The most satisfying aspect of playing a title developed by Nihon Falcom is the overwhelming sense of joy that continues well after putting down the controller for the night. In the case of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, this joy originates from the complete freedom of exploring the beautiful and fascinating city of Balduq, and from the never ending optimism and sense of wonderment from the main protagonist, Adol Christin. Mix in a well paced story filled with twists and turns and a combat system that perfectly straddles the line between precision and chaos, and you have an experience as carefully crafted as the seemingly endless prison that is the focal point of the story.
The journey begins with the arrival of Adol Christin to the prison city of Balduq, a territory held by the Romun empire after a brutal war eight years ago with the Gllians. Adol and his faithful partner Dogi are unable to even get past the gates when the adventurer is taken into custody due to his past exploits in previous titles involving the empire. Left to rot in the massive prison at the center of Balduq, Adol is able to escape his captors but not before receiving a curse from the shadowy figure, Aprilis. This curse restricts Adol to the city limits of Balduq, and requires that he fight against a group of monsters in an alternate dimension called the Grimwald Nox.
Thankfully, the curse is not all bad. Adol is bestowed with the power of the Monstrums, a group of six warriors given great gifts of power, not to mention some very striking costumes, to assist with their fight against the monsters of the Grimwald Nox. As the Crimson King, Adol is able to teleport to predetermined locations marked by a red flame and learn magical attacks capable of destroying multiple enemies at a time. The action based combat system is an absolute delight, feeling incredibly fast but never to the point of becoming unwieldy. Adol can bound across the battlefield using a mixture of standard sword attacks, agile dodges, and a set of four chosen magical attacks that are restricted by a meter. A second meter grows as the battle wages on and once full, can activate a devastating special attack that provides great damage to enemies in the vicinity.
Luckily for Adol, each chapter focuses on the back story of a Monstrum, with the featured compatriot becoming a playable character for the remainder of the game. Each Monstrum has their own talents and special abilities in combat, as well as a gift that provides the group with a new means of exploring the city. The light and agile White Cat has the gift of running up walls, the Hawk provides a set of wings that allows gliding over short distances. Switching between characters during battle is simply a button press which helps add some variation to the combat. While the combat can feel varied due to the ability to switch characters on the fly, the structure of each chapter is quite rigid. Each chapter begins with a period of exploring the city and helping out the citizens as it’s related to the particular Monstrum and ending with a discovery of a pathway into the prison that reveals pieces of the overall narrative.
The rigidity of the chapters lends itself to a degree of predictability but the net result is a consistent pace to the story with few periods of stagnation. At no point is there a question of what is supposed to happen next, but enough freedom is provided to simply take time to explore any particular part of the city. Each part of the city has interesting locations to visit and the inclusion of clearly defined treasure chests and azure petals provide motivation to explore each and every corner. A quest to locate a specific set of landscapes sends Adol to some of the most beautiful locations in Balduq and is a wonderful escape during this period of being trapped indoors.
The beautiful landscapes look even better in 4k on the PlayStation 5, however numerous crashes to the home screen does hamper the experience. Crashes typically happened at the same point during a specific cutscene but a random crash while exploring the streets is not uncommon. Lowering the resolution to 1080p reduces the frequency of crashes but does not eliminate them. Thankfully, the performance issues seemed to disappear, even while playing in 4k shortly after the fifth chapter for whatever reason.
A few crashes aside, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is an incredible experience from one moment to the next. Whether it’s appreciating the intricacies of the many systems or simply enjoying a tale of friends bonding together to bring down the forces of injustice, Ys IX has something for everyone. The positivity and optimism that oozes out of Adol is infectious, and even during its darkest moments it’s hard not to play with an ear to ear smile.
- City of Balduq is beautifully designed with lots of interesting locations
- Soundtrack is terrific
- Combat system is simple enough to understand but complex enough to master
- Story stays engaging throughout
- Some crashes on the PlayStation 5 in the first half of the game