Review – Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
I was introduced to the world of Ys a few years back. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana ended up being one of my favorite games of 2018, and it’s still one of my favorite RPGs for the Switch. It combined a fantastic soundtrack, fast-paced combat system, and surprisingly enough, considering the “VIII” in the title, a storyline that was very accessible for newcomers to this really old series. I then proceeded to play (and enjoy) some older Ys titles that had been recently re-released for newer hardware: Memories of Celceta‘s PS4 port and Ys Origin‘s Switch port. But what I really wanted was to experience a sequel to Ys VIII, a game that would capitalize on that game’s success with better performance, set pieces and storyline. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is finally here, so let’s find out if it was worth the wait.
Unlike most of its predecessors, Ys IX actually focuses quite a bit on what happened in previous Ys games. Our redheaded protagonist, the awkwardly named Adol Christin, is arrested for basically being a trouble magnet. The army and local authorities want to understand why the hell he is always around when an apocalyptic cataclysm ensues, and how a supposed everyman like him is known for being part of so many adventures and impossible scenarios.
Adol proceeds to escape from a gigantic prison, only to eventually meet a mysterious (and super goth) lady called Aprilis. She eventually curses him, giving him super abilities at the cost of being forbidden to leave the city he’s currently in until he manages to kill all monsters haunting it in addition to the limbo dimension he can occasionally travel to. Adol joins a local team of superpowered (and super cursed) individuals called Monstrums, and it’s up to them to save the city from demonic invasions and break the curse.
As you can see, gone is the sunny adventure plotline set in a deserted island. Ys IX is, without a doubt, the franchise’s darkest, broodiest, and “edgiest” iteration, almost to a comical degree. That’s equally a good and a bad thing. At first, that worked against the game, as it felt more like a young adult novel that would have been a hit among the Hot Topic crowd back in 2009. Things got exponentially more interesting after a few chapters, as Ys IX takes its time to flesh out pretty much every single main and side character you meet throughout your journey. Some unexpected (and much appreciated) plot twists happened as well.
The setting is a complete far cry from the beautiful castaway island featured in Ys VIII. The city of Balduq isn’t as visually pleasing, nor is it as expansive, but it more than makes up on that with verticality and depth. Think of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask: sure, OoT‘s Hyrule was larger in size, but one can easily argue that Termina had more scope and things to do. Balduq is filled with unique (and surprisingly well-written) sidequests, shops, characters, and hidden chests. That last bit surprised me the most, not because of the amount of items you can find throughout the city per se, but the way you discover these chests.
Adol will meet and recruit new Monstrums to his team throughout his adventure. Every time a new Monstrum joins the party, you’ll also receive a brand new overworld ability. For instance, Adol can use a grappling hook/teleportation hybrid in certain edges of buildings, as well as a double jump. The second ability you’ll earn is being able to run on walls, while the third one will allow you to glide for brief periods of time. This is when Ys IX becomes more than just a JRPG, borrowing elements from platforming games and even Spider-Man. Considering that Balduq is full of tall buildings and platforms, the setting becomes exponentially more explorable with each new ability acquired.
That doesn’t mean that the entire city will be readily available for you to explore from the get-go. Balduq is infested with miasma barriers that will keep blocking certain districts until you kill enough monsters or complete enough sidequests to fill up a Nox meter. Monsters aren’t freely roaming around Balduq’s surface, but actually contained inside small portals that transport you to a battlefield where you can take them down. Defeat them, get a few Nox points, and when you reach one hundred of them, you’ll be allowed to partake in a tower defense battle against a few waves of monsters, similar to Ys VIII. Defeat the wave and a new portion of the city will be available for you to explore.
As always, Ys IX features a fast-paced combat system. It is, by and large, the same one featured in Ys VIII, complete with the same rock-paper-scissors weapon system, control scheme (which still remains completely customizable), progression system, and equipment. If you liked Lacrimosa of Dana‘s combat, you’ll like Monstrum Nox‘s combat. I did have a few issues with it this time around though, but before I continue, let me reiterate that they’re not exactly deal-breakers, just minor gripes.
One of the issues is the camera. Since the game is mostly set in small dungeons or city streets full of nearby buildings, I’ve had to occasionally wrestle against the camera to make it work in my favor. Ys IX does feature some automatic camera assists, but I ended up turning them off, as they were being a nuisance. The other minor issue is one thing that I actually liked in previous Ys games: grinding. No, leveling up isn’t a problem in here, but the sole fact that you have to constantly fight against monsters in the overworld just to be able to unlock new areas to explore can become tiresome after a while. This Nox meter acts as a bottleneck against the plot’s natural progression.
The main issue in Ys IX, however, is its visuals. It’s not an ugly game per se, far from it, but this doesn’t look like something that would push the limits of the PS3’s hardware, let alone the PS4. It clearly runs on the same engine as Ys VIII, featuring similar animations and character models, with the aforementioned Hot Topic twist. What I disliked the most about it, however, is how grainy and jagged it looks. It doesn’t appear to run on a high resolution and I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out the game ran at the same resolution as its Switch port. Thankfully, unlike the Switch versions of these more modern Ys games, Ys IX runs at 60 frames per second at all times, no matter where you are, and no matter how many enemies are onscreen at any given time.
Meanwhile, the best thing about this game is still its sound design. The soundtrack might not exactly be as jaw-dropping as the one from Ys VIII, but it’s still excellent, much better than most JRPGs out there. There is one thing about Ys IX‘s sound department that surpasses its predecessors, on the other hand: its voice acting is far better than the one featured in Lacrimosa of Dana or Memories of Celceta. It finally sounds like a competent dub of an anime, and not an amateurish YouTube video.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is yet another excellent entry in this long-lasting JRPG franchise, even if it does suffer from a few pacing and gameplay issues. It still retains the series’ trademark art style, quality sound department, and most important, a fun combat system that makes you overlook its technical flaws. Adol’s awkward goth phase may have started on his 34th birthday, but thankfully, it ended up being the good kind of goth. The one that listens to Nightwish and reads 19th century literature, not the phoney one that hangs out at Hot Topic and thinks that Keanu Reeves’ role in 1992’s Dracula was competent.
Despite the fantastic framerate and really good character design, Ys IX barely pushes the limits of what the PS3 could achieve, let alone the PS4.
The combat system is pretty similar to the one featured in Ys VIII. It’s still fast-paced, fluid, and the controls are completely customizable. Due to the nature of the level design, the game suffers a bit from a few camera issues, but nothing that will infuriate players.
The soundtrack is still pretty good, albeit nowhere near as memorable as the one in Ys VIII. It does feature much better voice acting than any of its predecessors, however.
Ys IX suffers from a really bad first act, which might demotivate players. Once you get past the first few chapters, you’ll be greeted with a great action RPG with excellent combat mechanics and a plot that isn’t half-bad. Although, it does feature Hot Topic levels of teenage angst and edginess.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is available now on PS4, PC, and Switch.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox was provided by the publisher.