Adol's back in his ninth epic adventure but things are a little different this time around. Can you survive the Prison City of Balduq?
I'm a long-time Ys fan with the original game on PC being one of my first gaming memories back in the late '80s. Over the decades, the series has definitely transformed via its many sequels and remakes yet each game has been bursting with quality action RPG fun since the very beginning. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox actually does an excellent job of tying the entire series together with its meta narrative that manages to be both fitting and rather funny. Specifically, Adol is imprisoned after the authorities become suspicious of his involvement in the previous games' hard-to-believe adventures. How has he been in so many shipwrecks? Why does he always lose his arsenal of gear after each adventure? Most RPG franchises don't bother asking such questions but Ys IX: Monstrum Nox does and I found that to be an excellent premise for its story. Plus, it's an even better story element for fans as they can relive memories of the previous games.
Soon into the story, we're introduced to a group known as Monstrums who are kind of like superheroes as they have 2 forms: their regular day-to-day persona as well as another identity who possesses a unique ability known as a gift. As you progress, you'll recruit these Monstrums to join your party and Adol actually becomes one himself and is then called Crimson King. You'll meet a teenage girl known as White Cat, a cocky young man named Hawk, an antique doll, and a couple more in the form of Raging Bull and Renegade. After you recruit a Monstrum, you can then use their gift and these take the form of traversal abilities which allow you to do things like warp to certain points, run up walls, glide over chasms, see hidden points of interest, and double-jump. Needless to say, using these abilities to whip around the large intricate environments feels just awesome and deploying them in combat adds a layer of strategy, too.
I find it awesome that the abilities and cast of characters are tied together like this, especially because each character has a strong personality as well as top-notch artwork and voice acting that make each of them come alive. Meanwhile, meeting the city folk who occupy Balduq's busy streets is enjoyable in itself as you complete quests for them and discover a wealth of shops. In fact, there is so much to do in Balduq that I frequently found myself getting distracted from the main objective by running between shops, discovering secrets, and fighting otherworldly enemies. In other words, levelling-up your skills, upgrading your weapons, equipping powerful party-wide Sacramentals, trading materials and goods, and reporting things like map completions is all extremely rewarding stuff to do.
Although Ys IX: Monstrum Nox does a lot of things exceptionally well such as featuring perhaps the most detailed visuals in the series so far, it doesn't quite do enough to set it apart from its predecessors. For starters, if you've played any modern Ys game then you'll find the combat to be quite typical as it doesn't incorporate anything novel besides the traversal abilities but all that adds is the ability to warp straight to your enemy if you're ever too far away. Other than that, you'll just hack and slash away while deploying skills, boosting when its gauge is full, and trying to time dodging and guarding perfectly for a little boost. It's fun but there's nothing revolutionary.
Another area where Ys IX: Monstrum Nox lacks is in its environmental variety. Most dungeons and exploration areas look the same albeit perhaps with some very minor aesthetic differences. Because of this, traversing areas becomes rather tiresome after a while since you'll get used to all the sights and have very little to hang onto when it comes to variety. You get to eventually explore outside the Prison City of Balduq after one point in the adventure yet no area truly stands out as all that memorable or distinct.
For all that Ys IX: Monstrum Nox does that's new, there's no denying that it's still a tried-and-true Ys game at its core. Although I wish it took more risks with its setting and gameplay, it's still a great action RPG that fans like me will love.
- + Rewarding exploration and combat that's amplified by nifty traversal abilities
- + Great characters and fun meta narrative
- + Lots of things to do in the city
- - Besides the traversal abilities, there's not much new gameplay-wise
- - Environments are quite repetitive