Ys IX: Monstrum Nox

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Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (Nintendo Switch) – Review

For a game series that is older than I am, spanning over three decades of game entries, I’m only now dipping my toes in the wonderful world of Ys. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, is a 3rd person, action RPG, single-player experience developed by legendary developers, Nihon Falcom, with help from Engine Software and PH3 GmbH respectively.

My initial concerns about jumping into the 9th entry of Adol Christin’s story as the main protagonist would be that I wouldn’t have the slightest clue on what I was doing or why. Fortunately, the Ys series is more of a self-contained story experience per game and you can safely jump into any of the games and learn what you need to know at the same time as a veteran of the series would. Thanks, Falcom, very cool! This review will focus on the recent Switch release, as opposed to the PlayStation edition that has been in circulation for some time now.

Straight out of the gate, you are thrown into a daring prison escape with no context other than a mysterious voice saying they hope to meet you again. Multiple tutorials screens pop up to give the basics of player movement before the theme of the game is revealed as you are ambushed by yet another mysterious figure. You might have to get used to running 15 feet to trigger another cut scene, it happens a lot. The mystery hooded women strike you down and inflicts a curse that binds you to the city of Bulduq as a Monstrum. Turns out being cursed isn’t all bad since this very curse also gives you powers to unleash brutal and powerful attacks, but of course, you are also tasked with closing the Nox events and culling the monster invasion plaguing Buldaq to be freed of the curse placed on you and five others.

I quite enjoyed the story, it was easy and approachable, especially for someone new to the series. Early on, you are arrested and interrogated about Adol’s past adventures in a way to subtlety dump a bunch of exposition and establish that this isn’t your first rodeo. The whole experience is spread across 9 chapters and around 30 hours depending on your sense of adventure and exploration. Ys IX will predominantly reside inside the castle walls as you bond and occasionally fight with the other five Monstrum being held against their will alongside you. Each with their own distinct skill set, looks, and personalities to learn from and rotate through the party system to find the best combination that works for you was hardly a chore. While you won’t be blown away by the few twists and turns as the story unfolds its world-building was pivotal to the success of the game and it kept me thoroughly engaged and wanted more.

So if the story and world-building were the appetiser into getting me hooked, then the gameplay and combat system are arguably the main course. With six difficulties to pick from that can be changed on the fly, there is always a challenge to be found and if the challenge was indeed too intense, I could knock it back one and carry on the slaying. For a JRPG, the controls were steamed-lined to keep the action fast and fluid; tap the “X” button to lock on and hammer away with “Y” for basic attacks. Want to deal some more damage? Hold down the “R” and use the face button to unleash SP attacks which are both visually and practically impressive.

Then there is the added finesse of being able to dodge with the “L” button and if timed correctly can slow time to boost those combos. On the surface, it can seem like a button masher but you can quickly be overrun, especially in the Nox wave-based events if you don’t maximise your attack to gain SP back to deal more special attacks in return. All the bright lights and power attacks filling the combat arena and hordes of enemies dropping like flies fuels the endorphins and made me want more as I chased S tier ranks for every combat encounter.

Now, I specifically left the graphics and performance for the end of the review as I wanted to explain why the Ys series can be so engaging. Graphically, the game can feel a little, well, dated. If you had of told me that this was a PS2 port without knowing I would have believed you. The arenas are empty and the flat textured walls around you with weird lighting that cast no shadows or too many seem either rushed or simply forgotten.

On the Switch the frame rates would often dip and it struggled to even come close to the 30 FPS. Characters would just stand there stiff as a board during cut scenes unless they were the focus of said cut scene and were hilariously awkward sometimes. The same can’t be said for the enemies and bosses as they were clearly the focus of the design team and truthfully when you are engaged in rapid-fire combat, that’s all you are focusing on and it oddly works.

All of this is beautifully tied together with an outstanding original soundtrack that never skipped a beat. During your romp through the battlefields, your ears are filled with a battle harmony of intense electric guitar solos and hammering drums. Which is in stark contrast to whimsical and wondrous exploration music with violins aplenty.

As my first game in the Ys series, I now understand the hype and am surprised I haven’t played one of the juggernauts of the JRPG genre that has been steadily releasing games for 30 years!

The Good

  • Yukihiro’s soundtrack
  • Addictive combat
  • Streamline controls 
  • Visually impressive attacks
  • Light hearted story that didn’t take itself too serious

The Bad

  • Frame rate can struggle
  • Background art design is flat and bland
  • Awkward cut scenes
8
___
10

Written by: Shane Fletcher

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