Ys IX: Monstrum Nox Review – The Night Is Dark And Full Of Terrors
Ys IX: Monstrum NoxFebruary 2nd, 2021
Adol Christin, adventurer extraordinaire, doesn't know how to sit still. His unquenchable thirst for adventure brought him all over the known world and made him discover forgotten secrets while getting into all sorts of troubles. Fans of the series have loved getting out of all these troubles while in Adol's shoes, and they will love doing so once again in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox. The latest entry in the series takes everything that made Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana such a great game and brings it to new heights.
This time around, Adol Christin travels to the ancient city of Balduq in Gllia together with his long-time friend Dogi. His stay in the city, however, doesn't stay very pleasant for long: right at the city gates, Adol gets recognized by Warden Belger, a Romun Imperial soldier who serves as the head warden of Balduq Prison. As fans of the series already known, Adol isn't particularly loved by the Romun Empire, often ending up getting in their way, and, as such, he is arrested for his involvement in several incidents.
Adol's arrest isn't the worst thing that happens to the legendary red-haired adventurer during his stay in Balduq. Shortly after his escape from the mysterious Balduq prison, which seems to hold quite a few secrets, Adol is cursed by the mysterious Aprilis, turning him into a Monstrum, a powerful half-human, half-monster being that has the power to see and defeat the Lemures, weird creatures that infest the city of Balduq and bring forth the Grimwald Nox, an ancient battle that is repeating itself since time immemorial. Trapped in Balduq by the Monstrum curse, Adol will have to team up with the other Monstrums to discover the origins of the curse itself, which has deep ties to the city and its most ancient history.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox's story is definitely among the best features the game has to offer. As the most recent entries in the series starting from Ys Seven, Monstrum Nox features a much bigger focus on story and character development than the first six entries in the series, taking a page from the other popular Falcom series, the Trails series. This results in an extremely enjoyable adventure that makes players care about not only the main characters but also the many supporting characters that help Adol and the Monstrum fight their battle against the Lemures and the curse.
Even not counting the nice character development, the Ys IX: Monstrum Nox story is extremely engaging, thanks to its very good pacing, featuring a great mix of light-hearted and more serious events that balance each other out nicely while providing the right amount of mystery to keep players engaged. The great pacing and the slightly short length are a major improvement over Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, which did drag a little towards the end.
Even if you are not interested in the story, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox provides plenty of other good reasons to play the game. The basic gameplay formula hasn't changed much over Lacrimosa of Dana, still featuring a somewhat straightforward fast-faced action role-playing game combat, massive bosses and multiple dungeons to explore with some very simple puzzles, but some basic tweaks and gameplay mechanics bring the experience to new heights.
Exploration and traversal have been massively improved over the previous entry in the series thanks to the introduction of the Gifts, special powers unique to each of the playable Monstrums that allow them to warp to specific points with Crimson Line, discover hidden objects with Third Eye, unleash a charged attack with Valkyrie Hammer and more. Each and every location in the game has been designed around these special powers, resulting in a new verticality that has never been seen before in the series. The city of Balduq, in particular, features hidden items that can only be obtained by using the proper Gift, something that makes exploration feel more rewarding than ever.
Combat, on the other hand, hasn't seen as many changes. Not that they were needed, to be honest, as the party system originally introduced in the series by Ys Seven still feels great to this day. Just like in the most recent entries in the series, up to three characters can be brought on the field, one controlled by the player and the other two by the AI. All characters come with different attack attributes- Slash, Strike, and Pierce - that makes their attack more effective against certain enemies. While this felt a little limiting in past games, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox introduces three special accessories that can alter the attack attribute of any character, giving you more freedom in choosing your party composition.
All of the six playable Monstrums in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox come with their own unique moveset featuring basic combo attacks and Skills, special techniques that require SP to be performed. Compared to past entries in the series, there are fewer skills, and even their combo potential feels a little lower. Still, many of the skills flow great together, allowing players to come up with some juggling combos that feel very satisfying to pull off.
Among the shared maneuvers that all party members can perform are the now-signature Flash Move and Flash Guard maneuvers. The first allows players to slow down time and perform skills and attacks with little to no delay if an enemy attack is dodged at the right time. Flash Guard, on the other hand, is a perfectly timed guard that increases the Boost Gauge significantly while granting guaranteed critical hits for a short amount of time. Pulling both off is actually easier than ever, so they are possibly an even more important part of the moveset. The combat pace is also slightly faster than in Lacrimosa of Dana, so any easy-to-use defensive option is rather welcome.
Unfortunately, the game doesn't incentivize players to learn the intricacies of the combat system if they are not playing at Nightmare or above. The Normal and Hard difficulty levels are extremely easy not only for Ys veterans but also for those with some experience in action games. Mastery of Flash Move, Flash Guard and wise usage of Boost Mode, a temporary powered-up state that also unlocks a powerful Extra Skill, are absolutely not needed at Normal mode, and it is a shame, as this makes combat turn pretty much into a button-mashing fest, also considering that you can bring an almost unlimited supply of healing items.
Difficulty in general doesn't seem to be well-balanced this time around. If you are not having any trouble in dungeons at Nightmare and above, you may be forced to tune down the difficulty a little during the Grimwald Nox sequences. These sequences are similar to the tower-defense sections of Ys VII: Lacrimosa of Dana, pitting Adol and his companions against multiple waves of enemies that must be defeated while protecting the Sphene, a giant object placed on the field. Due to the bad AI, the Sphene is often left undefended, resulting in multiple defeats that can get a little frustrating. Also, the huge amount of enemies on screen makes it hard to avoid all enemy attacks. One variation of the Grimwald Nox sequence is one that sees players destroy a set number of crystals scattered around the battlefield, so at the very least there is some variation, although quite small.
What can potentially make the Grimwald Nox sequences more annoying is the fact that they are required to unlock additional areas on the map and move the story forward. At the start of each chapter, the Monstrums will have to investigate further into the curse and current happenings, and need to break the barriers placed around the city by clearing a Grimwald Nox. The reward is more occasions to use the extremely fun Monstrum Gifts, so at least there is something that make up for the frustration one may feel every now and then in the Grimwald Nox.
While these tower-defense sequences can feel a little out of place, they are at least tied to the story and characters. Not only because they are related to the mysterious story of the city of Balduq, but also because you will receive the help of the many NPCs that will join the Monstrums at their hideout-turned-bar Dandelion. These NPCs also receive a decent amount of development via quests, which must be completed to unlock the Grimwald Nox that must be, in turn, completed to move the story forward. All these mechanics do play well with each other, making for a tight progression system that creates a game flow that is satisfying enough.
One area where Ys IX: Monstrum Nox definitely does not deliver are the visuals. Even as a PlayStation 4 title, the game looks somewhat dated: character and monster models are ok but nothing more, and the drab colors and somewhat repetitive visual design make the game look slightly worse than its predecessor. The dated visuals, at least, let the game run at 60 FPS on PlayStation 5 with pretty much no drop. The same cannot be said about the game running on PlayStation 4, as the base old-gen console struggles to keep a steady 60 FPS, especially in the more open areas like the city of Balduq.
The soundtrack is always a highlight in the Ys series, but unfortunately, it is a little hit-and-miss in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox. There are a few standout pieces, to be sure, but there are also some very generic tracks that do not feel they belong in the series. English voice acting is mostly adequate, with solid performances for the main cast and most NPCs. It's nothing stellar, but it gets the job done. Thankfully, the localization is solid right from the get-go, and this helps to make dialogues feel natural.
While Ys IX: Monstrum Nox doesn't look or feel as vibrant as its predecessor, it's a slightly better game thanks to refined exploration and a more interesting story. If you have loved Lacrimosa of Dana, you will definitely love Monstrum Nox as well. If you did not, however, the ninth entry in the series by Falcom will not turn you into a fan: despite the changes, the game doesn't play all that differently from the most recent entries in the series.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5. Review code provided by the publisher.
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Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a more than worthy new entry in the series, thanks to its gripping story, great exploration mechanics, solid combat, and a very tight pace that keeps players interested and leaves them hungering for more. The low difficulty level, dated visuals, and a hit-and-miss soundtrack impact the experience slightly but in no way tarnish the quality of the game, which is, everything considered, even slightly better than its excellent predecessor.
- Engaging story
- Solid combat
- Great exploration mechanics
- Excellent pacing
- Low challenge level
- Dated visuals
- Hit-and-miss soundtrack
- Uneven performance on base PlayStation 4