The long-running Ys series returns with Ys IX – Monstrum Nox, which is out now for the PlayStation 4. It’s compatible with PlayStation 5, NIS America is publishing and Nihon Falcom is the developer. It’s coming to the Switch and PCs later this year, but as fans of the franchise we didn’t want to wait that long, so here’s our look at the game.
Even since NIS America started bringing Nihon Falcom’s titles to the west, it feels like I’ve been alternating between their Trails of Cold Steel and YS series – the YS series being slightly faster-paced and more accessible diversions to Trails of Cold Steel’s almost overwhelming emphasis on story and characters.
The Ys games still have plenty of narrative and a ton of content – and Monstrum Nox is no exception – but in general they’re more action oriented, which makes for a good mix with Nihon Falcom’s other big series from recent years. Ys IX – Monstrum Nox is a bit of a landmark title for the series though, since it’s the first games in many years that wasn’t also developed with the Vita in mind. Memories of Celceta is still a standout title for the handheld and Lacrimosa of Dana was a good follow-up as well, but even with a bit of extra polish they always felt like handheld ports on the PS4. Ironically, we’re getting the first true PS4 version in the franchise just as we’ve entered the PS5 era, but we’ll welcome the change with open arms.
It doesn’t mean that Monstrum Nox is a stunner though – the Ys games were never known for their looks and that’s not going to change overnight. It’s certainly a big step forward for the franchise though, especially when you look at how the character models are rendered – they really pop against the sometimes rather bland backdrops. While the open environments certainly look grand in their design, details and features, a lot of the indoor areas – especially the more narrow ones – can look underwhelming by comparison.
Let’s back up for a second though, and look at the story. Longtime protagonist Adol returns, and finds himself framed and captured in the prison city of Balduq. Upon his escape, he’s turned into a “monstrum”, which grants him special powers and makes him part of an elite group of powerful beings in the city. Over the course of the campaign, you’ll meet and free them as they join your party – learning about the corruption that’s spreading throughout the city in a narrative that’s entertaining and delivered well thanks to some solid voiceover work.
The cast of Monstrums is – as we’ve gotten to know the cast in any Nihon Falcom game – a very colorful and diverse band of characters. They’ll support you in combat, and you can even assume direct control over them during these scenes if you want to. Combat is what sets Ys apart from other RPG franchises in that it’s fast paced, with plenty of action RPG elements on top of more “RPG-like” features like status effects, upgrades, buffs and tactics.
What makes Monstrum Nox different from other recent Ys titles is also that exploration and navigation now make use of the horsepower of the PS4 – no longer keeping your characters grounded but letting you discover what’s on rooftops, running along walls and other tricks that make use of the verticality that Balduq offers.
Structure-wise, Ys IX mixes things up by alternating between main story missions, side quests and Miasma Vortex battles – which are real time takes on the tower defense genre where you defend a crystal with your party and the aid of defenses that you can also upgrade. Each gameplay style has its own mechanics too, so underneath Ys IX’s more fast-paced exterior you’ll find a lot of depth when it comes to upgrades, customization and the important of loot.
There’s a ton of content and there’s always something to do, which had me hooked instantly and for the entire length of the game. As we’ve seen before in the series the pacing of the narrative can be a little off at times, with so much to enjoy it’s easy to forgive little missteps like that. The game as a whole feels like a natural evolution of the franchise, and offers another story that’s enjoyable even without playing any of the previous games – in that sense, Ys is far easier to get into for newcomers than Trails of Cold Steel ever was. Another highly enjoyable Ys game and we can’t wait to see what’s coming our way from Nihon Falcom next.