Ys IX: Monstrum Nox – Unsheathe Your Curse And Smite The Darkness!
- Developer: Nihon Falcom
- Publisher: NIS America
- Release date: NA 9th May 2023/EU 12th May 2023/ANZ 19th May 2023
- Genre: Third Person Adventure, JRPG
- Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Windows PC, Amazon Luna, Nintendo Switch
- Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Ys IX: Monstrom Nox Review
Without a doubt, one of the biggest players in the JRPG genre is developer Nihon Falcom. Nihon Falcom is the team behind the critically acclaimed Legend of Heroes games, as well as gems like Tokyo Xanadu. However, it’s the long-running Ys series where the team seem to be growing in stature.
Ys IX: Monstrom Nox, follows the tales of the series’ main protagonist, Adol Christian, AKA the Crimson King. Even though Ys games have been going since 1987, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox expertly dances that fine line of being enjoyable to newcomers to the series, whilst still having nods towards veterans who have played any of the previous games. Adol is a self-professed Adventurer, and adventuring is exactly what you’ll be doing in this superb game.
The vibe of Ys IX, especially when compared to the Legend of Heroes games, is more of a relaxed, old-time romp than a deep and convoluted political scandal to uncover. The game starts with Adol being imprisoned, and upon his escape, he becomes infected with a strange curse from a mysterious woman; a curse that gives Adol, for want of a better way of putting it, superpowers! This curse has turned him into a Monstrum! Even though he escapes the prison, Adol finds he can’t escape from the city boundaries of Balduq. However, he soon meets five other Monstrums, all with the same curse but special abilities of their own. To fully escape Balduq, Adol has to work with his new allies to defeat the Monstrum Nox, which is stopping him from leaving the city and threatening to take hold of the entire world.
The beauty of this game lies in how this story unfolds and how it impacts the gameplay the further you get into the 30 to 40-hour run time. As Adol meets his new companions, you then get to experience their stories, and when those are completed, they are then added to your team. In doing so, Adol gains their superpowers for himself, as well as having an extra hand in combat. To begin with, Adol can only walk around Balduq, but as his powers and allies grow, so does the scope of how he can traverse and explore the world. It’s not long before Adol can zip, glide, run up sheer walls, and double jump his way around town, turning the city into a playground. It’s akin to how Batman might traverse Gotham, or Spider-Man around New York, changing Ys IX from a run-of-the-mill JRPG to an immensely enjoyable JRPG/Superhero hybrid, where the city itself is the star of the show.
The excellence doesn’t end there; Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a real-time hack-and-slash game with responsive mechanics that will have you dancing around the screen in an elegant ballet of brutality. You can control any character in your team, and each person has their own subset of moves. Adol, for example, has a basic melee attack, combined with such staples as skill attacks, flash dodge, flash guard, and power moves. Each character has a base set of skill attacks that have elemental effects, and most enemies have resistance or weakness to these elements, encouraging experimentation with who to use in battle. Flash Dodges/Guards, when executed correctly, either slow down time or increase critical attacks, respectively.
The game has been designed well, so although you can achieve some success by spamming both the dodges and guards in battle, it is still tricky to time them right to get their full benefits. As someone who enjoys real-time hack-and-slash games like Devil May Cry and God of War, the mechanics here in Ys IX are just as well executed and fluent, albeit with far less graphical prowess.
The basic-looking graphics did become a slight hindrance during battle. Lacking in definition, when there were multiple enemies converging on your spot it was at times difficult to see where exactly the enemies were. Thankfully, a simple lock-on meant that even though the screen could occasionally look a little messy, your attacks would be landing against your intended enemy.
Ys IX also adds interest beyond other games in this genre. Periodically, the Monstrum team would be tasked with completing horde mode-like defence sections. Wave after wave of enemies appears in an area, trying to destroy a central crystal, while you and the team have to defend against them. It’s not a groundbreaking feature, but it’s certainly a welcome twist to what you would expect from a JRPG.
Where the combat really shined was in the magnificent boss fights. When it’s clear where the enemy is, combined with the superpowers you learn, and the combat skills you acquire, everything comes together. It’s so much fun having accurate controls, enabling you to zip around the enemy and read their move sets, before finding the perfect time to attack, dodge or launch skills. It is immensely satisfying and a lot of fun.
Aside from combat, the game also features the normal RPG tropes you would expect to find in any game: Collectables, skill upgrades, weapon upgrades, consumables to create and use, side quests to unlock and people to talk to. The side quests were occasionally a little trite, but every encounter or person spoke to added weight to the in-game world-building and lore.
Although Ys IX, graphically at least, is not particularly special or detailed, the artwork, especially the costume design, and in-game effects were excellent. These brought much-needed visual excitement and energy to what could have been a very bland-looking world. The cinematics, or the energy in launching some of the character’s special and skill attacks were always fun to experience.
Equally entertaining were the in-game audio and soundtracks. The effects during basic attacks and spells were exciting, as was the guitar-shredding rock music during hard battles. This excellence extended to the convincing voice acting but sadly did not reach the more mundane aspects like footfalls or recreating the hubbub of general life in a town.
The only real disappointment with this game is that the PS5 version has received little in the way of upgrades, with only the increase to 60 fps of any note, though it does include the visual DLC that has been released since launch. Like many games with basic PS5 upgrades, it’s disappointing that the haptic features of the PS5 controller weren’t utilised in any way; not combining the haptics with the superpowers you gain during the story feels like a missed opportunity. Considering the PS4 version is already free if you are part of the PS Plus Extra service, there isn’t any incentive to purchase the PS5 version for subscribers to the service.
I have long been a fan of Nihon Falcom, and rate the Legend of Heroes as my favourite JRPG series. However, the impression that playing Ys IX: Monstrum Nox has left on me is making me re-evaluate that thought. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is terrific fun to play; Every aspect is already on point for a JRPG, but then it surprises you with its interesting gameplay mechanics, unique traversal and horde mode, alongside a great story, kick-ass soundtrack and visual energy. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox would be an excellent gateway for newcomers to get on board with the Ys series, as it’s such a refreshing change of what to expect from a JRPG. With the much-vaunted Ys VIII shortly to arrive with its PS5 version in spring 2023, there is no better time to start discovering the wonderful adventures of Adol Christian.