Adol Christin is back, and this time he’s… in prison?! In the newest entry in the Ys series, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, the follow-up to the well-received Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, Adol sets on a new adventure. After a series of unfortunate events, he begins investigating supernatural events in his new surroundings.
Our adventuring protagonist finds himself in Balduq, where he barely has time to get a glimpse of the sights before he’s slung into a jail cell for his role in suspicious activities throughout his adventuring career. Adol’s incarceration doesn’t last long as he promptly breaks out and the real adventure begins.
Adol meets a strange woman named Aprillis who forceably recruits him into her group of fighters known as Monstrum. Aprillis leads the Monstrum band in fighting monsters from another realm. Imbued with the power of the Monstrum, Adol finds he cannot move past the city boundaries, so he has no choice but to fight. As Adol fights on behalf of Aprillis, he uncovers the many secrets of Balduq along the way.
Of course, it’s not all about Adol. He has an amazing cast of supporting characters, and Ys fans see the return of Adol’s beefy companion, Dogi. The rest of the Monstrum gang is a colourful cast of characters, a personal favorite being Hawk, but there isn’t a dull one among the bunch. Even the less interesting ones have something endearing or likeable about them, and it’s really hard to outright dislike any of the Monstrum, which speaks to the wonderful writing and characterization of the game.
There’s a lot to the background story thrown at you, especially in the opening hours of the game. It can feel a little heavy on the exposition as it covers concepts and lore that even the most seasoned Ys player will not be familiar with.
While Ys IX: Monstrum Nox works as a standalone game, there’s so many references and callbacks to other games and events that it does feel like you’re missing out by not knowing the intricacies of the plot and history of the game.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is split into a few key sections of gameplay. Adol is trying to crack a secret in Balduq and must fight as part of the Monstrum group he is now a part of. As Adol investigates Balduq and its suspicious prison, there are a lot of enemy-infested dungeons to explore. The layouts of these dungeons can often be like a puzzle, but it’s a lot of fun to zip through them and give enemies a pasting as you go.
The Monstrum are tasked with fighting in the Grimwald Nox, a sort of otherworldly dimension they’re transported to in order to fight supernatural-esque enemies. This part of the game has the Monstrum defending a pillar through waves of attacks from enemies. As the game progresses, there are little challenges to achieve during the Grimwald Nox sections of the game, which was a really interesting and fun dynamic, though a little chaotic when you still have the enemies to fight and the health of the pillar to keep an eye on.
Recruiting other Monstrum to your party gives access to new skills, or “gifts”, which are useful for exploration. The world of Balduq is packed and offers a lot of potential for squeezing out all that Monstrum Nox can offer. Discovering things like graffiti and points of interest mean you can report in with certain characters and reap the rewards. There are also a litany of chests to unlock throughout the city, which will stock up your inventory nicely, and sometimes provide interesting and rare items. Of course, no JRPG would be anything without a side quest, and Monstrum Nox has side quests in bundles. Balduq really is a whole world to explore but could have benefitted from some different environments as the sight of stone buildings does get tiring after a while.
Controlling Adol, or one of the rest of the gang of Monstrums if you choose to change the primary character, can be very unintuitive. The camera feels very uncontrollable and totally unpredictable. Sometimes it shows the heart of the action, sometimes it will flip round and show a wall for no given reason. Adjusting the settings didn’t seem to have a positive effect, and the camera controls hamper enjoyment of the game. There are points where you must move very precisely, but the game won’t allow you to do so. For some, that may lead to a lot of frustration from redoing the same movements over and over again.
Combat in Monstrum Nox is pretty enjoyable for the most part. As characters level up and learn new skills, you can allocate four moves to shortcut buttons. Those moves pack a heavier punch than the usual Y button attack. There’s something really satisfying about laying hit-on-hit on your foes. As more mechanics come into play, like attack effectivity and status ailments, it becomes a lot more tactical. As such, it feels less like mindless button mashing and more like something you have to think about. Battle sequences can feel a little frantic, especially with multiple enemies, but locking on with the X button helps to keep some semblance of order and counteracts the poor camera tracking. It’s a real shame that such issues plague the action. Paired with performance issues, it really ruins what could easily have been the best part of Monstrum Nox.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox feels challenging in the right ways. Every task feels achievable but not easy. There’s a great balance between combat being a breeze and being fun and engaging. There are moments where it’ll feel like you should be able to reach somewhere or do something, but the key is not to try and achieve too much too soon. Things do become a lot more accessible as time goes on and areas open up. You unlock a variety of skills and party members join.
The biggest problem with Monstrum Nox is with the game’s struggle to maintain a consistent and playable framerate. If there are multiple enemies on screen at once, the framerate drops. Loading a new scene? The framerate drops. It really takes the immersion out of an otherwise enjoyable game, and leads to a lot of frustration especially in heavy battle sequences when action lags behind.
Though it falls a little flat in places, the soundtrack is mostly a good accompaniment to the game. It provides a high-octane pace but can pack a real emotional punch bringing the energy down for heartfelt and dramatic moments. After a while, however, the music does feel like it blends into the background, feeling very similar throughout with no stand-out tracks.
Though not all of the lines are voice acted, there are some points of speech. The voice acting is top tier, with lots of well known and popular cast members — Bryce Papenbrook, Erika Harlacher, and Cristina Valenzuela, to name a few. The cast do a great job at bringing the wonderful cast to life, save for our mostly silent protagonist.
Performance issues prevent Ys IX: Monstrum Nox from being a truly great game. As an action JRPG, the scenes aren’t polished enough. Combined with the framerate issues throughout the game, it often feels like battle sequences are an inconvenience. It’s a good thing the story of Monstrum Nox has a lot to offer in terms of its plot and provides an engaging and interesting story. As enjoyable as Monstrum Nox is, it does have a lot of technical issues that prevent it from being an instant classic and not one you’re likely to want to play again in a hurry, if at all.
Final score: 7/10.