Despite having a pretty dedicated fanbase and some extremely beloved games, the Ys series is one that I’ve somehow managed to miss all the way up until this latest entry, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox. After rolling credits on the Monstrum’s adventure, I’m both incredibly interested in what comes next, and curious to go back and see what I’ve missed.
As the ninth game in the mainline series, you might be worried about missing a whole lot of background information and canon, but thankfully that’s not the case. There are references to previous games that are sure to keep long-term fans happy, but all you really need to know is that Adol Christin is a famed adventurer who’s known for shipwrecks and losing all of his equipment after every game. I’ve heard from fans of the series that there’s a lot more emotional impact if you’ve played the previous games, but not having experienced the rest of the series didn’t set me back too far.
As the game begins, we see that Adol has been imprisoned in the city of Balduq. During an escape attempt he is shot with a bullet by the mysterious figure Aprillis, which leaves him as a monstrum with brand new abilities. These abilities come with the curse of having to fight mysterious monsters known as Lemures, as well as not being able to leave the city. Adol must work with the other Monstrums to break the curse and unite them as a team so he can continue on adventuring.
The real heart of the story is the relationship between the Monstrums. Each of them are very different and all have different motivations and uses of their powers. I liked that each of them were essentially using their powers for their own good before Adol comes along, and it’s a lot of fun to see how they develop over the course of the game. Each Monstrum has their identity hidden whenever they transform, so a lot of the fun is figuring out who each member really is. I’m not sure how similar Monstrum Nox’s main storyline is to the other titles in the series, but I would say that the story is well-told and full of enough twists and turns to make going through the whole story worthwhile.
Ys IX Monstrum Nox Review – A Lot of Character
Despite having little spoken dialogue, I was impressed with just how much character Adol is given. You often get to choose his responses to conversations, but I always felt like he was a pretty set character with his own arc. There were times where I wished that his responses were voiced, but I don’t think it takes away from his character at all. The surrounding cast are just as important and they all do a stand-out job as well.
With all of the hidden identities and powers, the best way to think about Ys IX is that it’s basically a superhero story set in a fantastical land. There were so many moments where I could have sworn the Monstrums were stand-ins for the Power Rangers, and that honestly really worked for me. There’s more depth as the story goes on, but it was this hook that kept my interest throughout the game.
One of the things that I’d heard about the Ys series before playing this entry is how colourful it can be, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw the washed-out gothic vibes of Balduq. This is very purposeful, but it still comes as a bit of a shock when you’re picturing vibrant islands. It works well with the theming of the game and presenting to you that Adol is stuck for possibly the first time in his life. You’ll get to know Balduq very well as the adventure is pretty much stuck within its big city walls and secret caverns and dungeons.
Overall I was pretty satisfied with the presentation of Ys IX. The music and designs are stellar throughout, even if the engine and graphics feel like they’re lagging behind somewhat. You can tell that the engine is a little bit dated now with some odd animations and poor draw distances. I also suffered some crashes throughout my playtime that caused me to get stuck after a raid battle four times in a row, although this thankfully subsided after a patch. The number of times it happened before that was a bit concerning though, and kept me slightly on edge throughout my playthrough.
Ys IX Monstrum Nox Review – An Ideal Action RPG
As much as I loved the story and characters of Ys IX, the thing that really kept me hooked throughout my 40 hour playtime is its gameplay. I’d heard rumbles of how good the action RPG combat was, and I’m very happy to report that it’s as great as I’d heard. This is one of my favourite combat systems since Kingdom Hearts 2, which is very big praise considering that’s one of my all time favorite games. It’s not incredibly advanced by any means, but it sucks you in and feels really great to do.
That comparison isn’t completely random either, since Ys IX is also a real-time action RPG with two party members that just feels great to play. Adol and the other Monstrums are all incredibly strong and seem to tear enemies apart with ease, which is a ton of fun to do. Combat is kept interesting thanks to the flash guard and dodge abilities that give you bonuses for reacting to enemy attacks on time. The range of abilities that each Monstrum has makes them all feel distinct from one another, leading to some really fun team combinations. I was constantly unlocking and powering up each of my characters, which made combat always feel worthwhile even towards the end of my adventure.
Monstrum Nox mixes things up a little bit by introducing raid battles in the form of the Grimwald Nox events that see you fighting alongside all of the other monstrums rather than having them in a party with you. These battles are some of the most challenging and fun moments in the game, especially as you get stronger and start taking out Lemures left and right. My playthrough was done on the default normal difficulty, but I’d personally recommend jumping up to hard difficulty as soon as you can. Ys IX isn’t too easy by any means, but I think you get a lot more out of it if you’re actively needing to time your dodges and blocks to get through.
Funnily enough, the first point of comparison I have for how Ys IX: Monstrum Nox plays is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan. For all five of you out there who played that underrated game, the movement, attacks, dodges and use of cooldown-based special moves really gave me a similar feeling and that’s absolutely a good thing.
One of my favourite elements of Ys IX and something that makes playing through the 40 hour journey a breeze is how great movement feels. As you get more party members, you get more and more movement options like gliding and running up walls that make you feel like a genuine superhero at times. This makes the open-world sections of the game a ton of fun to just explore and really helps Balduq come into its own. There are a few things that make it falter, such as the wall-running being a bit spotty, but it’s remarkable how fluid the cast are to control.
Ys IX Monstrum Nox Review – A World of Exploration
Speaking of the open-world, Balduq is full of things to find and areas to explore which combines really well with the number of movement options you’re given. The map slowly expands as you get further into the game, and the locations are mostly very interesting. Saying that, there are times when the singular setting can make things feel a little stale. That combined with the formulaic pattern of unlocking one party member per chapter and then doing a dungeon can make the adventure feel a little same-y throughout. By the time I’d unlocked the final party member, I was a little bit sick of the formula and wanted some sort of change up.
Another annoyance I had with the game was the fact that you basically have to complete the side missions in order to unlock new areas and progress the main story. The side missions are all okay and not too long, but it didn’t help the pacing issues when I’d have to go around the map completing them every chapter. Pacing really is my only substantial issue with Ys IX, which is weird considering it’s not actually too long of a game.
By the end of my adventure I almost felt embarrassed that I’d missed out on the Ys franchise for so long. It has some pacing and technical issues, but the loveable characters, intriguing story and fantastic combat and movement far exceeded my expectations and made me want to experience everything I’ve missed. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox has made me a Ys fan and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Ys IX Monstrum Nox review copy provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.