Ys IX: Monstrum Nox Review – A JRPG Magnum Opus

    Title: Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
    Developer: Falcom
    Release Date: February 4, 2021
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: NISA
    Genre: Action JRPG

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a one of a kind, to put it mildly. Even when compared to its predecessors, this game takes chances that make it stand out as not just a fresh new take for Ys but the genre as a whole. While prospective new players of the series may not derive as much satisfaction and enjoyment as longtime fans, it’s an absolute must-play for any action JRPG enthusiast.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox focuses on yet another adventure in one of the legendary Adol Christin’s hundred travel logs. The courageous and now fairly experienced red-haired adventurer finds himself in the Prison City of Balduq.  After being thrown into the titular city’s infamous prison, Adol eventually seeks a way out. However, in the process, he encounters a mysterious black-robed woman who transforms him into a being known as a Monstrum. Armed with this newfound power, Adol must team up with the other Monstrums residing in Balduq to eliminate a recurring threat known as the Grimwald Nox.

While Ys IX’s gameplay elements are certainly inventive for the standards the series has set, at its core, its combat plays similar to Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. Players eventually form a party of capable fighters, each hosting their own unique combative skills and their own exploratory prowesses. You can expect to hack-and-slash your way through plethoras of enemies, but this adventure is also just as much about exploration as it is combat.

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One of Ys IX’s main selling points is exploring the city of Balduq and seeing all it has to offer, and needless to say, the exploration of this city is truly where the game shines its brightest. Thanks to the party members’ numerous movement capabilities, players can run up walls, fly, quickly hook onto select surfaces, and more.

The design of Balduq expertly complements these numerous movement options along with some well-hidden collectibles to find. I never found it difficult to find treasure chests in previous entries, but Ys IX gives players a reason to explore and rewards them for their time. Players must be aware of their surroundings and take their time exploring the depths of the Prison City to appreciate its brilliance.

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The city itself feels organic and chock full of NPCs. And while not every NPC is interactable, not all have to be. Balduq does not try needlessly hard to entice the players with walls of text since it’s unnecessary to understand the city’s several districts and how they connect. The synergy of how wonderfully enticing Balduq is designed alongside the incessant townsfolk makes this one of the most immersive locales I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing in the genre.

Getting back to exploration, there are some well-hidden areas in Balduq proper that the game never clues you in on too. While it does feature superficial puzzle design and blatantly tells you how to progress past specific points, it also never holds your hand with the truly hidden goodies you can find.

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The city environment is fraught with brief skirmishes with enemies, which, once won, grants players varying increases to their Nox gauge in the screen’s upper left corner. When this is filled, a new Grimwald Nox event opens up where players must team up with all five other party members in a series of raid-like battle sequences.

Players of Ys VIII will recognize these scenarios all too well. These battle sequences and skirmishes across the city are the perfect way to spice up the normally undisturbed exploration sections. There are areas outside of the town, too, so you are not stuck with the same general locale and visuals for the game’s entirety. I never felt bored with the gameplay loop Ys IX provided because there was such an addicting sense of satisfaction with doing the most seemingly minute tasks. Filling out the map, finding collectibles, discovering more about Balduq, the game continually rewards players for their efforts.

As a small aside, though, the one major fault I have is the low level of difficulty. I played on Hard, and the game never put up a semblance of a real challenge. Nightmare felt far more adequate as a first playthrough, so I recommend Ys veterans and experienced action gamers to go with at least Nightmare for their first playthrough if they want to have a semblance of a legitimate challenge for their first run.

It’s difficult to really explain what makes it so compelling and almost jaw-dropping without spoiling the events when it comes to the narrative. Still, personally speaking, this title has easily the best narrative the series has to offer. Not just in terms of scope, but character-wise as well.

The party members and other major stars of the cast are relatively fleshed out and never felt like needless third wheels or ornate storyboard pieces meant to move events forward. Each character has their own plights and regularly interacts with one another, making them feel alive. At its core, Ys IX is more of a character-driven adventure than plot. Within the scope of Balduq, this brilliant dichotomy is created of these characters figuring out who they are in relation to one another.

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The plot, however, does greatly benefit from having played the past titles in the franchise. It is not required, though, and the narrative is self-contained like all the other entries of the franchise, but it is less self-contained than the norm. There are several references to what Adol has experiences in the previous games, so players new to Adol’s journeys may find themselves a tad lost at points.

The music of Ys IX is more than a bit of a controversial subject in the community, but at least, personally speaking, I found myself in love with the soundtrack as a whole. A consistent sense of chaos and excitement spread throughout the battle tracks, alongside occasional slices of more ambient, whimsical songs. The soundtrack is far less varied than some of the other games in the franchise, but I found myself hooked on certain tracks and can safely say that this is one of my favorite soundtracks in the series as a whole.

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In regards to the localization, I am glad to say that it was masterfully done. From major story events to even simple chatter from nameless NPCs, every bit of dialogue was keenly paid attention to. I only spotted a handful of spacing errors and one or two misspellings, which is impressive for a script of this size. This is a massive step up from the quality of Ys VIII’s initial localization, so players potentially worried about the quality of the English script this time around can feel some relief.

The English dub is also masterfully executed. Every voiced character has fitting audio, and their deliveries are consistently believable and never came off as awkward. The dub cast was clearly passionate about their work here because there is a good chunk of scenes where I was legitimately in awe of some line deliveries. This is easily one of the best English dubs I have had the pleasure of experiencing.

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Having mostly played this title on PlayStation 5, the performance was consistently smooth, and I could honestly not detect any instances of lag or dropped frames. It was a seamless experience when exploring towns and dungeons. There is one caveat, though. For players intending to play on PlayStation 5, I highly advise holding off until a patch. There is, unfortunately, an extremely noticeable crashing issue when playing with the English script and when autosave is enabled.

There are also a handful of sections where the game will consistently crash if players do not skip the scene and play with the English script. Switching to the French script for these few scenes alone remedied this fault. I played some of this title on PlayStation 4, and the crashing issue was practically nonexistent compared to the PlayStation 5. This is a rather significant issue that I hope will get patched as soon as possible. It was never a massive hindrance during my gameplay experience, but it happened too often for me to ignore it.

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Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is some of the most fun I have had within the action-JRPG genre, period. The adventure includes everything you could ask from the series, with the addition of an addicting game loop, a well-written character-driven narrative, a stellar soundtrack, and great controls. This is not a title to be slept on. Any fans of JRPGs worth their salt should give this adventure a shot, regardless if they have experience with the Ys series. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a masterpiece that only seems to stumble when balancing its level of difficulty.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual.