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Ys IX: Monstrum Nox Review

Even before Japan had their first Final Fantasy, there was Ys. As one of the longest running JRPGs, Ys has gone through quite a few changes. Yet one thing was paramount: the action. Ys was always the series with a somewhat lean story that was offset by smooth, satisfying gameplay. In 2009 developer Falcom perfected that gameplay with the first 3D title in the series: Ys Seven. Part eight built on this with more streamlined systems, and a greater focus on adventure through mapping a mysterious island. Unfortunately, that forward momentum ends there. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox changes little or nothing to the graphics and systems of the previous part. In terms of atmosphere and technical performance, it is even a step back.

Dark adventure

As in every part, Adventurer Adol Christin enters a new area with a dark secret. The area in question is the prison city of Balduq this time, and the mystery is a bit darker than usual. As soon as Adol enters the city, he is captured, because his previous adventures were apparently suspicious – or something. Not long after, a dark lady appears and gives him new powers, escaping prison. Obviously, the forces have a downside: he can no longer leave the city and together with other cursed fellow sufferers (called Monstrums) will have to fight an evil that corrupts the city from the prison.

Ys IX appears to be inspired by Persona 5

The setting is a bit different from the usual Fantasy environment of Ys, although it is not exactly an improvement. Ys IX seems inspired by Persona 5: you and the rest of the Monstrums lead normal life in the city, but plan all kinds of magical missions from an unobtrusive inn that serves as a hideout. When it comes time to infiltrate the prison, they transform into their Monstrum alter-ego to defeat evil invisible to ordinary people. But where a Persona deals elegantly with its atmosphere and characters, Ys IX goes all out with gothic imagery, and totally over-designed, but stereotypical characters. The mysterious lady who leads the Monstrums, for example, has no personality, but she does have a lot of belts, some mechanical limbs and is completely covered in scars – probably because of how incredibly ‘edgy’ everything is in her immediate vicinity.

Mediocre story

Just as embarrassing as all that forced ‘attitude’ is the way the story is told. Not only is the story too ambitious and incoherent – it is also painfully tone-deaf. For example, in one of the first chapters you follow White Cat, a Monstrum who steals from a heartless company and gives to the people of the slum that are being squeezed by that company. A radical, but noble goal you would think – not according to Ys. Ys agrees with large corporations. Not only should White Cat not have stolen, says Ys, it was also stupid of White Cat to give the stolen money to the poor: they spend everything on booze, or gamble it away and then blame White Cat. indicate that she had not given more money.

It’s what you get when you make an action-packed JRPG according to Ubisoft’s cookbook.

Despite the clichés and lackluster narration, Balduq’s central mystery, coupled with expanding your home base, is interesting enough to carry the game. In each chapter you solve side quests, recruit new minions who each contribute in their own way to your mission, and unlock new parts of the city. And through all these activities you gradually learn more about the prison and the curse that rests on you. It’s what you get when you make an action-packed JRPG according to Ubisoft’s cookbook. Ys has always been the series for collectible JRPG fans and Ys IX is no different.

The actual activities are not essentially different from what you did in Ys VIII. Your Monstrum abilities may allow you to teleport, fly or run over walls, but beyond that extra mobility, little has changed. It still has the same simple, yet satisfying combat system from the previous installment, complete with a rock-paper-scissors system to break through the enemy’s defenses. The ‘flash evades’ and ‘flash guards’ are also present again to reward perfect timing. Even the tower defense missions in which you defend a base make their appearance again – without too many changes.

Graphically it is also the same as Ys VIII – a game that was released for the PlayStation Vita. That in itself is not a disaster: Falcom works with a budget, and if they deliver a good game within that, they can use the same engine indefinitely. Unfortunately, they don’t do much with what they have. Balduq’s environments are simple and monotonous. Where you encountered some variation in the surroundings on the island of Celceta, the majority of Ys IX takes place in the city and its messy dungeons. Worst of all, even though it didn’t require much of the hardware, it crashed at least once per chapter: sometimes even a hard reboot of my PS5 as a result.

Despite the extra mobility that Ys IX: Monstrum Nox adds, it’s not the leap forward that the previous two titles were. In the most favorable case, it is a pause. The atmosphere of Monstrum Nox is forced ‘edgy’, the story awkwardly told, and the gameplay is almost identical to that of part eight. So if you want more of the same after the previous Ys, Ys IX once again has satisfying combat, lots of adventure and loads of collectibles in store for you. Were you hoping for clear improvements or a technically stable playing experience? Then Monstrum Nox is not what you are looking for.

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