Falcom’s prolific Ys series is a flagship IP of the company. The action RPG series predates the modern Trails of series that many fans know and love, which gained some influence and aspects from Ys. The latest title, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, further improves the Ys combat system while keeping it satisfying and challenging for longtime fans. Adol Christin is back with his adventuring ways but this time, it seems like he might have bit a little more than he could chew in the city of Balduq. After his exploits in the Isle of Seiren, Altago and across the land, Adol has to take on a different type of challenge and foe. In his struggles, friendships made and a new adventure, Ys IX impresses in many different ways that fans might not expect.
The Prison City, Balduq (light spoilers)
Adol and faithful companion Dogi arrive on the outskirts of Balduq, a city built along a massive fortress-turned prison. The main entrance to the city is packed with travelers as a checkpoint by the Romun Empire has been established. Beings known as Monstrums are stalking the city (for better or worse) and the Romun Empire can’t do much against them. As Adol and Dogi get cleared into the city, the knights guarding the area suddenly get notice of a serious arrest warrant for Adol. It turns out that Adol is wanted for his exploits and constant eluding across the entire Romun Empire. Knights from the Hieroglyph Church suddenly take over and escort Adol to the massive prison, leaving Dogi behind with a warning. Things are taking a bad turn as it seems Adol’s constant adventuring and involvement in world problems finally has a consequence.
Within Balduq, Adol is interrogated for everything he has done in his career including the Ark of Napishtim, escaping the isle of Seiren and Altago. His sentence doesn’t last though as a benefactor helps him break free with the expectation of seeing him again. With an escape route secured, Adol fleets the guards and runs into a strange woman named Aprillis near the exit. Aprillis quickly examines Adol and then shoots him in the chest with a strange, cursed bullet. Adol is now subject to Balduq’s curse and becomes a Monstrum himself. With new found abilities, Adol discovers other Monstrums and the realm of Grimwald Nox, a demonic plane parallel to the real world. Adol disguises himself with dark hair dye, sets up shop in the new Dandelion Bar with Dogi to pursue the Grimwald Nox and prison’s secrets.
A Gothic Townscape Journey
The Ys series is known for its fast paced character driven action. That combat system is improved even further coming from Ys VIII to Ys IX. Adol and the party have access to unique Monstrum abilities called “Gifts” that make combat and traversing the world better than ever. In fact, these new abilities pair well with the verticality of Balduq like running up walls and gliding. Skills are back with the level based system that allows them to grow stronger with more use. These skills bind to shortcuts for some insane combo potential. Boosts enhance attack power and may be used to unleash a devastating Extra Skill. Additionally, the break system is back so switching characters mid battle to effectively damage enemies is key. Players may even change the characters’ damage types with special items. Mastering skills, combos and character synergy makes Ys IX’s gameplay an excellent experience.
Balduq is a dense, gothic-inspired city which makes for an interesting setting for Ys. Adol and his party members may take on quests, uncover secrets/collectibles, upgrade/purchase weapons view landmarks and much more. The map is brimming with content to pursue! However, the city is divided early on into blocked off sections. This is due to the curse that inflicts the Monstrum, binding them to certain areas until they raise Nox to an required level. To progress the story and exploration, dealing with monsters from the Grimwald Nox is a recurring threat. It may sound slightly tedious but it ties in a system that already works well with the Ys series: raids. Adol and the Monstrums must combat waves of enemies to protect the Sphene, a crystal that charges up to cleanse the Grimwald Nox. Once the raid is completed, a new area of Balduq is open for exploration.
The Improved Ys Experience
Players who finished Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana will notice a serious jump in graphical fidelity. This is thanks to upgrades made to Falcom’s engine since the release of Trails of Cold Steel III. Ys IX is vibrant with colors even in a gothic setting and character models are highly detailed. Character expressions are on point too. In the music department, Falcom Sound Team jdk delivers one of their best scores yet! The Ys action RPG system is refined and more responsive than ever before. Coupling this with the game’s gift abilities, skills and new features make the combat feel stellar and intuitive. Adol and the party are more fleshed out than in previous games as the characters interact more thanks to the Dandelion bar, increased voice acting and writing. The darker direction the story goes in is a refreshing and welcomed change for Ys this time around.
Some quality of life improvements also go a long way. During the game, autosaves are quite frequent so progress is always saved. It’s still best to manually save frequently though. On top of this, exploring the world is encouraging and very rewarding. Quests tracked on the map and available in abundance throughout the story chapters. Collectibles and chests are usually easy to spot or already marked on the map. Players also have a variety of difficulty options to choose from so those who want the most serious challenge can go right ahead. Options in general are expanded upon as players can set the voice acting and text language on the fly from the pause menu.
Experiencing Ys on Next-Gen Hardware
Like most PS4 games, Ys IX is backwards compatible on PS5 and works really well for the most part. During the initial Japanese PS4 release, many players had issues with bad frame pacing and drops across Balduq. Those issues have since been remedied and on PS5, its a consistent 60fps with no drops in sight. Unfortunately, playing the game on PS5 comes with many crashes. Ys IX may crash in cutscenes or dialogue and for my experience, it happened more times than I could count. However, this issue might not be present on PS4 and could be due to the new hardware. Patches should solve this post-release. Using the autosave option is a must for playing on PS5 as this ensures that no progress is lost. The localization of Ys IX by NIS America is also great as text issues from prior games are resolved.
Ys games have incredible characters, stories and moments that make Adol Christin the beloved protagonist that he is. Going into Ys IX: Monstrum Nox after playing Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana raised my expectations for what was to come. After seeing the various frame-rate issues of the Japanese PS4 release, there were some worries going into it. Luckily, those issues were non-existent and Ys IX is a smooth experience even with some crashes. Unique and developed characters, intriguing mysteries and content, fun and engaging combat await those who join Adol for another adventure. In fact, Ys IX is a great starting point into the series as the games are very loosely connected. Players who want a new RPG experience should join the ride immediately for some great fun to be had. Adol’s dark adventure awaits and he’s raring to go!
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Disclaimer: This copy of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox was provided to us by NIS America