Ys IX: Monstrum Nox Review

Enjoyable and engaging

Ys truly was a benchmark release for action RPGs. Adventuring since 1987, Adol Christin’s been popping up more frequently in recent years. Following Memories of Celceta’s PS4 re-release last year, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox has finally arrived in the West, bringing us his darkest adventure yet. With most games told like a chronicle in Adol’s life, Ys games are generally self-contained, but within IX, his past exploits are finally catching up to him.

Travelling with fellow adventurer Dogi, Adol arrives at the prison city of Balduq, only to discover the Romun Government placed an arrest warrant on him. Falsely accused of being a spy and causing a military fleet to disappear, he’s immediately thrown into a cell, interrogated over his past adventures. For long-term fans, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how widely these references spread. The interrogator lists a whole rap sheet of incidents for one thing, like how Adol continues losing priceless artifacts. Despite that darker tone, IX retains an excellent sense of humour.

Adol soon breaks free from Balduq Prison and runs into Aprilis during his escape, a mysterious woman that “gifts” him the curse of Monstrum. Granted new abilities and his own title, The Crimson King, Adol finds himself trapped inside Balduq city by a mysterious barrier. Balduq is a place filled with mysteries at its heart, and accordingly, we’ll be tasked with investigating them. Building upon Lacrimosa of DANA’s gameplay, Adol creates a base of operations, gradually teaming up with fellow Monstrums.

Alongside the main story, Balduq is filled with respawning monster portals to take down, hidden treasures, graffiti to uncover, and over time, new areas begin to unlock. There’s plenty of side content included, but unlike VIII, there’s no need to worry about reaching a true ending. If you’re unfamiliar, VIII contained three potential endings, unlocked depending on how many reputation points Adol had. Those were largely earned through side content but, as IX only has one ending, it’s not as essential to complete these extra quests.

It’s so pretty

Compared to the Isle of Seiren’s lost paradise vibe, however, Balduq is a grim setting, oppressive by design and lacking in colour. It’s certainly fitting for a prison city adventure, retaining Nihon Falcom’s signature visual approach, but that isn’t helped by an aging (and soon to be replaced) game engine. Nor does it fully mesh with the colourful main characters. Don’t get me wrong, they’re well designed, but they stand out like a sore thumb by comparison.

Tower defence style raid battles are back from VIII, holding more plot relevance this time than a diversion back to Castaway Village. Adol has a Nox meter that fills up during minor battles, with a “Grimwald Nox” appearing upon reaching 100, initiating these raids with all six Monstrums. Like before, you can reinforce defences and set up additional firepower to assist. Being ranked between S-C once completed, that also offers rewards. Though defence waves proved a bit repetitive, these battles offer necessary improvements, not feeling like such an inconvenience.

Retaining Ys’ real-time combat, Monstrums can form parties of three, each dealing different damage types like slash, strike, and piercing. Enemies can hold different weaknesses to each, so a varied party is wise. Whilst exploring Balduq, most enemies appear within portals, freezing time across the city as the battle unfolds. In dungeons, they appear as you’d normally expect, completely visible, and you can choose to avoid them.

I choose you

Each Monstrum can also use skill attacks, which cost SP but allows you to deal higher damage. Attacking enemies quickly builds up your SP meter, so you don’t need to be stingy. The extra gauge is still present, letting you unleash a set of devastating strikes once filled, depending on who you’ve chosen. For the more defensively minded players, you can dodge roll and parry attacks, briefly slowing downtime with a successful dodge to land attacks.

Outside the Grimwald Nox, The Crimson King has newfound abilities that benefit both battles and exploration. For one, he can “warp” towards set locations which give Ys IX more of a platforming feel. Hawk can glide, White Cat runs up walls, and once they’ve joined your party, Monstrums can share these skills between them, feeling more like a cohesive party than just “Adol And Friends”. Combat and exploration are undoubtedly familiar otherwise, but that’s far from a bad thing.

IX doesn’t rush proceedings either. It takes time introducing us to our fellow Monstrums, even dedicating chapters to a particular member. It’s a much-needed boost for character development, considering previous entries sometimes relegated key development to side content, but it also leaves the main story waiting as a result. By repeating this pattern for different Monstrums, Ys IX can feel rather formulaic and slightly slower-paced, but it’s a nice change of pace otherwise.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is another fine adventure for Adol Christin. Considering previous entries like Lacrimosa of Dana and Memories of Celceta were more light-hearted affairs, IX’s darker themes is a slight departure, but it forges a strong identity of its own. Packed with a fun (if not especially vibrant) setting, enjoyable gameplay and engaging narrative, some smaller issues hold it back, and Nihon Falcom’s game engine is certainly looking tired. Regardless, any long-term Ys fans would do well to pick this one up.