Following the adventures of Adol Christin, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is the latest entry in the Ys series of action role-playing games developed by Nihon Falcom. It’s also the first entry into the series that I’ve actually played. Yep, that’s right, I’m a newbie. That said, I didn’t feel as though I was missing out having not played any of the other titles. Much like the Final Fantasy franchise, the majority of games in the Ys series are relatively self-contained with the exception of a few titles. Adol Christin remains the series’ protagonist, and there are some returning characters and subtle nods to previous games but nothing that’s likely to leave you scratching your head. I’m sure hardcore fans will appreciate these nods, but newcomers certainly shouldn’t be put off.
The basic concept of the series is simple. Adol shows up someplace, things happen, adventure ensues, repeat. It’s a simple formula, but it’s worked since the first game was released back in 1987. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Within this installment, Adol’s quest for adventure leads him to the city of Balduq with his good friend Dogi. Shortly after his arrival, he finds himself arrested for a multitude of crimes and confined to Balduq’s fortress-turned-prison. Adol escapes, of course – it would be a very short game if he didn’t.
During his daring escape, Adol meets a mysterious woman named Aprilis, who curses him with the power of a Monstrum – beings who hold the power to exorcise monsters and a very extravagant dress sense. The power doesn’t come freely though. As a trade-off, Adol and the other Monstrums are confined to the city, unable to pass through magical barriers tied to the Grimwald Nox, a dark dimension threatening the city. In order to escape, the Monstrums must venture into the Grimwald Nox and push back the monsters within before it can take over the city.
Including Adol, there are six Monstrums, and each of them has their own unique gift and fighting style. Upon bringing another Monstrum into your party, you are able to not only play as them but also share the gifts between you. These gifts include the ability to run up walls, grapple to vantage points and fly, all of which make traversing Balduq and uncovering its collectibles much easier.
Being confined to Balduq never feels restrictive. The city is surprisingly expansive and opens up as you progress through the story and battle monsters within the Grimwald Nox. With azure petals, landmarks and graffiti, exploration is both encouraged and rewarded as collecting a set number of each of these things will grant you items. There’s also a number of side quests to complete alongside the main questline, some of which grant you access to new allies who will not only help you in the real world but also within the Grimwald Nox.
Monstrum Nox is a typical RPG. Defeating enemies yields experience, which in turn levels up your characters – you know the drill. As you level up, you unlock new abilities to be used in combat, four of which can be equipped at one time. You can upgrade weapons and armour as long as you have the materials, so it’s worth picking up all the resources you come across. In terms of combat, Monstrum Nox is a satisfyingly fast-paced, hack-and-slash adventure that allows you to not only utilise the skills you unlock but also your Monstrums’ unique gifts.
Adol, for example, can make use of his grapple gift, Crimson Line, to launch himself at far away enemies to close the distance between them. For the most part, the combat is pretty smooth, if a little easy. Even with the addition of Flash Guard and Flash Move when you parry or roll at the right moment, there’s not much of a learning curve. The only advantage enemies seem to have is their size and health bar, so beating them requires more patience than anything else, so you might want to up the difficulty for more of a challenge.
Combat was one of my favourite parts of Monstrum Nox, but it was also my biggest issue with the game. I already mentioned the combat was fast-paced, and while I enjoyed that aspect of it, it led to some performance issues. I can’t speak for the game’s performance on other platforms, but I found that on the Switch there were times, especially during busy fights like within the Grimwald Nox, that the frame-rate dropped. Combat would become slow and choppy, and while it wasn’t unplayable by any means, it hindered the flow of the fight a little. It does, however, stand to reason that performance might be better on PC or PlayStation, but the Switch version holds up well enough for me to happily take the little drop in performance in favour of the portability the Switch offers.
I also thought that the graphics could have benefitted from a little fine-tuning. While I enjoyed the anime-style animations, and they held up well during cutscenes, I felt that the in-game graphics – especially the character models – could have been sharper, and a little more attention could have been paid to smaller details, like water features, but as a whole, it all looks pretty good.
Despite having a few minor performance issues, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is an enjoyable adventure befitting the Adol Christin name. With an engaging story, enjoyable combat and unique and likeable characters with a lot of depth to them, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is something that new and old fans alike can enjoy.
Developer: Nihon Falcom, Engine Software, PH3 GmbH
Publisher: Nihon Falcom, Nippon Ichi Software, NIS America
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia
Release Date: 9th July 2021
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox was provided by the publisher.