The Ys games have had a special place in my heart ever since I was assigned to review Ys Seven way back on the PSP. I’ve always found the top-down, action-RPG structure to be endearing, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled when Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana went with a third-person POV. The game mechanics were actually sound, so Falcom definitely proved that my fears were unfounded. However, the sudden difficulty spikes in the end and the tower defense-esque sections left a lot to be desired. With Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, I had hoped that the team learned from the the past and adjusted the gameplay accordingly. Unfortunately, Ys IX appears to be Ys VIII redux, just on a much smaller scale and with more nonsensical ideas.
At the very least, Ys IX does not start off with a shipwreck. However, not long after Adol and Dogi arrive at the city of Balduq, Adol is thrown in prison. It’s either shipwrecks or prisons or both with this guy. And, this may shock you, but there’s a hidden, dark secret in Balduq, and it’s possibly connected to the giant prison that makes up most of the city. It may also (not) shock you to learn that Adol meets a mysterious woman who seems to be a part of this dark secret.
That said, this secret isn’t your typical Ys faire. For reasons, this mysterious woman Aprilis curses Adol and makes him a Monstrum, gifting him with special abilities and fabulous hair. He’s number six in her Monstrum collection, and she uses them to attack demons called Lemures in a different reality called the Grimwald Nox. None of the Monstrums have any idea why Aprilis picked them, what the Grimwald Nox is, or why they have to fight Lemures. All they know is that the only way to lift the curse and return to normal is just do what Aprilis says. Even though the curse provides each of them with amazing abilities, it also prohibits them from leaving Balduq and even from entering certain parts of the city. Since Adol is an adventurer, staying in Balduq forever, even with cool powers and amazing hair, is out of the question.
However, while everyone else seems to be content with just being at Aprilis’ beck-and-call, Adol wants to solve the city’s mystery. Throughout the storyline, he slowly brings the other Monstrums over to his way of thinking and recruits other allies to help him out. If there’s a mystery, Adol will solve it.
One of Ys VIII‘s biggest issues was its size. The island Adol had to explore was massive, and it only got bigger after meeting Dana. Ys IX keeps everything within Balduq, but since the city’s prison structure is so immense, the map is not as small as it appears to be. However, since a lot of exploration comes from the prison tunnels, each story chapter unfortunately is incredibly formulaic.
The chapter starts with a meeting at the hideout Dogi has set up (if you’ve played Ys VIII, this should all sound incredibly familiar), and Adol sets out to find another set of tunnels to lead into other areas of the prison. He completes some side quests and Nox vortices to build up Nox points to over 100, because when he has 100 Nox points, he can enter a Miasma Vortex in Grimwald Nox to take down a barrier blocking off a part of the city. The Grimwald Nox portion involves tower defense waves, just like in Ys VIII, but at least in Ys VIII that portion of the game made a little sense. This just seems like it’s using tower defense trappings for “reasons.” So Adol opens up that part of the city, he gets to know another member of the Monstrums, finds a new tunnel to the prison and goes exploring. Sometimes, Adol will find new allies in the prison to recruit to work at their hideout (it’s a bar… super conspicuous). He returns to the bar to go over his findings and the chapter ends.
Rinse and repeat.
Granted, you can say that about literally every other Ys title when it comes to repetitiveness. I just wasn’t expecting the game to be repetitive in nearly the exact same way as its predecessor.
At least the gameplay mechanics separate it from every other Ys title, even Ys VIII. It’s tradition in Ys games for Adol to find legendary items that will open up new areas to explore, such as the ability to breathe under water or climb up icy walls. This time, Adol will “share” gifts with the other Monstrum members as he incorporates them into the party. The first Monstrum Adol meets is the White Cat, and with her ability, he can now run straight up walls. This opens up a level of verticality that was slightly touched on last game, but fully blows up here. Suddenly all these out-of-reach areas are open to Adol, which brings new levels (literally) to exploration. The second Monstrum is Feral Hawk, who gives Adol the power to glide. It’s not long before there is literally nowhere that Adol cannot go. With so many hidden treasures and collectibles to find after learning certain abilities, Balduq has quite the Metroidvania feel to it.
These Monstrum abilities are the absolute highlight of the game, as exploring in an Ys game has never been so fun.
The combat, however, is the same as it has always been. It’s still a hack-and-slash with special skills, and the player can swap control over any partymember at any time during combat. The Flash Move and Flash Guard mechanics are still present as well. Like in the previous games, the player will want to take on as many fights as possible to level up each character and the character’s skills. The difficulty remains on a steady incline like before, until the end battles, where the difficulty suddenly spikes for no apparent reason, just like it did in Ys VIII. I completed every side quest. I fought every Lemure battle that popped up in the overworld. I removed all of the city’s barriers. My levels were still too low to get through the final areas without carrying 40 healing items.
Ys IX had a lot of potential to clean up everything Ys VIII did wrong with the series, but instead, the developers decided to double-down on those previous decisions. At least in Ys VIII, the hideout where Dogi hangs out and the tower defense elements to protect it make some sense. In Ys IX, the hideout feels forced, and the tower defense element for the Grimwald Nox feels incredibly out of place and forced.
At least the game still knows how to make fun of itself.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox will come to the PS4 in North America on February 2, 2021, Europe on February 5, 2021, and Australia on February 12, 2021. It is immediately available in Japan. It will come to the Switch and PC in 2021.