Afterpatch Review: Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
By: Fernando Da Costa
Developer: Nihon Falcom
Publisher: Nihon Falcom, NIS America (North America)
Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PC, Google Stadia
Review Console: Nintendo Switch Lite
WELCOME TO BALDUQ! - Introduction
My experience with the Ys franchise is somewhat limited to a few entries. My first was the sixth in chronological order - Ark of Nephistim for the Playstation 2. While I never got around to beating it, there are still some fond memories. As I’ve mentioned many times, my love for JRPGs comes from watching my father play titles like Lunar or Grandia. I distinctly recall taking magical skills from those and combining their names before giving them to my made-up Pokemon. As I began gaming, my mother would watch me, and one of those titles was Ys. I’m currently in my thirties, so I grew up with turn-based combat. I wasn’t overly interested in anything action-based, so I tended to skip those. It wasn’t until Ys Origins that I’d return to the franchise - and that’s despite owning VIII. A bit of a travesty because, frankly, Ys is a spectacular series. So, when I saw the reveal of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, I immediately jumped on a coverage chance. Was my eagerness rewarded, or was I premature in my excitement? Well, let’s find out.
ENTER THE MONSTRUMS! - Story Synopsis
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox continues to recount the adventures of Adol Cristin. This time has both him and his comrade Dogi arriving at the Prison City of Balduq. As they approach, however, a soldier checkpoint intercepts them. Their world is then quickly turned upside down as they arrest our red-haired hero on unknown charges. Adol remains behind bars until he, eventually, manages to break free. Shortly after, he comes face-to-face with a mysterious woman named Aprilis. Before he can question her presence, she bestows a curse upon him - he becomes a Monstrum known as The Crimson King. With it comes unbridled power but also a limitation; he’s trapped within the walls of Balduq, unable to escape. Thus begins a journey full of creatures called Lemures and another dimension known as the Grimwald Nox. Many questions arise during this journey; chief among them is why two feuding military presences are suddenly cooperating? Are there much more nefarious motives underneath their perceived righteousness? As you meet characters with varying personalities, everyone has a singular goal - discover the truth behind not only the Monstrum curse but also the identity of that woman - Aprilis.
KILL THE LEMURES! - Writing
Let’s address the elephant in the room; the localization for VIII was, by all accounts, abysmal. So much so that it received a complete revamp a few months after release. For that reason, I understand any hesitancy when it comes to another entry into this franchise. Good news, though, as those worries are largely unwarranted. The writing is well-done and gripped me from beginning to end. The sole reason this review wasn’t published earlier is that I just couldn’t put it down. I had to - no - I needed to learn the intricacies of the plot and why things occurred the way they did. I was so curious and at the edge of my seat because I couldn’t fathom how it all came together. I was enthralled, and while I did have an inkling of an idea that proved factual, the whole picture was far greater than I could’ve imagined. It took my perception and built upon it, making the foundation infinitely more intriguing. A lot of the revelations had me genuinely surprised, and the best part is, it never strayed into lunacy just for the sake of lunacy. Although, my chief rationale for why the literary prowess is astounding is thus: it kept me guessing. There was a drip-feed of information that motivated me to keep moving. I was incredibly immersed in Ys IX - for a week; I lived in the Prison City of Balduq.
A key component to any JRPG is likeable characters. Any potential impact the writer hopes to nail hinges on a person empathizing with the NPC. I won’t feel the intended emotion if I’m unable to be invested. Well, to say I didn’t find myself getting attached to most here would be a bald-faced lie. A main contributing factor is the excellent development several party members go through. I won’t get into specifics for obvious reasons, but there was someone in particular that, while suffering amnesia, was a joy to watch her regain lost memories. Witnessing her growth as she became accustomed to the tribulations of life felt genuine too. Speaking of cliches, yes, the literature makes liberal use of them. For instance, there’s the cocky yet charming, tough guy that progressively gets softer as the story continues. Then, there’s the young girl that slowly becomes an independent woman right before your eyes. Sure, it’s the same old, same old in terms of narrative, but it’s also not detrimental to the quality. That’s because the collective charisma of the cast mitigates any potential eye-rolls with a wholesome feeling of gratification. The endless banter between them all was charming and amusing.
Finally, I’m a massive fan of this world's established lore. For those worried if knowledge of previous Ys games is needed, it isn’t. Though, it does seem that if you’ve played any, you’d understand the inconsequential references. As someone that hasn’t, it never felt like I was missing out on important content. If anything, this is presented more as a nod to those that followed the Ys franchise since day one. It creates a cohesive tale and maintains the illusion that these games are one long story of a single hero - Adol Cristin. I appreciate that, and to be frank, it motivated me to seek out others. Now, I’m not familiar with this next aspect, but I’m spotlighting it anyway. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox doesn’t repeat itself. When relaying information that the player is already privy to, the game doesn’t delve into a long-winded, redundant spiel. It, instead, explains that Adol expunged on recent events with a few lines before carrying on to brand new dialogue. There are even times that after a side-quest, you’re teleported directly to whoever gave you the task as a kind of fast travel system. I can think of many examples of JRPG titles that don’t respect your time as Ys does. So, as an adult, I approve.
WE, THE HIEROGLYPH KNIGHTS! - Gameplay
The main mechanic that enticed me when I played Ys Origins was the fast-paced combat. Every slash felt impactful as I unleashed a barrage of special techniques - it was so damn satisfying. The addictiveness and unadulterated fun that enveloped me left me smiling ear-to-ear. Ignoring that sadistic implication, I happily report that Monstrum Nox maintains that same riveting gameplay loop. Furthermore, Falcom perfectly encapsulates the most accurate form of what constitutes a traditional JRPG. That’s right; if you’re hungry to be swallowed by old-school flair, this is for you. There are quests to conquer, equipment to purchase or craft, relationships to build, and more.
The former consists of standard fare in terms of tasks: fetch quests, hunting down enemies, or apprehending criminals. The crafting portion is what’s responsible for the bulk of the grind. Yeah, while levelling is undoubtedly a part of it, some materials are difficult to come by. Okay, that tiny blurb probably frightened a few folks away, but look, hear me out. It’s, honestly, not as bad as you may expect. There are other ways to accumulate the necessary items, like purchasing them. What tickles me about the grind while purging, I’m accomplishing so much. I’m simultaneously increasing my level, gathering materials, strengthening abilities, and compiling cash. Since Ys IX retains the fast-paced action, groups of enemies were quickly eradicated. Combat is a tight, interlaced system and the proverbial hook.
THERE’S BAD IN GOOD! - Gameplay
I’ve endlessly sung the praises of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, but that’s not to say that it’s perfect, as there are blunders here and there. One issue lies directly with the crafting, though it’s, admittedly, a big nitpick.
Another way of getting the required materials for forging is through a female NPC. She’s, eventually, recruited through story progression and ends up being a sort of trading post. Every item follows a ranking system that differentiates the overall quality. Naturally, to get the best weapons, you need the upper echelon of ingredients. The problem begins rearing its ugly head once the cost is known - it’s bloody expensive. As an example - after grinding for an hour or two, I accumulated fifty of a singular material. When I went back to the girl to upgrade to the superior option, the price to do so was ten. After some quick math, that means I can trade for just five. With six playable characters in total, the cost to exchange and forge gets a bit outrageous. Bluntly said, there’s a slight balancing issue. I can’t help but think that lowering the demanded amount would help to streamline this feature, making it a more viable choice.
ENCOURAGED EXPLORATION! - Gameplay
I understand that some aren’t too keen on a sprawling open-world because it can be overwhelming. And you know, I relate to that sentiment. With so much ground to cover, it’s often too much. That isn’t the case with Monstrum Nox, as the traversable area is small and enclosed. There’s no jumping between towns since most of the adventure takes place within one spot - Balduq. As soon as I realized this, it gave way to a lingering worry. Since I’d mostly remain inside city limits, I was frightened it would get claustrophobic and feel confined. Thankfully, those feelings were quelled fast because the scope is vast - The Prison City is massive.
After confirming size, my next worry was density. With so much focus on a single location, I was afraid of emptiness and not having enough activities to partake in. Well, hush my mouth because there sure is. One of them requires you to seek out notable landmarks. After finding a few, you’ll then report your findings to an NPC. In doing so, they reward you with unique items used to bolster either attack, defence, or hit points. If that wasn’t enough, there are recipes scattered throughout, waiting to be found. After collecting a couple, there’s yet another NPC asking for meal donations. If you were to cook and donate the fruits of said recipes, further rewards await - more stat boosters. If that still doesn’t tickle your fancy, then there are chests sprinkled throughout Balduq, waiting to be found. To incentivize searching every nook and cranny, for each 10% of the map uncovered, there’s a, you guessed it, NPC that gives you rewards that include those delicious stat uppers. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox tries to seduce you to explore thoroughly, and boy, it succeeded in drawing me in.
ATTACK, ATTACK! - Accessibility
A common complaint of mine is the inability to remap buttons. As I've made a note of countless times, I suffer from nerve damage to the right side of my body. As such, some positions feel unnatural to me - both “L” and “R” are the main culprits. So imagine my delight when I saw that it was possible to customize my entire session. My range of movement is limited, and combined with how I hold my Nintendo Switch Lite, my two pointer fingers lay comfortably over the triggers. With some slight changes, I improved my time with the game, and also the speed of my reactions also benefited greatly. I was able to execute swift dodges in the heat of fast-paced mayhem.
My other complaint has to do with text size - it’s tiny when it comes to docked play. While most of my review was done handheld, I was curious to see how the text translated to the big screen. I’m not sitting inches away from my television as I would when enjoying undocked. Even with my glasses, I had difficulty seeing what was being said. While there’s the voice acting, not every line will be read out, meaning that I’m responsible for the other half. Upon looking in the settings, I noticed that there wasn’t any option to increase the text size. A bit of a missed chance when considering the remappable buttons. Then again, this could be a case of my eyes getting worse with age - mileage will vary.
SPEAK TO ME SOFTLY! - Sound Design
First and foremost, to those that don’t usually enjoy dubs, there’s dual audio available. To be upfront, though, the English is well done. Every voice fits the characters perfectly, and also their depicted personality. The jerk sounded as you’d expect; he’s stand-offish and shows a lack of concern. Yet, as the story progresses, there’s a noticeable shift in tone, with a softer underline whenever he’d speak. Another example of the superb cadence happens between a female member of the party and her younger brother. The playful teasing amongst them felt authentic, making their sibling relationship all the more believable for it. Above all else, however, is that I was legitimately growing attached to most. The voices gave life to the writing, amplifying the intended emotion beautifully. Every one of the main cast felt distinct. I enjoyed the inherent sarcasm in some exchanges, showcasing the sense of humour too. The voice-over work deserves applause, and while the Japanese is excellent, the dub also deserves a big dub.
AND THE SWIFT VERDICT IS…
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a fantastic homage to classic JRPGs, oozing out the fun that heavily tips the scale of joy. The combat is fluent, and the dialogue and banter are just a delight to read. I loved the development of the characters and watching them grow into fully fleshed-out individuals. However, for all the good mentioned, it isn’t without its faux pas, with one key issue being performance. When the screen is full of particle effects from various skills, the game struggles to maintain a steady framerate. Do note that it never plummeted to zero and lasted but a few moments. Still, the graphical fidelity isn’t extensive, pointing to, perhaps, poor optimization being the reason. Despite any of the negatives, I loved my time with Ys, and I’m kicking myself for not paying more attention to this franchise through the years. The music is stellar and did a great job getting my adrenaline pumping. Although, I must say that it didn’t always evoke the desired emotions during a cut-scene. Music should aid in bringing out the gravity of a situation, be it sadness or happiness. Thankfully, that is negated by the perfect inflections in the voice acting. Again, the dub is pretty damn impeccable. For those curious, I loved the twist.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is the epitome of a great adventure, and I’d highly recommend it to any JRPG fan. It’s reminiscent of the classics and made me feel oddly nostalgic as a result. With all I’ve said above, I comfortably declare that Ys IX is a firm 8.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox was reviewed thanks to a code provided by NIS America.