Adol and his blue-haired pal Dogi are back, and this time there are no boats or amnesia in-sight. Instead, Adol just finds himself in chains and a prison cell.
Set in the fortress-turned-prison city of Balduq in Gllia, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox picks up about a year after the events of Ys Seven and about three years after the last game that released, Ys VIIl: Lacrimosa of Dana. Our favorite red-headed swordsman, series hero Adol, is around 24 to 25 years old here, putting these events seven years after he first set out on his adventures in the first game. The game opens with Adol on the run from prison guards as he attempts to escape from the massive prison fortress. During his prison break, Adol comes across a mysterious hooded woman with artificial limbs that glow with an eerie light and is promptly shot in the chest, turning him into one of the fearsome Monstrum.
As the name suggests, the Monstrum are a huge focal point of Ys IX. Feared by the townsfolk of Balduq, hunted by the occupying Romun forces, and the church’s elite Hieroglyph Knights, the Monstrum possess supernatural abilities and strength. To most, they are to be feared, but their true purpose is one of far greater importance to the city of Balduq. And now, Adol is one of them.
Over the course of this 30+ hour adventure, Adol and the other Monstrums, which include the likes of the powerhouse Raging Bull and the speedy and ferocious Feral Hawk among others, will dive deep into the mysteries surrounding the prison. The prison isn’t your only concern, however. The primary mission of the Monstrums is to hold back the Lemures, monsters from the parallel world of the Grimwald Nox. Plot twists, intrigue, and plenty of callbacks to previous games are in abundance, making Ys IX: Monstrum Nox my favorite modern Ys title.
For those unfamiliar with the Ys series, these games are known for their fast-paced action combat and exploration focused around interesting characters and exciting stories. Monstrum Nox continues these traditions in spades.
Combat revolves around utilizing character-specific special attacks and weapon properties to take advantage of the various enemies’ weaknesses while dodging and blocking attacks. The Monstrums’ attacks will do one of three types of damage, piercing, slashing, or striking, with each dealing extra damage to flying, soft-bodied, and hard-bodied enemies, respectively.
Fights take place in open spaces with your main attacks tied to a button available with four slots that you can set special attacks to. These special skills can be further leveled up and improved, reducing their costs and increasing their damage output the more you use them. You defend yourself by rolling out of the way or blocking, with rewards if you time them just right. The Flash Move, done by rolling out of the way just before an attack hits will make your character invincible and drastically increasing their speed, while Flash Guard makes you invincible and turns all of your attacks into critical hits, done in a similar method by guarding right before an attack. If you want to get really fancy, you can stack both of these boons and really dish out the damage!
One of the big changes in Monstrum Nox, when compared to previous games, comes in terms of exploration. Whereas the more recent games have large but fairly barren environments, Monstrum Nox adopts a more metroidvania-esque exploration direction, letting players explore the prison city of Balduq and a few of its surrounding areas. By taking advantage of each of the Monstrums’ unique Gifts, you will be able to sail through the skies, run up the walls, or skyrocket to the tops of buildings across Balduq. With all the treasure chests, side quests, and mass amount of collectibles to find around Balduq, the game almost feels more like a Batman Arkham game than Ys, and I mean that as a compliment.
This refocus of exploration on a more centralized area allowed Falcom to flesh out Balduq, making the location have so much personality that it was just as much of a character as those that made up your party. Townsfolk walked around and went about their days, shops dotted around the various districts, with plenty to do. I was hooked early on, scouring every alleyway and rooftop for graffiti and azure petals (two of the types of collectibles to find) and working to hit that 100% progress in map-completion.
As you progress through each of Monstrum Nox’s nine chapters you will unlock more areas of Balduq to explore, breaking down barriers that prevent Adol and company from passing. In order to break these barriers, you will have to successfully completely raid-style encounters within the Grimwald Nox. To enter the Grimwald Nox you will need to gather enough of the resource called NOX (done by fighting encounters throughout Balduq and completing quests), to open portals. Once there, you will be tasked with completing special missions against the hordes of monsters.
These raids will be familiar to those who played the last Ys title, Lacrimosa of Dana. You will either be defending a large crystal pillar called a Sphrene from waves of the Lumeres or shattering crystals in order to summon the raid’s boss. Completing these raids will break down the barriers, allowing you to continue on with the story and explore new areas.
Your time won’t just be spent traverse rooftops and the Grimwald Nox though. Ruins and tunnels lay underneath the city streets that will lead the Monstrum into the prison fortress itself, where monsters and vile experiments await you. Many of the game’s most tense moments take place in these dark, dingy locations, and feel very much like dungeons you could find in a Zelda game. I never found these particularly difficult, with each one being straight forward, that doesn’t mean though there aren’t secrets sprinkled throughout. Treasure chests can be found in them with some placed in the open while others, usually that contain rare items or special skills for a character are hidden away or in a location that isn’t easily reachable. In each of the game’s dungeons, you will encounter a mid-boss and a far larger and formidable final boss. These dungeon bosses can be towering beasts or ones with specific mechanics they are based around, which helps make them more than just button-masher fest.
There is a lot that I really really like about Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, from the characters to the exploration, the intriguing story, and overall gameplay. There is one aspect that I didn’t take kindly to though, was the crashing. I experienced a lot of crashing playing this on my PlayStation 5. This includes having to replay the final boss fight four times. This wasn’t the first repeat offender I encountered either, fast traveling to a specific area triggered crashes as well. These crashes seemed to occur more the longer I played the game and seemed to crop up most when traveling to a new area or entering cutscenes. It was annoying to be sure, especially during the end scene, but it seemed to be fixed after turning off my system for a while and trying again. NIS America is aware of the issue and it appears to be only an issue when played on the PlayStation 5. Hopefully, a fix will be found and a patch can be released sooner rather than later, I’d hate to have players be forced to re-fight the final boss like I had to.
Crashes aside, I really enjoyed my time with Ys IX: Monstrum Nox. I fell in love with my team of Monstrums and genuinely became interested in their stories and lives. The last quarter of the game, I was being pelted with new surprises and twists every minute and I just couldn’t put down my controller. More than once did I rock out to the killer soundtrack and grinding up my levels and skills only to look up and notice hours had passed, that is how addicting the gameplay is. With each new game, the Ys series continues to refine itself, and Ys IX: Monsturm Nox feels like the best and tightest experience to date. I can’t wait to see where Adol’s future adventures will take him next.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 5 system with a review code provided by the game’s publisher.