 2011 and the release of the PlayStation Vita. Falcom was one of the companies Sony talked to while developing the Vita and they thought about how the Vita’s features would work with some of their franchises such as Ys and Legend of Heroes. They must have realized that they had never developed a version of Ys IV themselves and decided it was high time they got around to it, so they developed a brand-new Ys game that takes place in Celceta and replaces the other versions of Ys IV in the canon. This game, while retaining many of the same characters and plot elements from the old versions, is a completely different interpretation of the game. It takes elements from both of the previous versions of Ys IV, while adding new elements and retaining continuity with the sixth and seventh Ys games. This game would become known as Ys: Memories of Celceta.
3. Memories of Celceta
Memories of Celceta was released in Japan in 2012 and in the U.S. a year later on the Vita. Memories of Celceta was released in Europe in 2014. The classic gameplay style of the old version was eliminated in this version of the game. Instead of ramming into enemies, the game is more of a traditional Action RPG and it is based on the gameplay of the newer Ys games, specifically the seventh game. There is more to say on that subject, but I will be saving that for when I get to that game. For now all I will mention is that Adol, instead of adventuring on his own, is in a party with a variety of characters. Some are returning characters from the previous versions of Ys IV while others are entirely new. This game is more of a reimagining than a remake since the game is completely different in terms of gameplay, design, and story. This version includes puzzles and gameplay features that utilize the Vita’s touchscreen. However, plot elements and homages to the previous versions are included along with some characters. Many of the old Ys IV music tracks, which are some of the best tracks Falcom ever recorded in my opinion, make a return and have been rearranged for use in Memories of Celceta.
The game is set about a year or two after Adol’s adventures in Esteria and his accomplishments there are mentioned by some characters throughout the game. This game is one of the earliest to mention in-game that all of the games tell stories from Adol’s adventure journals that he wrote over the years, which is an idea that Falcom mentioned all the way back in the PC-88 manual of Ys I. It is hinted that this is early in Adol’s journey since only his first adventure is mentioned and not some of his later significant ones such as his exploits in Felghana, which supports the idea that this is an interquel set between Ys II and Oath in Felghana. It occasionally seems like Falcom forgot that Memories of Celceta is an interquel on a few occasions or that Falcom was trying to create homages to other games and deviated from their initial focus. A key example of this occurs a little over halfway through the game when Adol meets a woman who rides a galbalan, which is the type of creature that serves as the primary foe of Ys III is. He asks if there are more, which is a strange question to ask at this point in Adol’s life since he hasn’t encountered the other galbalan yet.
The Plot of Memories of Celceta
The plot involves Adol going traveling through the Forest of Celceta with an information dealer named Duren. They've been tasked by the Romun governor, Griselda (who is one of the few Romuns in the series who never treats Adol like an enemy) to map out the forest while Adol has to regain his lost memories and figure out where he lost them. This is one of the few games I’ve seen that has done this kind of plot well. In this case, many of the memories show pieces of Adol’s past that have never been seen before.
The two meet a few familiar characters on their journey such as Karna and Commander Leo. The latter of the two is no longer a primary antagonist like he was in The Dawn of Ys. Instead, he's a source of comic relief throughout most of the game along with his two subordinates. Towards the end of the game, players will learn that he is much smarter and more useful than he initially appears to be. Though the names and some of the character designs are the same, the characters are pretty different from their 16-bit counterparts for the most part.
A primary example is Eldeel. His character is shown as more godlike than before and it is clear that Eldeel is on a whole other level of power compared to the other Eldeen that survived the destruction of their race such as Feena and Reah. His basic characterization is that he has lived in a special tower for centuries and has invited certain people to visit him to impart knowledge to them at key points in history. One such individual is Adol himself.
Like the old versions of the game, the primary antagonists in this version are Bami, Gadis, and Gruda, members of the Clan of Darkness who have been renamed as the "Darklings." The Darklings is a group we will encounter in another game that I hope to cover soon. A corrupt Eldeel also returns in this version, though with a twist in the form of an evil personality that has awakened for the first time in centuries. They are still after the Mask of the Sun and Adol has to track down the Mask of the Moon to counteract it and seal Eldeel’s evil form away. Adol still fights the evil Eldeel along with the Gruda and his group and slays all three after all of the trouble they have given everyone in Celceta. Some key differences between this version and the old versions are that there is no trip to Esteria at any point and Eldeel technically doesn’t die. Instead, he seals himself away at the end to ensure his dark persona will never awaken again. This marks the end of the Eldeen.
Memories of Celceta makes a good effort to connect to the continuity established in later games, namely the sixth and seventh games. The conflict between Romun and their main opposition, Altago, is mentioned here and that conflict is of importance later on. At a point towards the end of the game, Adol comes across a village where all of the Darklings are originally from and transforms the Clan of Darkness from a group pertaining to just one game to a group where members of it, or at least something connected to them, have appeared in most of the games made so far. An interesting character from the Darkling village is a woman named Frieda, whose ex-fiancé was among the members of the village who left long ago with Gruda, but not before creating a fairy of sorts to give her. It is mentioned that his younger brother left shortly after to bring him back. This is a direct reference to two characters we will meet in Ys VI. That is all I have to say about Memories of Celceta.
Game Ratings and Final Thoughts
Whew! That was a pretty long one, wasn’t it? Now you have the intriguing story of how three separate games from three different developers came to be known as Ys IV. If you can, I highly recommend getting Memories of Celceta. It might be worth it to purchase a PlayStation Vita in order to play Memories of Celceta, or wait for the PC port to come out at some point in 2018. If you happen to own a Turbo Duo, try finding The Dawn of Ys so you can play it. My final ratings for all three games are:
Mask of the Sun – 6/10 (Above Average)
The Dawn of Ys – 8/10 (Excellent)
Memories of Celceta – 8/10 (Excellent)
I hope you enjoyed this part of the Ys retrospective. Ys IV was a convoluted mess, but we got through this. Fortunately, this is the last Ys game that was released on a bunch of different systems. All future titles would be released on just one system, while some were ported to others, and Falcom would handle all future Ys games. Join me next time for a look at the fifth game in the series, which is currently the only Ys game to never receive any localization outside of Japan and does not have a localization planned for the near future. Until next time, goodbye everyone!