Ys IX Monstrum Nox Review: The Goth JRPG

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is an Action RPG developed by Nihon Falcom and published by NISA. It was released for the PlayStation 4 in February 2021 and later for the PC, Stadia, and Nintendo Switch in July 2021. I played the Nintendo Switch version.

Ys VIII really impressed me last year with its slick combat, compelling world, and unique story. After playing it, I promised myself that I’d check out the rest of the games in the series before Ys IX released. Well… time got away from me, and I never got around to it. I decided to jump into Ys IX anyway. Whereas Ys VIII was an ideal summer-themed RPG, this one just begs to be reviewed in October.

As in all Ys games (that’s pronounced “ees”), you play as the red-haired adventurer Adol. As he travels around the world, he and Dogi arrive in the massive prison city of Balduq. The local authorities seize Adol and confine him in the prison, accusing him of sabotage against the Romun Empire. As Adol tries to escape the prison, he meets the mysterious woman Aprilis, who curses Adol into becoming a Monstrum. The Monstrums are basically a group of Goth vigilante heroes, only instead of fighting crime, they fight the invisible monsters living in the city. Adol is conscripted into helping them break the curse and rid the city of these monsters.

As far as visual style goes, Ys IX is almost the complete opposite of Ys VIII – while the previous game took place on a colorful tropical island, this game takes place in a dingy city. There are still plenty of interesting sights to see, but the majority of the time you’ll be looking at grey walls and black monsters. The city’s covered in neutral tones. This style works for the setting and for the darker story, but I do prefer Ys VIII‘s lush jungle over IX‘s depressing metropolis.

As a trade-off, the city of Balduq is one massive open world. Each Monstrum in your party has a different special ability that helps you move around the city – Adol (whose Monstrum name is The Crimson King) can hookshot to specific locations on rooftops; The White Cat can run up walls, and Hawk can glide short distances. Balduq offers a lot of verticality that I don’t typically see in many open-world games. I guess the closest game I can compare it to is Insomniac’s Spider-Man from 2018, except you can do a lot more than just swinging — you can climb, glide, and zipline all around the city. Balduq is filled with hidden treasure chests and collectibles that can help improve your gear, increase your stats, or complete quests. I really enjoyed unlocking more abilities with each party member and seeing they new ways I could explore the city.

Speaking of party members, this motley crew is probably one of my favorites in a JRPG. You have a timid merchant’s daughter, a wheelchair-bound know-it-all, an arena-fighting berserker lady, and a doll. Yes, you read that right — one of your party members is an enchanted sentient doll. Don’t worry, it’s not as creepy as it sounds; she’s actually rather adorable. She’s very polite, yet does not understand human emotions. They all have alter-ego transformations when in Monstrum form, and when they turn back into their normal forms, it’s always a delight to suddenly see a short doll talking among them.

The plot surprised me at several moments. The prison of Balduq, along with the city’s citizens, have many secrets that kept me intrigued. I often tried to guess what the twist would be, and I was often wrong. The game knew how to deliver genuine surprises that also made sense. Sometimes JRPGs try to give you a twist, but fail to keep the story consistent and understandable. I have to commend Ys IX for avoiding those pitfalls and, like its predecessor, create a unique story.

The combat in Ys IX is just as fluid as the previous game. In fact, most of the basic structure is unchanged. You control one character while the AI handles the other 2 in your active party. You have basic attacks as well as special attacks that can be used with the R button + any of the face buttons. The more you level up, the more skills you unlock. Each skill has its special use. Similarly, each party member has a weapon of a certain damage type, and you will need to switch party members to take advantage of enemy weaknesses. Furthermore, every party member has their own moveset and you’re free to experiment with which characters work with you the best. I often used with Adol, White Cat, and Renegade. I particularly like Renegade’s spellcasting, where I can damage enemies from a distance. His moveset is particularly useful for fast enemies.

Like in VIII, Ys IX also has a small town-building mechanic. This time, though, you are running an inn called the Dandelion. By completing side quests you can recruit more people to work at your establishment, who will unlock shops, cooking meals, and crafting armor. It’s a solid mechanic that helps keep me grounded and invested in the day-to-day life of the city and its citizens.

The side quests themselves have an impressive variety. In some you may be chasing down an actual thief, doing actual superhero things, while in others you may have to return to a dungeon for an extra-difficult fight.

Speaking of which, the dungeons are where Ys IX‘s gameplay truly shines. The city is a fine place to explore, but it’s in the dungeons where the designers test your skills with your Monstrum’s abilities. I love to comb through these labyrinths, taking out monsters, collecting materials, and finding treasure chests. The puzzles aren’t that complex, but it’s enough to scratch a Zelda-like itch.

During every story chapter, you will have to fight the invisible monsters (called Lemures) during what’s called the Grimwald Nox. They are essentially like the Base Defense episodes in Ys VIII. You have to defend a crystal as wave after wave of monsters come in to try and destroy it. Eventually you also unlock a mode where instead you invade a Lemure den and have to rush to destroy all of their crystals before time runs out. These are welcome, fast-paced, arcade-like breaks that test your combat skills. I would replay these challenges over and over until I got the highest ranking on these.

As much as I’ve praised the game, I’m a little hesitant to recommend the Nintendo Switch version. It’s not unplayable by any means, but it’s still not as optimized as well as Ys VIII. While exploring the city, the resolution and framerate will take noticeable hits. During combat, the framerate is consistent 99% of the time, but you do notice the odd dip. The textures look especially muddy, though in handheld mode all of this is less noticeable. If you’re a person that cares a lot about texture resolution and framerates, then I’d suggest you play it on PC or PS4.

But even if you’re remotely interested, Ys IX is worth a shot. Action RPGs are very common these days, but few offer the same kind of satisfying feedback from their combat systems — making a perfect dodge, switching to the right character, and taking out the monsters. And few offer this kind of variety to their gameplay and their story. Ys IX is the best Action RPG you’ve never played.

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