The last thing Adol Christin, legendary red-haired adventurer and protagonist of the Ys series, expected when he turned up at the city of Balduq was to become a prisoner within its walls.
Still, in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, that doesn’t stop Adol from embarking on another action-packed escapade. Shortly after arriving at the prison he’s given the opportunity to escape, though due to a curse put upon him by a mysterious woman called Aprillis as he flees, he’s soon to become a prisoner to the city itself.
Monstrums lie at the heart of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox‘s story – individuals who have supernatural gifts and the ability to slip into an alternate dimension known as the Grimwald Nox to deal with fearsome monsters. Adol may be new to Balduq, but he’s the latest to have become one of these Monstrums, and so he now finds himself trapped within the city walls. Can he break his curse so he can carry on his adventures? That’s what he seeks to find out. Though while Aprillis may hold the answer he seeks, he’s also intrigued by the prison – something just seems off about it.
With the action effectively confined to one city, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a bit of a departure for the series. It feels less like a grand adventure, which might disappoint some. The city of Balduq is still pretty big, though you don’t have access to all of it from the beginning of the game. Thanks to your curse, areas of it are blocked off via strange forcefields. Over the course of the game, more and more areas become available as you accumulate Nox either by completing side-quests or slipping in to the Grimwald Nox and defeating the enemies inside via tears littering the streets. Once enough Nox has been accumulated, a ball of swirling Miasma will appear near a forcefield, and by clearing its challenge a new area will be unlocked.
These challenges come in two forms. Primarily you’ll be engaging in a bit of tower defence, protecting a crystal from waves of enemies. To make things a little easier, you can construct decoys and other helpful contraptions. Every once in a while, however, you’ll instead be tasked with hunting down and a destroying large number of crystals against the clock. You’re never alone in these endeavours, however; fellow Monstrums will accompany you, getting into the thick of the action, while other allies will support you however you can.
To gain the assistance of Monstrums outside of the Grimwald Nox, you’ll first need to win them over. And you’ll want to, as not only is combat more manageable once you have a couple of allies by your side, but each Monstrum has a special skill to share with the team. Many of them allow you to traverse the city of Balduq in new and interesting ways. Initially you just have the ability to double jump and grapple to select points, for example, but once the White Cat joins the team you can run up walls. By the end of the game, you’ll be able to smash weak walls, detect hidden switches, and even glide. Nihon Falcom wants you to explore every nook and cranny of Balduq in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, and thanks to your abilities you’ll be more than happy to.
With more of an emphasis on storytelling, plenty of to-ing and fro-ing to be done in town, and lots of collectible hunting to be undertaken, there’s much more downtime in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox than there usually is in an Ys game. It actually works out for the best, though, as it brings more balance to the game. You may be stuck in a city, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t dungeons to explore, filled with creatures that want to tear you apart on sight. And thanks to the skills imparted by your team, the dungeons in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox are some of the best in the series, even if the camera doesn’t always quite gel with the added verticality of the gameplay.
As usual, you can have three characters in your active party at any one time, and each has their own attack type. Adol, equipped with a sword, is of the slash variety, so his attacks are great against enemies with fleshy skin, while Hawk’s piercing attacks work wonders against airborne enemies. You can instantly switch between control of your three characters at any time with the push of a button, allowing you to capitalise on their unique abilities when you see fit. And with each of them having their own range of flashy special attacks, you’ll soon find a few favourites. What’s handy is that, further into the game, you can obtain accessories that change a character’s attack type, too, so you don’t need to leave someone on the bench simply because they don’t bring anything to the table.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox might just be the best Ys game yet. More emphasis on storytelling and a wider range of gameplay elements makes for a game that’s a little more absorbing, and one that also gives you some time to breathe between all the fast-paced action. It takes a little time to get going, but once the narrative is in its stride you’ll want to know more about the Monstrums that battle by your side, and what secrets the Prison at the heart of Balduq holds. Add on top lashings of entertaining combat and a soundtrack that’s a pleasure to your ears from beginning to end, and you have a game that’s simply a joy to throw yourself into.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox Review: GameSpew’s Score