Game Info:

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
Developed By: Nihon Falcom, PH3 GmbH, Engine Software BV
Published By: NIS America, Inc.
Release Date: July 6, 2021 (PC, Switch, Stadia), February 2, 2021 (PS4)
Available On: PS4, Windows, Switch, Stadia
Genre: Action Role-Playing Game
Number of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: Teen for Fantasy Violence, Language, Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco
MSRP: $59.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you NIS America for sending us this game to review!

Ever since I first played Ys: Memories of Celceta, something about the series just clicked with me. It quickly became one of my favorites; though I couldn’t actually tell you why, it just felt right. This peaked with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, which is a masterpiece in many ways, and one of my favorite games ever. So as you can imagine, I have been really looking forward to Ys IX, both because I just want to play more Ys, but also because I know that it can be really hard to follow up on such an incredible game as Ys VIII. While I still hold VIII in higher regard, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a fantastic adventure that I enjoyed very much.

Like in most of Adol’s adventures, he and his pal Dogi are traveling, looking for the next bit of excitement when they visit Balduq, a city in the former Gllian kingdom, which is now part of the Romun empire. For whatever reason, the city guards arrest Adol almost immediately after he enters, and it’s not long before he’s interrogated and eventually breaks out of prison. During his escape, he runs into a mysterious woman named Aprilis who shoots him with a seemingly magical bullet that, rather than injure him, instead curses him. This curse grants him the new special powers of a Monstrum, while also binding him to Balduq – and he can’t leave until the curse is broken. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox chronicles that adventure.

Ys is one of the oldest action Japanese-RPG series’ around, as it started way back in 1987. While various games from that era did make it to North America, it wasn’t until the last decade or so that they really kicked off here, with the release and re-release of the entire series (except for Ys V) for easy consumption on Steam and various PlayStation consoles. From the beginning, they have been games that prioritize fast-paced action and incredible music. In addition, the real-time combat has always lent itself well to a kind of rhythm – from Ys I’s bump combat to Oath in Felghana’s top-down and super-smooth hack and slash action to Memories in Celceta’s flash move mechanic, each game has evolved the formula, with mostly positive results, and a combat that flows really well from one enemy to the next. They have also evolved the perspective; Ys I was top-down 2D; Ys VI was a hybrid 2D and 3D art style with top-down combat, while Ys Seven changed it to fully 3D game engine, but retained a three-quarters top-down perspective. It wasn’t until Ys VIII that they moved to a more modern behind-the-character view. Ys IX takes the many improvements that Ys VIII brought, and polishes it to a shine. Falcom has promised that the next Ys game will use a whole new engine, so it’ll be interesting to see where they take the series next!

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox

Strong Points: Solid adventure with incredibly tight and fast-paced action; not a lot of wasted filler, unless you want to; fun bosses; interesting story, with surprising twists; fantastic music and voice acting; lovely, memorable characters; you really get to know Adol as a character a lot more than in some previous games; very solid PC version which scales up and down nicely
Weak Points: Not quite as long as the previous Ys game, nor is the story as engaging
Moral Warnings: Action violence, with occasional blood; main plot revolves around a curse which grants you and several others special powers; skills and attacks can have magical effects, and some are named after dark or demonic forces; some females wear revealing clothing, including significant cleavage; some female enemies are basically naked with little to the imagination (with no details in the private areas); a few suggestive conversations, and one quest has you solving for an alleged pervert; one male character has stereotypical gay features, and clearly appreciates men; curse words used, including ‘sh*t’, ‘d*mn’, ‘*ss’, ‘h*ll’, ‘b*tch’, and ‘b*st*rd’, along with occasional uses of ‘God’ in vain

In order to facilitate character action and movement upgrades, most Ys games offer various equipment or artifacts that grant Adol and his friends a few unique gifts like double jump but otherwise keeps them fairly grounded. The gifts given to our heroes here in IX are much more like super powers. Each member of the team grants you their power when they join up with you, making your available skill set grow throughout. You start with an ability to pull yourself to nearby points instantly (and the game uses this concept to full effect), and eventually you gain skills that offer you much more in the way of vertical exploration, along with others I’d rather not spoil. There are also puzzles and hidden items that require one or more of these skills to complete. This also leads to more of an emphasis on platforming skill than is typical for the series, but if you want to open every treasure chest and find every secret, you’ll have to learn how to make the most of all of these new movement skills.

All of that movement is pretty neat, and quite different than previous titles, including the exploration-heavy Ys VIII. Before this, you had to go from one ‘room’ or zone to another, with fixed entrance and exit points. It was like this for both dungeons and the outside world. While this is still true to a point – dungeons are fairly self-contained – Balduq, once you unlock access to everything, can be traveled from one end to the other seamlessly and without any significant loading. From what I have heard, the PC version vastly improves loading speed and eliminates any performance drops experienced on other platforms, including the original platform, PS4. If you have a powerful enough PC (and I do), you can explore the entirety of the city without any stutters to speak of.

Being a PH3 port (the company was founded in part by the famous modder Durante), performance and tweakability are both excellent, and the graphics can be cranked quite high, far surpassing that of any other platform. High refresh rates (up to 144Hz) are supported, as well as user-customizable resolution and field of view (FOV) settings. Other things like texture and effects quality can be changed, and draw distance can also be adjusted, including the fantastic ‘unlimited’ option where you can see everything in the city, including parts of the countryside, if you find a high enough perch. Post-processing and many other graphics settings are also available to set to your liking. Controls are also quite customizable, with button prompts that match your chosen controls, whether they are keyboard and mouse or controller – both of which work excellently.

On top of wonderful combat, Ys IX includes an interesting story that teaches you about the history of this place you find yourself in – the prison city of Balduq, and why you and a small group of others have these mysterious powers. Adol isn’t exactly easy to keep in one place, much less in a prison, and Adol has become quite famous by this point in his adventuring career, having completed several major world-saving adventures by the ripe old age of 24 (truly ancient by Japanese anime/gaming standards). Of course that means he’s gained the attention of many people in power by this point. This is why quite early in the adventure he’s forced to disguise himself in decidedly atypical dark blue hair – so the guards don’t arrest him once again.

Being the generally good-natured and kind guy that he is, Adol quickly makes friends and allies as he works to figure out the cause of the curse – and free everyone under it. Like several Ys games before it, he has a cast of other characters he can fight alongside – and you can switch to them with the press of a button. As you play, the story for each of them is also explored and expanded upon; the cast of characters is quite good, and you come to care for all of them.

You also get to know Adol a bit more, too. Some characters ask him about his previous adventures, which are nice callbacks for veteran adventures. You get to see his eyes light up whenever people talk about hidden treasure; you also see him jump into other people’s business if he thinks they need his help. This is typical Adol, and you get to see more of it than in previous games. I really appreciate how you get to know him so much more as a character, even if he still has very few lines.

The story is solid and interesting, but not as compelling or heart-wrenching as Ys VIII was. I’ve felt for a while that Ys VIII is the kind of opus that is hard to repeat, and indeed that’s still the case. Having said that, there are aspects of this game that I do appreciate, even if it meant that I got to spend less time in this wonderful world.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 92%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound/Music - 9/10
Stability/Polish - 5/5
Controls/Interface - 5/5

Morality Score - 64%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 7/10
Sexual Content/Nudity - 5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

For example, Ys VIII was by far the largest Ys game to date – and it still is. There was so much to do there, and sometimes the story took its time before letting you get to the next point, as there was plenty of busywork exploring that you had to do. Ys IX is much better paced and timed in this regard; it respects your time and doesn’t give you fluff – if you don’t want to do it. Each chapter has both a required and an optional Grimwald Nox stage (these are levels where you have to fight off enemies in waves), and once you have earned enough Nox points through fighting enemies in town or completing quests, you can activate them. Quests are similar; there are optional and required quests as well. If you only want to just clear the game, you can skip a ton of optional content and get right to it with a minimal amount of fuss. The map always shows you available quests, and if you pay attention, you likely won’t need a guide to 100% everything; I didn’t except for a small number hidden caves to max out my town map. Of course doing so is entirely optional.

From a graphics and sound standpoint, the game looks better than any previous Ys game, though it is the latest one. It's a step up from Ys VIII, but not a massive one. Falcom isn’t known (yet?) for particularly demanding or leading-edge graphics. The art is in an anime style, with clean and clear lines, and expressive faces, but it's not particularly detailed or anything. The music is excellent as always, with moody pieces and fast-paced adrenaline pumping battle themes as appropriate. It's not quite to the same level as some of the other Ys games, but it's still excellent, just not incredible. The voice acting is top-notch, even if I’ve come to recognize several of those voices from other games. Regardless, they did an excellent job.

From an appropriateness standpoint, much is what you would expect; there is action violence, with only occasional blood. You swing various weapons at enemies repeatedly until they disappear. Enemies are usually magical and often dark in nature, with some being made of various kinds of bones or other dark magic. (Unlike Ys VIII, where many things you fight are naturally-born creatures, the reason for this game having mostly darker and more evil opponents makes sense in-universe.) Given that your powers come from a curse, some of your skills and attacks are named after dark and demonic things; for example, one of Adol’s skills is called ‘Demonic Pierce’. There is both a national church, called the Hieroglyph church, which uses a vaguely Christian hierarchy, and also a dead religion called the Nors faith. (Ys has always intentionally misspelled actual European places and religions on purpose in-universe.) This older faith has gods that impacted the world of the game.

Language is generally of the PG-13 variety, with words used, including ‘sh*t’, ‘d*mn’, ‘*ss’, ‘h*ll’, ‘b*tch’, and ‘b*st*rd’, along with occasional uses of ‘God’ in vain. Sexual content is present, though not ever-present. One of the main non-playable male characters acts stereotypically ‘gay’, with obvious admiration of the male form, and calls you pet names like dear. Some females wear revealing clothing, including significant cleavage, and at least one woman flirts with you suggestively. None of the female playable characters dress suggestively, though one does show some cleavage and wears tight (and short) shorts. Some female enemies are basically naked with little left to the imagination (with no details in the private areas). Thankfully, these are quite rare. One quest has you solving the case for an alleged pervert, looking for possible peeping spots for the women’s baths.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is another really solid and enjoyable entry into the Ys franchise that I thoroughly enjoyed. If you have a gaming PC, this version is certainly the best one available – both the Switch and PS4 versions play well, but reportedly have occasional (and sometimes severe) frame rate drops that the PC version can avoid if you have good enough hardware. As for the game itself, I’m really glad I finally got to experience it – it’s a game I’ve been looking forward to since I knew of its announcement in Japan a few years ago. I wouldn’t say it’s better than the incredible Ys VIII, but it’s a ton of fun, has arguably the best combat and game mechanics of the series, and is fun to play from beginning to end. If the life of a reviewer wasn’t so time consuming, I could easily see myself playing this one through a second time as New Game+, because I’ve already earned most of the achievements, and playing the game on the highest difficulty could be great fun. There is also a bonus boss rush mode once you complete the game once that’s fun to try setting high scores on. If action RPGs are your thing, or if you’ve enjoyed other Ys games, then definitely put this one on your radar. While I think other games could be better introductions to the Ys series, there is no reason why it couldn’t be this one. Highly recommended – if the darker atmosphere and other appropriateness issues don’t drive you away.

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Jason Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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