Ys IX: Monstrum Nox – Nintendo Switch Review

Overview – developed by Falcom and published by NIS America, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is the latest entry in the long running JRPG franchise that was established in 1987. Experience a new adventure as Adol Christin, the protagonist of the Ys series, who finds himself in the prison city of Bladuq. This title is available for the PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows and Nintendo Switch, links to each version of the game will be at the bottom of this review.

Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank NIS America for providing the copy of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox that was used for this review. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this piece, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.

So with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the story (taken from the official NIS America store).

Story – Renowned adventurer Adol “the Red” Christin and his companion Dogi arrive at Balduq, a city annexed by the Romun Empire, only for Adol to be detained before setting foot inside. While imprisoned, he meets a mysterious woman named Aprilis who turns him into a Monstrum, a being with supernatural Gifts and the power to exorcise monsters.

Now, Adol must ally with his fellow Monstrums to fend off the fearsome threats emerging from a shadowy dimension called the Grimwald Nox, as well as unravel the mysteries of the Monstrum curse, and the truth behind the unrest within Balduq.

Gameplay – Ys IX is an action focused JRPG, featuring intense combat, dungeon crawling and a sprawling hub world that can be explored in a variety of ways. At the start, the player will only have limited options when exploring the city and dungeons. However, as the story progresses, more features and characters will be available to complete the various quests that will be offered later on.

Since this is an action focused title, the game can be very combat heavy. There are four different ways that combat will occur during the course of the game, they are as follows;

  • Grimwald Nox – an alternate dimension where monsters called Lemures roam the Grimwald. In this dimension, the player along with other characters participates in large scale battles against enemies in wave based combat to protect an object called the Sphene. Success in these battles will net the player rewards based on their performance and their score at the end. These battles will help to progress the story, as well as open new areas of the world to explore.
  • Dungeon Exploration – when exploring the various dungeons of the city of Balduq, enemies will appear to attack the player and prevent their progress. At key points during a dungeon, imposing bosses will appear to try and slay the player party. You can also find many treasures and resources during exploration, which can be used later on.
  • Black Pillar – scattered throughout the world are Black Pillars, which when activated will spawn enemies. Time will freeze around the player during the battle, allowing for quick fights that don’t interrupt the comings and goings of the world’s NPC characters. Defeating the enemies spawned during these fights can provide valuable rewards that can be used or sold for high prices.
  • Scripted Battles – dictated by the story or a quest, scripted encounters with enemies can occur and throw the player and their party into combat. These battles usually have a story segment that plays out both before and after the battle, tying the combat into the narrative.  

While the cause of each battle may be different, the end results are usually the same. Defeated monsters will drop loot and money for the player to collect, along with other rewards based on the difficulty and cause of the encounter. Loot that is dropped will range in quality depending on their assigned rank, with more valuable resources being of higher rank and thus more difficult to obtain.

The combat itself is a mix of hack and slash, with a tactical element to it. Each character has a regular strike combo, aerial attack, a skill and special super skill that powers that character up. Skills use up SP, a resource that is regained slowly over time or by damaging enemies. The super skill uses its own bar that is charged up with each successful attack, becoming accessible when half of it is charged granting greater strength and a special finishing move that depletes the meter entirely.

The tactical element of the combat is that each character has a specific type of weapon damage, with a large selection of enemies being either weak/resistant to that specific weapon. Knowing which type of character to use in each battle can modify the challenges that players face. This is made possible by having the option to quick change between active party members, giving additional flexibility to the flow of battle.

There is a good balance to the combat, rewarding players who are able to defeat the monsters effectively with more points and better rewards in and out of the Grimwald Nox. The characters in the player party also have access to special skills, granting advantages in combat when dodging or guarding against attacks, increasing either damage or mobility for a short time.

Defeating enemies will provide experience, which will increase that characters level if they reach specified milestones, granting boosts to characters stats. Leveling up in the dungeons and during pillar battles can be useful to save on using supplies, as the health of the character leveling up will be fully replenished. Battles aren’t the only way to increase levels and gain experience, since items can be collected and purchased to fit the same purpose.

Leveling up also unlocks new skills for characters to use, increasing the choices for combos and big finishes during any of the action segments. Skills can be freely assigned to action buttons when they are unlocked, giving players extra control over the combos that can be used when fighting monsters. Effective use of skills can clear out a wave of enemies with ease.

Outside of battle, various quests can be taken on by the player, ranging from a simple collectable search to finding specific NPC characters. The quests can offer a fun distraction from the combat during playtime, giving the opportunity to explore the city using the various gifts that players possess. While completing the quests, treasure and Azure Petals can be found providing special rewards for collecting them.

The exploration of Balduq is one of the key features of this release, allowing the player to traverse the city streets and even scale buildings to dash from roof to roof, creating an open world to investigate. The very tops of buildings and hidden corners can hold a plethora of treasures and secrets to discover, including graffiti that can unlock special powers for your characters.

Now the last part of gameplay to cover is the equipment and crafting system. Throughout the city the player can access various traders, providing their services with weapons, armor and consumable items. Equipment purchased from traders can be enhanced and even used to craft new equipment, providing a secondary purpose for items that may appear to have outlived their use. Healing items and food can be also be crafted for use in and out of battle.

The resources needed to craft items will depend on the level of the item itself. For example, a piece of protective gear that is level II will require items of grade II to be created. To make the crafting of high level items a little easier for the player, lower grade materials can be traded for a material of a grade above. This trade feature gives an incentive for repeating dungeons and clearing Black Pillars, farming materials and making the party as strong as possible.  

Now with the gameplay covered to an extent that avoids spoilers, let’s move to the other aspects of the game, starting with the difficulty.

Difficulty – there is a total of 6 unique difficulty options available right at the start of the game. They are Easy, Normal, Hard, Nightmare, Inferno and Lunatic. The lower two options provide a suitable challenge for those who want to approach the game in a more relaxed manner. The middle two are for recommended for players who want a more challenging experience and the final two are for those who have a masochistic streak and enjoy brutal action combat.

Controls – the controls for Ys IX are comfortable in both handheld and docked play. However, the use of hotkey inputs can cause some frustrations during combat. For example, all skills are set to the face buttons and activated with the right shoulder by default. This can cause some annoyance during intense battle segments, as other key functions also use face buttons which can be activated instead if the designated hotkey is not held down. A minor flaw that can be remedied by remapping buttons if desired.

Presentation –visually, Ys IX really pushes the Nintendo Switch to its limits, providing a large hub world to explore. To compensate for the strain that the game puts on the machine, the resolution has been lowered and causes textures to look a little fuzzy around the edges when viewed at a distance. The overall visual quality is fantastic on the switch, with detailed character models and beautiful artwork. There are frame drops on occasion, but they are only noticeable when a lot of objects load at once.

The sound for this release is of the usual high quality that Falcom are known for, mixing grand fantasy orchestrations with intense heavy rock styled beats/guitars and even music box sounds to create a soundtrack that can stand on its own merits. For the voice work, there is an English and Japanese vocal track that can be enjoyed. The English voice cast features many talents from anime and video games, including Patrick Seitz (One Piece), Christina Valenzuela (Disgaea 6) and Erica Mendez (Death end re;Quest).

Final Thoughts – I hadn’t played an Ys game in many years, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first started the game. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the entire experience. The combat is engaging, the characters are charming and the exploration that is possible within the hub world gives a lot of depth to the overall experience that is on offer.

There is very little to complain about with this release. There are some minor flaws, like the potential to miss inputs when trying to use hot keys for skills and occasional stuttering when the system is pushed to its limits. But I can happily recommend this release to Ys fans who want to experience the series in a portable fashion, those who enjoy action focused titles and those who may have never considered the franchise in the past.

In the end, I give Ys IX: monstrum Nox a final score of 4.5/5. This is yet another fantastic release from Falcom, who continue to create engaging narratives, enjoyable combat and charming characters. A must for fans of the series and one for those who enjoy action titles in general. If you want to check out this game for yourself, links to each version of the game will be below.

Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)

Link to PlayStation 4 version (HERE)

Link to Steam version (HERE)

Link to GOG version (HERE)

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