Despite being one of the longest-running JRPG series in existence, the Ys franchise is still one that’s often looked over. That said, it’s also refreshing to know that Ys IX marks the first time more than two mainline Ys games graced the same home platform. It’s even more refreshing to know that the game doesn’t start with its main character getting shipwrecked.
What Is It?
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox takes place after the events of Ys Seven (Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana predates both these games for some reason or another), making it the latest entry in the mainline Ys timeline. The game begins when the the ever-so-adventurous Adol Christin and his brawny sidekick Dogi arrive at the front gate of the castletown of Balduq where they are blocked entry and questioned by the authorities. Adol then ends up being tried for “crimes” he’s committed in virtually every game before this one, resulting in him being locked up in Balduq Prison.
In attempting to flee the prison, Adol bumps into a mysterious cloaked woman named Aprillis who finds Adol intriguing and casts a spell to alter his appearance. Now known as the Crimson King, Adol is gifted with a double jump and the ability to warp onto ledges at heights otherwise unreachable and makes his escape with his newfound abilities.
As he seeks out Dogi upon arriving in Balduq proper, Adol notices he’s a wanted man and is transported seemingly to another dimension alongside others who share his strange Crimson King-like appearance, and they’re all forced to rid the area of enemies before being teleported back to Balduq. It’s here where Adol learns that he’s a Monstrum, a wanted warrior with superhuman abilities but can’t leave Balduq as a result of the curse.
Why Should I Care?
As you can undoubtedly tell, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox has a lot to unpack just within the first chapter alone, and while there’s a lot of convolution with the plot, it’s still a breath of fresh air knowing that the game doesn’t begin with Adol and Dogi on a sinking ship nor does it feature Adol having a bad case of amnesia as we’ve seen in so many Ys games.
There’s no deserted island in Ys IX. The entire game takes place in the castle city of Balduq. Unfortunately, you’re only allowed in certain parts of the city, and you’ll eventually expand your access while progressing through the game, completing the various Grimwald Nox sequences. What’s a Grimwald Nox? We’ll get there. The bottom line is Balduq is a big place, and you’ll be finding everything from shops, to landmarks, to hidden treasure and other items all for the sake of adventure, and a lot of these places and things to discover will require more than just the ability to double jump to uncover everything.
Let’s get back to the fixation of monstrums. This is what truly sets Ys IX apart from the rest of the series, and it actually borrows a lot from the previous title. Nearly half the story in Ys VIII was also told through the eyes of Dana, whose segments were more pseudo-platform driven in more complex methods of exploration unlocked throughout the story. It’s just like that in Ys IX, except it’s a little more involved.
As stated earlier, as the Crimson King, Adol has the ability to double jump and warp onto marked ledges you otherwise wouldn’t get to without those abilities. You eventually expand this repertoire of moves when recruiting more monstrums throughout Balduq. You’ll meet the White Cat who can run up walls, the Feral Hawk who can glide over long distances after a jump, the Doll who can see things normal people can’t with her trained eye, the Raging Bull who packs a powerful punch, and the Renegade who can turn into a shadow and traverse under tiny crevices. Each of these abilities, which the game calls “gifts,” can be done for a set amount of time determined by your Gift Gauge, which serves the same purpose as the Stamina Gauge from Breath of the Wild. You’ll spend five chapters finding each member of your party, and adding these new abilities to your exploration arsenal really does a good job at making the parts of the game where you’re not dungeon crawling that much more interesting. Traditional JRPGs don’t usually give you the ability to jump much less perform any of these gifts, so it definitely adds to the experience.
The problem is because you can’t leave town, it’s really easy to get bored with the city’s surroundings. Throw in the fact that you’re limited to various sections of town when you’re starting out, and things get even more dull. To open the game up more, you have to complete a Grimwald Nox sequence, which are unlocked naturally through the story and by doing the game’s various sidequests. Once you meet the requirements, a portal shows up in front of the barrier blocking a part of the city, and it’s here where you engage with the Grimwald Nox.
The Grimwald Nox is essentially a tower defense minigame that takes place in another dimension. If you’ve played Ys VIII and remember the interception raids that plagued Castaway Village, this is the exact same thing. This time, instead of protecting Castaway Village, you’re protecting the citizens of Balduq. Succeed in a Grimwald Nox and as stated, you’ll unlock more parts of the map to explore along with other loot. I also have to mention that before and after every Grimwald Nox, there’s a poorly rendered scene featuring Aprilis saying the same thing over and over each time you do a Grimwald Nox. It’s fun seeing it once or twice, but it really should stop there.
To make these Grimwald Nox efforts easier, you have to recruit NPCs to your cause at the Dandelion, a tavern that also doubles as the Monstrum’s hideout. The Dandelion serves the same purpose Castaway Village did on Seiren Island in Ys VIII. The Dandelion eventually serves as your hub and allows you to buy equipment and supplies there rather than having to venture out to the city in search of the right vendor, even with a rather robust quick travel system, so it definitely serves its use.
The dungeons are on queue with what Falcom has done in the past with other Ys games, Tokyo Xanadu, and the Trails games, so there isn’t much to say about them. Since you’ll spend most of the time in each chapter using a new monstrum, it’s pretty cool using your new moves to help with dungeon traversal, so if anything, it just goes to show how much different and more interesting dungeon crawling can be with more than just the ability to run and jump. For the most part, the dungeons are pretty linear with the unbeaten path leading to a treasure chest or other loot. The real challenge is in completely exploring every nook and cranny, and Falcom isn’t stingy with their rewards in that area.
Moving over to combat, Ys IX‘s hack-and-slash action-based battle system is largely unchanged from Ys VIII. It still supports up to parties of three, where you can use the Circle button to use another member of your party. The X button now serves as a jump so you can unleash air combos in addition to your laundry list of Skills that you’ll learn throughout the game by setting them to R1 and a face button. L1 serves as a dodge button and if you dodge at the right time, you’ll slow down time allowing you to get more hits in.
As a whole, the battle system is extremely responsive and intuitive, and it’s satisfying as ever to kill enemies, but eventually things get crazy enough for the fights to feel like a musou game. Towards the end of the story, I found myself hardly even watching the enemies anymore as too many were appearing, and I’d use the same skill over and over to knock everyone into oblivion. It’s also worth noting that I was playing on hard mode and didn’t find things all that difficult, though I did spam healing items a fair bit. There was also a bit of noticeable slowdown from time to time, making the experience a little less engaging however.
Speaking of noticeable slowdown, I also noticed frames skipping pretty frequently, but I can’t really pinpoint where they happen. That said, I also had the game crash on me on more than a few occasions, including during this required cutscene in Chapter 5 that I unfortunately had to skip–luckily it was trivial. I did play the game on PS5, so I don’t know if the engine was just going too fast for the PS4 game to catch up, but who knows? I asked NISA about it and they didn’t have any comments aside from a patch being released soon, but there was no indication as to whether that’s going to be a launch day patch or not.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
When Ys IX was first announced, I thought it would take the series into a dark place with the story and while it does delve into darker themes especially towards the end, it was still a happy-go-lucky Ys game. Even so, I’d be remiss to not reiterate how dull it was to be limited to the Balduq city walls, and it just didn’t feel as fun as it was to explore Seiren Island. JRPGs, especially ones developed by Falcom, are typically rich in their environmental exploration. Ys IX lacks a little in that department, and that’s the main contributor to the gloomy feel of this roughly 35-hour story.
At its core, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a real shot in the arm as far as livening up the formula, and while Falcom accomplished the mission of making Ys’ non-combat gameplay more exciting, the setting of Balduq left much to be desired–maybe it’s just me being tired of having to quarantine after doing it virtually all of 2020, but it can’t really feel good for Adol either. This isn’t to say the game is bad by any means… it’s really good, but it definitely could’ve been so much more.