The struggle for any long-standing series is how to keep that spark alive. We’ve covered countless games that found success in other genres, settings, concepts, or elements and even more that, quite honestly, changed so little you could probably swap out some details in our review and it would largely hold up. There is certainly a place for both and something to be said about each approach, though Ys is in an interesting place. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana took Adol’s journey to a new location and sold the franchise to a lot of players. With a lot of eyes on Ys IX: Monstrum Nox looking to take that ball and run with it, will they go the distance or was it a one-off success?
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox does something I haven’t seen in a whole, it immediately hooks players with a fascinating story. In this adventure, Adol starts his journey in the dungeon of a faraway land. When you eventually escape, a mysterious woman appears and shoots you. Her bullet transforms Adol into a Monstrum known simply as Crimson King. After escaping, you learn a couple of things about the city of Balduq.
First and foremost, Adol and the other people transformed into Monstrum are unable to leave the city. There is a barrier around it that keeps you in place as you fight with that mysterious woman in the even more mysterious Grimwald Nox, an event similar to Berserk’s infamous eclipse, where you fight a variety of monsters in this other world. From there the story builds to answering questions like why you were transformed, what the woman is after, who these other characters are and so much more. And while many of these stories have strong narrative payoffs, fun gameplay elements make it easier to enjoy the ride.
Given Ys IX: Monstrum Nox takes place largely in a town, there is plenty to see and do, making it reminiscent of older games. Throughout the city, there are treasure chests, optional quests, things to find, and countless people to interact with. Most characters aren’t that interesting, in the vast majority of cases they have throwaway dialogue, yet it gives the world a bit of life. It isn’t that you’re stuck in a mysterious city, it’s that you’re stuck in this place that is so many characters world and will need to make the most of it. Maybe this means building up things for tourists to do, perhaps weird places to explore or countless other things, it makes for an engaging experience between battles.
When it is time for Grimwald Nox, the gameplay is fun, yet straightforward. As you progress there are a wide variety of special moves you can do, with most basic combat coming down to hacking, slashing, and dodging. It isn’t the deepest system, on even normal it can get a bit mindless, though there is some depth. Well-timed dodges slow time down, each ally has its own gimmick and more to consider.
Killing enemies will drop resources that can be used to get gear to build your team as you see fit. The importance largely depends on how you play and what you’re hoping to do, though it will likely resonate with fans of the genre. Much to Ys IX: Monstrum Nox’s credit, a lot of moves are telegraphed, making the ideal course of action relatively obvious. For example, the first frog boss is extremely easy to defeat without taking damage if you play smart.
Outside of combat, the various Monstrums have their own unique purposes that will allow you to obtain various items. These include hook jumping, wall climbing, and things of the like. These allow for exploration to not only grow but make things a bit more engaging. It also makes new characters exciting, as they unlock a wide variety of new things to see and do.
While there are a lot of positive elements in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, performance is far from impressive. On PlayStation 5 there is still some stuttering and graphical glitches, likely caused by in-built limits over the system failing to make the most of things. Graphics are also something of a mixed bag. On one hand, characters and monsters look pretty good, whereas backgrounds feel like they were taken from a PlayStation 3 game. The strong contrast can sometimes stick out, though it isn’t too bad. In addition to that, a wide variety of areas feel underwhelming. You can play a far more complicated game like Dragon Quest and see more intricately designed areas, more activity and so much more, making these faults rather pronounced.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox Review – Verdict
Despite Ys IX: Monstrum Nox having some faults, it still provides a fantastic experience. Once you get past the dated graphics and simple combat, it’s an engaging game that has a fascinating story. It’s the type of thing where mindlessly killing enemies is fun but the world is so interesting you’ll want to see what secrets it holds. Add in some cute characters, interesting mechanics, and plenty to do and it’s hard not to see the value in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox.
[Editor’s Note: Ys IX: Monstrum Nox was reviewed on PlayStation 5 and provided to us for review purposes.]