Ever since its inception in 1987, Ys Series protagonist Adol Christin has always been haunted by many disasters and the ninth instalment is no different. And while he’s not going to be stranded in an island nor getting amnesia this time around, getting locked up in prison before he can even set foot in the city is equally devastating. So with that premise and the usual trope it’s bound to follow, how does the series make itself relevant in the world of modern RPGs 34 years later? Let’s find out.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox delivers an intricate balance of quick and fast-paced hack n’ slash gameplay that is both addictive as it is engaging which all things considered, blends really well with the dark and mysterious feel of its characters and overarching story. But while its first few minutes came out a bit weak with the generic tone of its narrative, what recaptured my attention here is its mysterious and dual perspective gameplay where you play two sides of the story that builds up as you progress.
From one side you’re being the generic red haired Adol that just escaped the prison only to be cursed by a woman dressed in black garb and turned into a Monstrum. A being with inhuman powers and a gothic-themed superhero costume change. But just like Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility” and this is enforced with an iron will since you along with your fellow monstrums will be summoned to fight beasts in another sort of dimension called the Grimwald Nox. And in case it’s not mentioned in the Monstrum Manual, you’re not allowed to leave the city as per your contract.
And on one end, you’re also Adol the red haired adventurer but instead of a whole city to explore and a gothic-themed superhero costume, you’re equipped with a torn cape and the most generic of outfits while still being locked up in prison. Now while I don’t want to reveal too much of the story, what I will say is that this sort of mystery between the two perspectives become the general theme moving forward which grabbed my attention even more. Each chapter never reveals too much nor too little so at the end of each chapter, you always feel like one step closer to the truth.
The thirty-hour time sink with its overall narrative is also well-written enough to keep you invested in both the theme and its lovable and diverse characters that goes into greater detail as each chapter introduces a new character while also diving into their lives. Even what would often seem like side quests becomes a way to not only introduce new characters to help you in your battle in the Nox but to expand on the city-wide adventure and narrative. Though it still does have a bit of a tendency to have the generic quests every now and then like trying to catch butterflies for a kid in the slums among others.
Nihon Falcom has honestly made such a great impact to the series’ latest instalment with its carefully handcrafted world that while it might look muddy and often times devoid of colorful tones to make the world interesting to look at, the added verticality and unique traversal mechanics you get along the way kind of makes up for it in the long run. From the Crimson King’s Crimson Line that lets him grapple onto enemies or specific places alike to Black Cat’s ability to run up walls or the Feral Hawk’s gliding ability, these sorts of abilities once unlocked adds an extra layer of depth to its world and exploration while also just letting you have fun as you go from point A to point B while getting collectibles and other chests scattered throughout the world.
The gameplay while not exactly a shining beacon of ingenuity is still a timeless classic and tested formula for the series that could never go wrong. There’s the simple mechanics of a one button attack combo, a jump, a character switch, a dodge and guard button while also having four slots for skills per character. This time however you also have access to the Crimson King’s Crimson Line so you can latch on to an enemy when you’re locked on to it to close distances. It’s a timeless classic that never grows old thanks to its butter smooth gameplay and addictive mechanics that lets you flash move (dodge) or flash guard when doing the moves at the very last second which adds to the dopamine-infused rewards system.
Its RPG-mechanics also elevate the gameplay even more with items having all sorts of bonuses for all you stat-hungry roleplayers. Items like increased crit rate or evade rate makes for a pretty fun playstyle when Black Cat can automatically dodge an attack at times without having to do anything to avoid it or having increased skill damage paired with the lower SP cost of skills for Renegade’s long range pokes and magical abilities.
And getting into a fight is as quick as it is fun. While most will be done outside the comforts of the city and more in its dungeon-based nooks and crannies, you also get to do base defense-styled challenges or lacrima collecting in what’s called miasma vortexes which you then get teleported into Grimwald Nox and completing these challenges will unlock new areas or progress the story. It’s a fun way to let loose and get away from the boss fights and dungeon-crawling but the lack of variety in these challenges can sometimes cripple the fun when you only get two types of challenges. This is especially painful when lacrima collecting doesn’t particularly become fun and more like a chore when you can just ignore the monsters and focus on the collection process.
Visually, it’s a pretty good looking game that while it doesn’t scream next-gen still just has enough personality while being a game that knows its target market. Despite its lackluster showing of its overall world design, characters are pretty well-made and each area still holds some sort of charm. However the real saving grace here is the great music that gets you into the groove of adventure. Voice acting is also pretty good while also having support for dual audio. Lastly, I have to include this because no matter how well-made you think the control schemes are, I still always feel like I want options and Ys IX provides just that. Having customizable control schemes in a console game is like the difference of a fun and a slightly better game to me which I really appreciate.
In a nutshell, Ys IX technically didn’t do any major changes that made itself known. There’s no boundaries that got pushed nor any one of a kind mechanics being introduced. But is it a good game? Definitely! What the game has is its true and tested formula for the series that makes it a game worth paying for. The fast-paced and rewarding gameplay is addictive while the story and its characters are both engaging in its own right. And while it’s visual and design with the world can be a bit monochromatic and muddy, the character design, fun traversal mechanics and its music makes up for it in spades. Monstrum Nox delivers a compact yet fun-filled adventure worth having.
This review is based on the Playstation version of the game and can be purchased here for £49.99.
Developers: Nihon Falcom, Engine Software, PH3 GmbH
Publishers: Nihon Falcom, Nippon Ichi Software, NIS America
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