The world of JRPGs is an enormous, overfilled container spilling out with new titles each and every month. With the advent of new console generations, remasters of older titles are also thrown in the mix, making the genre incredibly saturated with little room left for new IPs to bloom.
Luckily, the Ys series has been going strong for quite a number of years, so it has a strong enough fan-base to survive the gauntlet of the genre. The latest title in the series, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, is just releasing to the West after being out in Japan for over a year now, and it surely is a fun game which everyone into RPGs is sure to like. Monstrum Nox stars Adol Christin, who happens to arrive in Balduq, also known as the Prison City, together with his friend Dogi.
Christin gets arrested due to shady circumstances and is put into prison very shortly after the beginning of the game. Faithful to any other game which begins like this, you will have to break out of the prison to start your adventure and it is during your escape that you meet Aprilis, a hooded woman clad in black and green, who gifts Adol the powers of Monstrum, beings with combat ability far greater than your average human. With this newfound power, clearing the prison is little more of a chore, and you’re out again in the freedom of Balduq, but not quite.
On the surface you learn of the presence of other Monstrums with powers similar to yours, but every Monstrum has a “gift”, a special power of their own. Adol’s for example lets him teleport to points like a grappling hook, helping his mobility and also traversal to otherwise unaccessible areas. These Monstrum powers and gifts come against a cost however – the holders of these abilities are locked inside the city of Balduq with a big energy barrier, with no idea of how to break it.
The story of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox slowly starts there, with you starting to play as Adol in your quest to unearth the mysterious Prison City and whatever shady business is taking place. As you progress in the story and clear more chapters, you will unlock new playable characters, all with their abilities and gifts. Gifts can be used interchangeably for unlocked party members, meaning there is no need to switch when in need of each other’s ability. Switching playable character however is incredibly easy, as a simple press of the O button will change your character on the fly, whether while exploring or in battle.
In Monstrum Nox, your primary enemies are the Lemures, of which you will encounter in both Balduq and in the Grimwald Nox, an alternate dimension to where the Monstrums can be called at random to defend the Spire, a pillar of light which appears in this dimension and which the Lemures attack. The Lemures in Balduq are less in numbers and spawn once for every trigger (a black pillar), while monsters in Grimwald Nox will spawn in waves until a boss wave is met and defeated.
Initially, I will admit I was overwhelmed with the combat system as it can be very fast-paced especially your first foray into Grimwald Nox, but as you play the game you adapt to it and will feel much more confident. As you play the game you will slowly uncover the mechanics of Monstrum Nox, some of which are very clever tools which you need to master to get the advantage in battle. Two such abilities are the Flash Guard and the Flash Move dodges.
The Flash Guard is triggered by pressing R1 in time with an enemy’s attack, meaning similar to a parry. However this does not repel the attack, but it gives the player a timed bonus for critical hits and damage. Mastering this mechanic can be the key in taking down large foes with enormous health pools as you will meet in dungeons early on. The Flash Move, on the other hand, requires similar timing to the Flash Guard, but it is activated with the other shoulder button, meaning L1, which is also the default notation to dodge. Triggering Flash Guard will result in you benefitting from increased movement speed for a short amount of time, handy to also get those hits in before dodging away to safety.
Combining such mechanics with the game’s weakness system, where each enemy has a particular weakness that can be exploited by a member of your party, can be a lifesaver in a pinch. Attacking repeatedly with an enemy’s weakness strike can cause a break, where the enemy is stunned and you can go ham on his defenseless body to cause as much damage as possible.
The game also rewards new players clearing the game out with different types of bonuses, as apart from the rank bonus which is given out after each chapter, you also get a first time bonus. These can be items which can be then used or sold to make money, so every little bit is as helpful as ever.
The graphics of the game are nothing gamebreaking, especially now that we are entering the 4K era, but are instead a nod to JRPGs of old with their colouring and character style. The cutscenes seem a little forced and can sometimes feel very out of place, but the main story at least makes sense so we can go with that.
What is a little annoying is that all the characters in the game are voiced EXCEPT for Adol, the one who features the most. You can choose his lines, albeit the game progressing in the same way regardless, and you will hear him mutter something like “Uhm..” “Yes..” or chuckle, but you will never hear a full sentence from him, which is very weird. Instead, he will yell “A TREASURE CHEST” whenever you’re in the proximity of one, which can help you notice and find it if you walk past it. It’s a good touch, but when he doesn’t utter a word in cutscenes you start to question these choices.
The sound in Ys IX is quite welcome though, and apart from the cutscenes you will have music accompanying you throughout the dungeon sectors of the game. The music can get very fast paced especially when in battle, which is a very welcome feature as it helps get the adrenaline pumping and the action swinging. When exploring the music reverts to quiet and peaceful, to accompany you along your strolls in Balduq.
All in all, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox will surely be a very welcome addition to a series as longstanding as Ys. The different playable characters along with their playstyle and abilities are welcome, along with the number of interesting mechanics that the game introduces slowly, giving you time to learn and use each one as you please. The story makes use of weird plot points to progress forward, but the bigger picture is far more interesting than the single episodes.
You can grab the game for PS4 here through the NIS America online store!
And for more reviews, be sure to click HERE.