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Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (PS4) Review

August 26, 2021 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
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Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (PS4) Review  

If you click on this review, you may ask yourself “Wait, didn’t this game come out already?” Indeed it did. The original release was early February 2021 for the PlayStation 4, at least in America. The game came out in 2019 in Japan and…it shows. There was a more recent port to the Switch/PC in early July but I’m not reviewing those versions. I got this one, instead. It’s actually a pretty solid game but I do have one or two small reservations about it.

So honestly, I have no idea why I’m writing about this game now. The code has been kicking around for a while and while I’ve heard of the Ys series before I never played any of them. I thought the series started on the PS1, or maybe even the SNES but it’s been kicking around since the Famicom/Apple 2GS era. Hell, it even pre-dates Final Fantasy 1 by a few months, which is pretty notable.

One important thing is, apparently, every Ys game has the same character in it, Adol Christin, as the main character. Later on they introduced his friend Dogi into the mix, but Adol is the main character of these games. To have the same main character for almost 35 years is fairly impressive.

The game starts off with Adol and Dogi coming upon a town (Balduq) that is surrounding a huge prison. Adol is almost immediately arrested for things he’s done in the past (presumably a prior Ys game), but almost immediately again, breaks out of the prison. While escaping, he is shot by a mysterious cyborg woman with a magical bullet and turn into a Monstar. Wait, sorry, I mean Monstrum. This isn’t Space Jam.

The Monstrum thing is a curse though, while you gain new abilities and powers you are unable to leave the city and have to do battle with evil beasts in an alternate dimension. You are also thrown in with the other Monstrums in town as you all gradually try to break the curse, stop all the evil beasts and figure out who is really pulling the strings behind everything.

It’s actually kind of interesting, this game is kind of like Breath of the Wild mixed in with an action-RPG with elements of other games thrown in. At its core, it’s basically an action-RPG, but there is a lot of exploration involved, particularly with it governed by a stamina meter. As a Monstrum you have the ability to walk on walls or glide with wings (eventually) but you can’t just do it all the time. You have to be on the ground for the bar to recharge, though it’s not a huge hindrance.

Combat is also kind of sectioned off from the game. In dungeons and more wilderness areas there are beasts aplenty but during you exploring around town, you can avoid almost all battles, if you really want to. There is a reason to do some grinding in the town but you don’t necessarily need to.

The actual combat engine is pretty simple but gets the job done. You only really have one attack button, but if you hold down R2 you can use your special (magic) moves. Your magic replenishes over time, it’s actually fairly quickly, so you’ll be doing these moves a lot.

You also have basically an Overdrive move that you can use one the meter fills up. When you use it, your health starts regenerating, your magic regenerates more quickly and you are able to do an ultra-move when you press L1/R1 together. Only….this was actually fairly finicky for me. It’s not to say it was completely unreliable or anything, but I would sometimes have to mash the buttons for the input to register. I’d say it was probably an 80% success rate.

My biggest problem of the game is actually its overall structure. It’s divided into 9 chapters and aside from chapter 1, chapters 2-7 are about finding your Monstrum teammate in the real world, and getting to know them/integrating them into your group. This also involves you breaking back into the prison, via another new route, and usually fighting some big monster near the end. You also have sequences where you play another Adol, who is in the prison, and you have to break out, and do some busy work tasks.

The problem with this setup is that it is incredibly damn tedious. If it was like one or two chapters following this framework, that might be fine, but when it’s two-thirds of them, it gets boring very quickly.

You’ll note how I don’t really mention a bad guy in the story stuff above. There is one, but he is introduced so late into the game, specifically chapter 8, that he seems like an afterthought. Imagine if you played Final Fantasy 7, the game has a 60 hour completion time, but you only are introduced to Sephiroth at hour 55. No matter how good or bad the character is, that is FAR too late to get around to showing the main protagonist.

To Ys IX’s credit, there actually is a lot of side content for you to deal with, most optional but some stuff not. The really “needed” side content is for you to fill this “NOX” meter in the top left corner. Once it hits 100, a mission opens up for you to fight in the “Grimwald Nox” (monster dimension), that is either a tower defense mission, or else running around destroying all these crystals in a time limit.

Most of these are incredibly easy to actually do. If anything, the “normal” difficulty of the game is easy in general. I only died three times in my entire playthrough, and it was all during these sequences because I never bothered to upgrade the towers/objective until I literally had to. When you complete these Grimwald Nox’s, new areas of the town or outside world get unlocked which has new things for you to do. So it really behooves you to unlock this stuff as early as you can.

As far as the more “optional” stuff, there are side quests to unlock new support characters, collectibles for you to find, graffiti for you to catalog, map percentage to increase, landmarks to see, etc. None of this stuff is needed, but it can provide some nice items or experience in the game. The Monstrum gifts you get from your additional party members, like X-Ray vision, gliding, or busting through certain walls, certainly helps with this stuff as well.

The last thing I’ll say is that it is a slightly dated game. That’s not inherently a bad thing, once you’re in town there’s no load screens, aside from getting into a building. You can fly from one side of the large city, to another, aside from the stamina bar thing. I did notice a few elements of slowdown in battle, particularly when I used either the boost or overdrive move. I was on a PS5 and it still kind of chunked up, so while the Windows version is probably fine, but I imagine the Switch version would struggle heavily against some of the more action parts of the game. That’s just a theory though.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
For it being a long running RPG franchise, Ys IX is my first foray into the Ys franchise and I rather enjoyed it. It’s not perfect but it does way more right than wrong and I’m currently wading through my second playthrough to try and collect some missed trophies. If you want a nice, fairly relaxed Japanese adventure game, than Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is for you.