OUR RATING – 8.5/10
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is an action RPG with dark, gothic themes, developed by Falcom and published by NIS America.
Players take on the role of Adol Christin, who, along with his friend Dogi, happened to arrive at the Prison City of Balduq at the end of a long journey. But things quickly turn for the worse, as Adol is sent to prison for his involvement in several questionable incidents in his past, making him a fugitive wanted by the Romun Empire.
A fortuitous moment allows Adol to escape his confines, which leads him to cross the path of a mysterious woman who curses him with the powers and responsibilities of the individuals known as Monstrums.
As the Crimson King, Adol is forced to fight to defend the city of Balduq from the darkness of the Grimwald Nox, while, at the same time, trying to uncover the truths hidden deep within the city’s imposing countenance.
Ys IX retains much of Ys VIII’s battle system, albeit with a few new additions. For the uninitiated, Ys IX features a fast-paced party based battle system that allows you to quickly change from one party member to another while you relentlessly attack your enemies.
You’ll also have powerful skills at your disposal that you can either use in rapid succession or tie in with your combos, which can be quickly activated by holding and pressing the corresponding face buttons. You won’t be able to use these Skills forever of course, as you’ll be spending an SP meter that can only be replenished by attacking and defeating enemies with your regular attacks.
New to Ys IX is the Boost gauge, which takes Ys VIII’s Extra gauge and makes it a ton more useful. Much like the aforementioned SP meter, you’ll be able to build your Boost gauge simply by attacking and defeating enemies. As soon as you’ve filled up at least half of this gauge, you can activate Boost, which grants you increased HP and SP generation, movement speed, and heightened defense, attack, and skill damage.
Once activated, the Boost gauge will start ticking down until it’s completely emptied. While Boosted, you’ll also be able to unleash a powerful Extra Skill, which deals massive amounts of damage to surrounding enemies. Using your Extra Skill will consume all of your remaining gauge, and given that the damage it deals isn’t affected by it.
Also new to Ys IX is the ability to pull yourself towards your opponent quickly by way of the Crimson King’s Crimson Line, which lets you extend your combos by zipping around the arena with ease. This ability isn’t limited to the Crimson King, as every Monstrums’ special abilities are available for the entire party to use.
One of the best new addition to Ys IX’s battle system has less to do with how you’ll inflict massive amounts of damage to your enemies, but how you can render their attacks powerless. You’ll accomplish this utilizing Flash Move and Flash Guard. You can activate either by dodging or guarding attacks at the last minute respectively, and each Flash ability grants you different perks.
Flash Move will grant you temporary invulnerability and increased mobility, whereas Flash Guard will fill the Boost gauge and briefly guarantee critical attacks. Additionally, activating these Flash abilities will slow your enemies’ attacks down to a crawl, allowing you to take advantage of their momentary weakness. Being able to weave both at the right moment, while smacking your opponents with relentless attacks and Skills, is key to mastering Ys IX’s combat.
The various dungeons you’ll be exploring in Ys IX have a gameplay-centric design that’ll have you exploring every nook and cranny to uncover boatloads of hidden treasure. Ys IX’s dungeons feature tons of rooms that serve as large arenas, with interconnecting sections that feature lots of fun platforming and traversal opportunities.
Traversal is king in Ys IX, and you’ll find yourself gliding across crevasses, running up walls, and even grappling towards hard to reach vistas just to see what’s beyond your reach. The town itself was designed to be completely scalable, and you’ll find various points of interest in the most unexpected of places.
Apart from dungeons, you’ll also encounter monsters while exploring about town, hidden behind black tears in space. Touching these tears will create a small arena in the immediate area and initiate battle with no break in the action whatsoever. Despite that, any opportunity to test your combat proficiency is a good thing.
Setting aside the nuances of its combat, character progression still utilizes the familiar experience based leveling system, and upgrading weapons and armor are still very much the same in this game, requiring you to gather materials needed to increase each gear’s stats.
The Good, the Bad and the Overall Experience
Ys IX feels as though it offers a better balance with how you’re able to obtain upgrade materials that seems less tedious. Despite having an incredible battle system to play around with, there are a few aspects of Ys IX that might affect your enjoyment of it.
For starters, Ys IX contains several references to previous games that are weaved into the story for various reasons. Seeing these references brought up serves as validation for long time Ys fans who have stuck with the series for a long time. But for newcomers, some of these will come and go without any fanfare. That said, knowing these references aren’t required to understand the game’s overarching narrative, only that your experience will be enhanced if you’ve had prior knowledge.
Perhaps the least enjoyable part of Ys IX’s combat has to be its Nox battles, which occur on large scale battlefields that require all of the Monstrums’ participation. These are very much similar to the raid battles in Ys VIII, and these wave-based skirmishes are usually activated when the Nox meter hits at least 100. These battles also occur when areas of the town need to be uncovered, so you tend to run into these more often than you’d think. While I didn’t find these battles all too difficult, I’m indifferent with their implementation.
Ys IX’s level design aesthetic to be a bit wearisome when compared to the locales found in the previous game. Many of the game’s dungeons – especially early on – feature huge, boxy rooms depicted with drab, muted colors, with some that aren’t furnished in any noteworthy way.
It can make traversing some of its dungeons a bit frustrating given that there are only a few ways to tell rooms apart, forcing players to constantly check their map to make sure that they’re headed in the right direction.
This color palette extends to the town of Balduq itself, where you’ll be spending a good portion of the game exploring and interacting with its many residents.
The town’s plentiful spires and landmarks make navigating through its streets and walkways easier, providing noteworthy points of interest that’ll help orient yourself should the need arise. And yet, in hindsight, the choice to depict its locales in this manner might be a clever and minimalist way for Ys IX to get you to empathize with the citizenry’s hardships.
Being a setting that immediately follows the wonderfully colorful and vibrant locales of Ys VIII’s Seiren Island, the Prison City of Balduq stands in stark contrast with its dreary atmosphere and seemingly uninspired aesthetic.
Imagine living in a world that looks like this on a regular basis, with its most noteworthy feature being that of a prison that doesn’t seem to offer a clear way to return to society, if at all. And despite the advances in the town’s facilities thanks to the Romun Empire’s occupation, these features fail to address the underlying societal issues that seep through Balduq’s foundations, much less its encroaching Grimwald Nox problem.
With so many opportunities to explore and be involved in Ys IX’s world, you might even forget that the game also features an engaging and riveting story. Much of the game’s
Chapters are dedicated to getting to know specific Monstrums, allowing us to learn more about their backstories and motivations, as well as giving us a glimpse into how Balduqian society has affected them in some manner.
While this might sound like a predictable story structure for some, being able to know that each Chapter will delve into one of the Monstrums creates a sense of expectation and fulfillment that was lacking in the previous game’s storytelling.
Combining the anticipation of wanting to know which Monstrum we’ll get to meet next, alongside the drip feed of information and clues about the existence of the Monstrums and the Nox, makes for a narrative is, interestingly enough, compelling for an Ys game, one that many will talk about for quite a long time.
Apart from that, there are legitimate concerns from long-time Ys fans that Monstrum Nox might lean heavily towards a darker tone. Thankfully, Ys IX manages to strike a balance within itself, utilizing levity as opportunities to lighten the mood a bit.
And the wonderful cast outside of the Monstrums not only provide worthwhile companionship but also deliver memorable moments that’ll even make you smile, something that no one would expect from a game that evokes such a dismal atmosphere.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is an adventure unlike anything you’ve experienced in the series’ decades-long history, and both newcomers and fans alike will have a great time unravelling its many mysteries.