One of my most anticipated games of 2021 was Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, the latest action RPG game in the Ys series – I was a late bloomer to the series but I loved playing through Ys VIII and, more recently, Ys: Memories of Celceta. So, when I managed to get my hands on it about a week ago, this game became my life – over 100 hours I’ve sunk into it, obtaining the platinum trophy which is just sat on my PS4 Pro waiting to be synced once the game is added to PSN. However, although I was obsessed with the game and was fully engaged with the story and gameplay, my initial opinion was almost the opposite.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is (technically) the sixteenth release within the Ys franchise, despite being the ninth game within the mainline self-contained series. It’s developed by our friends over at Nihon Falcom who, if you’ve read my previous reviews, you’ll know that I personally love and strive to fully complete every game they create. I seriously loved Tokyo Xanadu eX+, the Trails of Cold Steel Series (1, 2, 3, and 4), Ys: Memories of Celceta, and more. Also, NIS America is the publisher, another company who releases games which always seem to be created just for me, games which I adore and instantly become obsessed over.
So, you’ve probably gathered that I love this game and am about to sing praise out of every orifice for it, but I’ll also be talking about the things which had me question certain aspects of the game. Let’s get to it…
Adol Christin, a name which anyone who is familiar with the series will instantly recognise, is back and ready for a new adventure. He and Dogi arrive at the gates of Balque, a large city in control by the Romun Empire, yet before he could even step foot within the city walls, he’s detained and thrown in prison for crimes unknown. As he makes his escape – as no prison can hold our amazing Adol – he encounters a strange woman who goes by the name of Aprilis, a meeting which leaves him enchanted and mutated into a Monstrum.
What is a Monstrum? They are a being with supernatural abilities, able to transform beyond their human self and utilise secret powers in order to face great enemies which have crossed over from the Grimwald Nox. The general public within the world can’t see nor interact with these disgusting creatures, time stands still as they invade and seek out to create destruction. Thankfully, Adol isn’t on his own in his quest to kill these otherworldly beings, find out what’s behind their invasion, and save the town from their invisible threat, there are five other Montrums who will join you as you proceed.
However, despite this supernatural lifestyle sounding quite amazing, it is what it is, a curse. As such, not only are you all grouping together to solve the mystery behind the terror of Balduq, but you’re also looking for the source of the curse so that you may free yourself and your new companions – Your powers are a gift, but your gift is a curse…
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox mainly takes place within the city of Balduq – which was my first disappointment (initially). I’ve played around 100 hours through two playthroughs (Easy and Nightmare) and I’d say about 3/4 of your time is spent on the streets of the city, in the prison, and fighting your way through the dungeons hidden underneath the city. There are a few open areas which you can explore later on into the game, but you don’t have access to them for a long time – as such, I felt confined and claustrophobic for a while.
You see, in the city there are walls, barriers which have been erected which limit your movements, making the large town much smaller than it seems. But, this is done so that you gain access to new areas when the story permits you – similar to the rocks we saw in Ys VIII that you had to break with a certain number of survivors. However, this time it’s all about completing quests and fighting creatures on the street. Each portal you clear and quest you finish gives you a certain number of points, once you hit 100 then a portal appears – a portal which upon defeat will open a new part of the town or open world to explore.
So, by taking on both notice board quests and accepting hidden ones, you can expand the areas you can explore and encounter new interesting people and hideous monsters. The portals you must destroy in order to do this are fought within the Grimwald Nox, an alternative dimension filled with the creatures who are invading the town – these work like the beach segments in Ys VIII, a set of ‘waves’ as you defend a crystal or the new mini-game of destroying crystals before the time runs out, whilst the enemies are attacking you.
My one ‘issue’ with this process – which may be because I missed a hint on the screen – is that certain ‘hidden’ quests (they appear on the map as ???) often pop up in areas you can’t enter. I thought this means the quest will be there when it opens up, but no, progressing with the story made the quest vanish and I lost my chance to 100% the game. Basically, even if you’ve hit 100 points and opened a portal for the story, you sometimes have to continue grinding in order to get another 100 points and open another non-essential portal – this then gives you access to the other quest which was staring at you every time you looked at the map.
Basically, don’t rush through the game as you could miss out on time-sensitive things – although, I got 100% of the map, chests, people, missions, and items in my first playthrough with no guides, help, or issues – if you’re thorough then it’s quite straight-forward.
The combat within Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is just as satisfying as it is in previous games, allowing you to obtain and equip new skills for each character as you progress. Each of the six Monstrums come with their own weapon and fighting style, all with ten unique special abilities which level up as you use them, allowing you to find the enemies weak-spots and thrash them with the most effective attack or weapon. The game is essentially like a hack-and-slash in that you’ll be constantly pushing the Square button to perform your standard attack more often than not, with the occasional holding R1 and a face button for the special moves.
Just like Ys VIII, you have the ability to both block and dodge attacks by pushing the R1 or L1 button at the right time (just as you are about to get hit). I found this mechanic to be very hard to pull off intentionally, often spamming both buttons in hopes I perform one of the defensive moves as I worked towards the trophy for using it. However, pushing both at the same time turns you into even more of a badass, boosting all your attack and allowing you to, once again, push them both in and do a mega-slash and injure all the creatures which are around you. I had to remap that move though as I was accidentally triggering it very often – there are not enough buttons on the PS4 controller!
I personally found the combat very satisfying and fun to play. My first playthrough was on Easy and, as you’d expect, my sword was gliding through the enemies like they were butter which had been left out in the sun for a few hours, allowing me to worry more about the story and finding the hidden objectives than dying because I let my guard down and was taken from behind by an ugly ‘thing’. But, once I jumped into Nightmare mode for my second playthrough, I found it much more challenging but not too bad (as I was around level 80 at this point). However, even though I was still a God amongst men, some of the many bosses had a tonne of health, so it still took a good 5-10 minutes to kill them.
As a side note, there are two more difficulties above Nightmare, so once you’ve completed the game then you could technically torture yourself and run through those instead – the ‘Nightmare’ trophy can be unlocked by completing either three of these difficulties. Plus, if you enjoy killing bosses, you’re in luck – completing the game unlocks the Boss Rush mode we’ve seen in previous games, allowing you to take on all the bosses one after another whilst the game records your time.
Unlocking the portals isn’t the only way you gain access to new areas in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, you also obtain new abilities which further enhances your body in a much more convenient way than previous titles. The reason I said that the controller doesn’t have enough buttons is that you no longer have to constantly swap what abilities or passive item you have equipped, as soon as you obtain a new Monstrum as one of your party, you acquire their ability which is auto-mapped to a button.
The first ability you gain is mapped to R2, this allows you to invisibly Hookshot yourself up to designated markers on top of buildings and structures. In the early game, this is a great tool as you’ll be able to get atop the roofs and explore, later being used to make use of shortcuts in dungeons and the open-world areas. Other abilities include gliding through the air like a plastic carrier bag, running up walls like Mario in his catsuit, smashing weak walls with your mighty weapon, diving into the ground like Lucky from New Super Lucky’s Tale, and seeing hidden and usable things like the spyglass in Zelda.
By utilising all of your ‘gifts’, you can easily spot the numerous collectables, scale any wall, smash anything which blocks your way, and go under a gap as if you’re made of paper – all without actually swapping them around in a menu! This is when I started to really love the game, I like it when you start with nothing and you gradually build your character so they can access new areas – kind of like Metroid – it makes me feel like I’m making progress and gives me a reason to go back and explore areas I’ve been previously.
Quests and collectables
There are 40 quests to complete within Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, some are as simple as defeating a group of monsters within a dungeon and others involve talking to the locals and helping them out with various things. Each quest is unique, offering a nice distraction from the combat by having you talk to interesting and funny NPCs who help make the world more exciting and real – I don’t recall seeing any duplicated people, everyone looks like an individual with their own life.
As this is a Nihon Falcom game, you just know that there’s going to be a tonne of things to find and complete in order to obtain 100% and/or the platinum trophy. As with previous games, one of the core mechanics is unveiling the map, revealing it as you explore each area and search every nook and cranny. On top of this, we see the return of obtaining notes about every character by talking to them at key moments and helping them out via quests, owning one of every item, killing every single type of enemy, and the most exciting of all – opening every single treasure chest in a single playthrough.
Thankfully, unlike the Trails of Cold Steel series, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox actually tells you how many chests are left in every part of the map – each dungeon, region of the town, building, and open-world has a very helpful counter so you know when you’ve collected them all! Any fans of the developer’s games will know that this is a much-welcomed feature! Also, I don’t recall there being any missable chests, as you can return to all areas once they’ve been unlocked via the portals – the only missable things I noticed were the quests that are hidden in each chapter.
There are a few other things which will have you searching high and low, such as the petals. These are hidden in the town and can be exchanged for rewards via an NPC. I spent hours searching for these as, just like the chests, the game tells you how many are left in each segment of the city. However, I didn’t know that one of the abilities you unlock makes finding these super easy – I had basically found about 90% of them before I obtained the ability, making it feel like I’d spent far too long on something which could have been much faster. But, I didn’t care as I really enjoyed scouting the city.
The world that Nihon Falcom has created in Ys IX Monstrum Nox feels alive, just like their other games. Sure, people don’t really go about their business, they are usually stuck to the spot or simply walk around in set patterns, but each person is unique with their own personality and appearance. You’ll come accross some rather interesting individuals as you open up new locations and chat to the locals, people such as a peeping tom who likes to spy on naked women, a doctor who has a hidden agenda, and even a strange creature who lives in the lake.
Your adventure isn’t only about you and your five other powerful Monstrum friends, you’ll soon begin to gain new supporters who help out at your headquarters by serving you, offering you missions, and generally enjoying a good chat at the start of the chapter. I found each of these to be a delightful addition to the game, making me want to see what new things they were going to say when I’ve moved on in the story. As such, when you finally get a quest given to you which is based around helping one of your colleagues or the people who help you out, you feel like you now know them and are more inclined to accept their proposal for support no matter how trivial it is.
There is another side to the story – one which I won’t talk about due to spoilers – but I really liked how the devs combined that storyline with the main one and then brought them both together later on. This second narrative confused me for a while but it was a great moment when everything became clear to me. The only thing I felt that the developers could have done better was the ending – it was like Mass Effect 3, you have multiple choices but they all have the same conclusion regardless of what you picked.
I really wish this was a perfect game but there are a few things I didn’t like about it, one may be down to my console but the others stuck out like a sore thumb…
First of all, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox was very unstable on my PS5. Again, this may be a ‘me’ issue, but within 4 hours of play on the PS5 via BC, the game had crashed to the dashboard five times. So, I moved over and decided to play it on my PS4 Pro instead – 100+ hours continuous with no crashes at all. So, I don’t know if there’s a stability issue with the PS5 or if it’s my console playing up (as I’ve had a number of issues with it). As such, if you’re playing through BC then remember to save regularly.
Next up is the resolution. The PS5 ran the game as if it was a PS4 Pro, so playing on the Pro was very similar. To say I was disappointed with the resolution and visual clarity would be an understatement – no lie, some areas made the game look like it was running on the Nintendo Switch. The game was clearly under 1080p at times, making distant items very fuzzy and the lines in bars and grates would flicker due to the non-existent AA. Playing on the PS5 had it run slightly better, possibly locking to 1080p more often, but on the Pro it struggled to keep it up. I can only imagine what it must look like on the PS4 (unless there is literally no Pro enhancements and it’s the same on the base PS4?)
Another strange resolution ‘issue’ is when you stand still for a few seconds and the game gives you a hint or a piece of lore on the screen. This text is beyond tiny! I’m playing on a 4K TV and I couldn’t read the text without getting up and moving closer (see image above) – I can only imagine how small it’ll be on the Switch later this year! Its as if the game is scaling the text for 4K whilst rendering the gameplay lower, making the text appear much smaller than it should. This is only for these pop-ups though, everything else is fine.
Basically, I was hoping for more – the Pro has been out since 2017 and the PS5 is now out as well – I was expecting at least an 1800-2160p resolution like the Trails games. But, I put aside my woes with the visual clarity as the resolution isn’t everything, it’s all about the gameplay and the performance… oh, wait…
Where do I begin? Paying Ys IX: Monstrum Nox on the PS4 Pro was a struggle. Not only did the resolution often dip and make the game fuzzy, but the framerate regularly dips as well. I’m not sure if the game is targeting 60 or 30 fps (felt like 60) but you can really feel the framerate struggling when you perform big special attacks and there’s a lot of enemies on the screen. It’s not unplayable, it just feels like a Dynasty Warriors game when they struggle as more enemies are introduced – or EDF.
Flip over to the PS5 and the performance issues are all ironed out – this was my first impression of the game and I really enjoyed it, it was super stable. But, when the crashes started – and my PS5 corrupted it’s SSD (it’s an ongoing issue with my console) – I moved to the PS4 Pro and my happy first impressions were quickly squashed. If the issues I had with the game crashing on the PS5 were limited to just me, I’d strongly recommend you play this game on your PS5. If the crashing is a common issue (see if others had the same issue), then the PS4 Pro isn’t bad but you’re not going to get a smooth experience out of it.
However, despite the drops happening often and the game feeling sluggish at times (which is noticeable even more as it’s a live-action game and not turn-based), no matter how much action appeared on screen or how many times I was chaining special moves which lit up the screen like there was a bunch of nuclear devices exploding, not once did the PS4 Pro give in and crash on me – so there’s that, I guess.
Another thing to mention, the loading times in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox aren’t too bad, there’s a little loading when you fast travel, enter new areas outside the city or into dungeons, and when you start a new chapter. But, when playing the game on the PS5 via the internal SSD, the loading times were much faster, I’d say less than half the time to load as it did on my PS4 Pro.
I love games that talk to me, I can sit back, put the dialogue on ‘auto’ and just listen as the characters talk to each other during cutscenes and when gaining info on a quest. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox found another way to disappoint me. You have the option for both English and Japanese dialogue – which is great – but there’s not a lot of it. Sure, the other five Montrums talk when you interact with them during quests, as do some NPCs at certain times, but the majority of the time it’s silent text reading. I don’t mind this, but I would have loved it to be more interactive and audible.
Another thing which confused me was the silent nature of the protagonist. Adol doesn’t speak very much throughout Ys IX: Monstrum Nox – I think there were only two or three times where he spoke the dialogue I chose during a conversation option – every other time he’ll speak a one-liner or grunt. This is a very small nit-pick with the game, as the voice quality is great and there is an okay amount of vocals throughout the game, but I wanted Adol to talk more – I guess Adol is just a little shy.
In terms of the music, I love the soundtrack (I need to get hold of it somehow). Every dungeon, scene, and event has the perfect music assigned to it in order to emphasis the danger, action, and emotional aspects.
I initially didn’t like Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, it felt too confined and I honestly thought the entire game was going to take place within the city. After a few hours (about 10 or so), I was beginning to love it – the game had introduced a new mysterious element into the narrative (no spoilers here) which had me hooked on finding out what’s going to happen next and why I’m seeing certain events unfold on screen. I quickly became obsessed with ensuring I completed all the quests, found all the chests, collected the petals, and unlocked the portals, literally having me not sleeping for a few days unless I passed out whilst playing.
For me, I found this title more enjoyably than Ys VIII, although I also found it easier – and not just because I played it on Easy. It was easier to keep track of what chests I had, how to spot the missing collectables, completing the enemy and NPC notebooks weren’t too tricky, and the abilities you unlock were fun (and simple) to use. I also really liked the story, even if there are a few confusing and WTF moments which don’t really make sense until you get further into the game.
The only three things I didn’t like were the performance, the resolution, and the grinding for the ‘level up all skills’ trophy. I’ve gone into my dislike of the first two points above – it didn’t affect my enjoyment too much but play on the PS5 if you can – as long as it doesn’t crash on you. In regards to the grinding, this game – like the others – requires you to max out all ten skills for all six characters, that takes a long time and personally upset the flow of the game for me as it resulted in unnecessarily spamming attacks as soon as my meter had risen (whether in battle or not).
Although, grabbing that trophy did force me to swap characters and play as everyone in order to obtain it – so I guess it does have a positive aspect to it.
On a side note – if you have a save on your device from Ys VIII and/or Ys: Memories of Celceta, you get one or two bonus items which really help out in your first playthrough. Just like every Nihon Falcom game, upon completing the Ys IX: Monstrum Nox you can rollover certain things into your second playthroughs, such as keeping your character levels, the completion amounts, and even certain items and weapons you’ve obtained. This means your subsequent playthroughs on harder difficulties much easier. Also, unlike The Trails games, you aren’t limited to only picking a few options, you can literally bring over as many of the options as you want.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is, by far, my favourite Ys adventure so far; Adol is a badass! Although the game started off a little slow for me, making me feel like the game was going to be a short and repetitive bunch of missions within a single city, I was happy when the game expanded and new mechanics and areas were opened up to me. The story had me hooked as soon as the narrative introduced a strange introduction early on, making me constantly try and guess what was happening – I simply couldn’t stop playing until the game had explained itself to me! I have issues with the presentation and performance of the game but if I step back and ignore resolution and framerate, I had so much fun and quickly became addicted to the satisfying combat and interesting quests.
If you wish to ‘try before you buy’, there’s a free demo on the PSN store for the game. You can find it by looking in ‘Demos’ on the PS4 or searching for the game on the PS5 and clicking the three dots then ‘Demo’. HERE is a link to the demo on the PlayStation UK website.
Also, if you want to buy the game physically, you have a few options. NIS America has two editions of the game on sale, the ‘Pact’ Edition and the ‘Limited’ Edition. They are HERE.
The Pact Edition is the game, a mini art book, a one-disc soundtrack sampler, and a reverse coversheet. The Limited Edition contains the Pact version as well as another soundtrack, a hardback art book, a short novel (the prequel), a chibi figure, an art collection, a set of keychains, and a collectable Monstrum box. However, due to Brexit, the Limited edition has been delayed (in the UK) with no set release date yet – so it won’t arrive on the 5th when the game launches.
I personally would love to pick up this version as the bonus items look awesome. Let us know if you buy it and how cool it looks in real life!
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox£61.99
- - Brilliant story with mutiple parts that follow their own narrative
- - The combat is very satisfying with each character having their own unique abilities and style
- - The quests and side activities are enjoyable to work through
- - The music is great and the voices are well performed
- - There isn't many missable aspects, so you can casually enjoy yourself without worrying about missing things
- - The performance on the PS4 Pro (and probably the base PS4) is pretty bad at times
- - The resolution on all consoles (including the PS5) is quite low, possibly sub-1080p
- - There isn't a lot of talking, only key cutscenes and interactions, with Adol being as silent as usual
- - May be just my console but the game crashed regularly on the PS5 (it was perfect on the PS4 Pro though)