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Ys Series Review Part 3: Mask of the Sun, Dawn of Ys, and Memories of Celceta
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; focusing 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, 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 19, 1993 for the Super Famicom and 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 you had an overhead view and had to run into enemies to kill them, using magic from time to time. The game is fun to some extent, but it feels very unrefined and almost looks like it was rushed to market. In fact, I’m almost certain it was. More on that later.
The plot takes place about a year or two after Ys II but is set before Ys III, making Ys IV an interquel, and mostly takes place in the land of Celceta though 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 meeting all sorts of characters such as the information dealer, Duren, and a woman from the forest named Karna along with 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, the race Feena and Reah from the first two games were a part of and a race Adol would encounter in some form in most of his adventures, learning more of their history. A great cataclysm spelled the end of their race and would 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 of 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 have kidnapped Lilia and took the Mask of the Moon, with Bami using her as a sacrifice. 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 22, 1993 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 here 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. Dawn of Ys takes full advantage of the PC Engine’s capabilities with full animated cutscenes and voice acting, not to mention the music sounds wonderful on the 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. If you can’t tell already, I really enjoy this game and think it is one of the best games Ys ever offered.
The basic story is the same as 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 there. Adol is told by Fortune Teller Sarah 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 on. The game attempts to explain the past of the Eldeen, Celceta, and even Esteria to an 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. 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. Dawn of Ys is still an interquel and ends with Adol and Dogi sailing away. As they are leaving, Dogi starts telling Adol about his homeland of Felghana.
Why 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 here that Falcom has never been a big company, which makes their games even more impressive than they already are, and they were currently focusing on Legend of Xanadu for the PC Engine. However, they were able to draft up a basic design document and composed the music, giving both to Hudson Soft so they could develop the game themselves likely since Hudson Soft had done a good job of making games based on their franchises in the past, with a notable example being the NES classic Faxanadu. Hudson got to work on Dawn of Ys and during that time, Tonkin House, was also given the resources and started working on Mask of the Sun, getting their game out first and possibly rushing it to market to beat Hudson Soft.
Now out of these two games, which one counts in the Ys canon? Neither of them do at the moment for reasons I will be explaining shortly, but for the longest time Falcom considered Mask of the Sun to be the canon version since it sticks closer 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 a 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 talk about it later after 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 Ys IV versions in the canon. This game, while retaining many of the same characters and plot elements from the old versions, is a completely different game that 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, followed by a European release in 2014. Gone is the classic gameplay style of the old version. Instead of ramming into enemies, the game is more of a traditional Action RPG and 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, specifically with 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, continuing the idea that this is an interquel set between Ys II and Oath in Felghana. Though it seems like Falcom forgot that on a few occasions or were trying to create homages to other games. A key example occurs a little over halfway through the game where Adol meets a woman who rides a galbalan, the type of creature 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.
Anyway, the plot involves Adol going traveling through the Forest of Celceta with an information dealer, Duren. They tasked by the Romun governor, Griselda (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 and 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.
They meet a few familiar characters along the way such as Karna and Commander Leo. The latter which is no longer a primary antagonist like he was in Dawn of Ys. He’s instead a source of comic relief throughout most of the game with his two subordinates, though we learn towards the end that he is much smarter and more useful than he appears at first. 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, inviting certain people to him to impart knowledge on them at key points in history. One such individual is Adol himself.
Like the old versions, the primary antagonists are Bami, Gadis, and Gruda, members of the Clan of Darkness which have been renamed to the Darklings, a group we will encounter in a game I hope to cover soon. A corrupt Eldeel returns as well, 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. He still fights the evil Eldeel along with the Gruda and his group, slaying all three after all of the trouble they have given everyone in Celceta. Some key differences from the old versions are that there is no trip to Esteria at any point and Eldeel doesn’t die, or at least he technically doesn’t. Instead, he seals himself away at the end mainly to ensure his dark persona will never awaken again and marking 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 seen throughout the Ys series are originally from and turns the Clan of Darkness from a group pertaining to just one game to a group where members of it, or at least something connected them, have appeared in most of the games made so far with notable members including even early Ys villains like Dalles and Zava. An interesting character from the Darkling village is a woman named Frieda, who’s 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 chase him down and 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.
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. That game alone might make it worth getting a PlayStation Vita. if you happen to own a Turbo Duo, try finding Dawn of Ys. My final verdict 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 and is this confusing. All future titles would be released on just one system and some were ported to others and Falcom would handle all future Ys games. Join me next time and we will be looking 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 one planned in the near future. Until next time, everyone.