In Ys We Trust
Few things in life are certain: taxes, death, and quality Ys games. Following the hugely successful Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, Falcom and NIS America teamed up to release Ys IX: Monstrum Nox. Adol’s adventures pick up after escaping his lampooning in Ys VIII. He and Dogi have made their way to Balduq, an enormous city notorious for its sprawling labyrinthine prison. Adol is soon arrested by the Romun army – of course, right? – before finding himself under a curse that grants him the abilities to see hidden creatures and gain Monstrum powers while preventing him from ever leaving Balduq.
And this all happens in the first thirty minutes. Much like its predecessor, Ys IX features a complex narrative that sprawls on for dozens of hours (Ys VIII took me over 70 to complete). While the setting of IX is much smaller (a city and prison) when compared to the island of Seiren in VIII, the narrative twists and turns unlike any Ys title before it. You’ll soon find yourself scratching your head and wondering what the hell is going on. If you’re like me – you’ll love that sensation.
If you’re new to the Ys series, I can’t really blame you. It’s a criminally underrated action JRPG series that likely drives away potential gamers with its name and genre designation. If you put those aside, much like Ys VIII, you’ll find one of the best action RPGs of the year (you can hold me to that come the end of the year). The Ys games feature fast combat, strategic mammoth boss battles, and a memorable cast of characters.
Gameplay in this generation of Ys games is a party based affair that you’re probably used to. You can run with a party of three at any given time (once you’ve acquired the characters, of course), and you can switch between them with the O button. Each character has a different strength and weakness damage they deal. For example, Adol is slashing (red) damage. Enemies with the red/slash symbol take extra damage from him. If Adol fights a yellow/break enemy, his damage output is reduced, and White Cat (the first Monstrum ally you come across), for example, would do increased damage. Each character has his/her own set of skills and damage types (though usually there are enough characters to have two of each type), so you can fiddle with your team composition as you see fit.
The newest piece of the Ys equation is the Monstrum ability list. As you progress through Ys IX, you gain access to a number of Monstrum powers. Adol, for example, can launch himself to designated points that he wouldn’t be able to reach on land. The Hawk has a gliding ability similar to Genshin Impact or Zelda. Each character has a unique ability that is shared amongst the party when they become allies. This opens up an entirely new way to explore the world of Ys, as you can free run walls, glide through the air, and speed through the terrain like never before. It’s an interesting concept for the series that brings a fresh aspect of gameplay I wasn’t necessarily expecting.
What I was expecting, however, was a return of the defense battles from Ys VIII. In Ys IX, Adol and the Monstrums are tasked with protecting a large crystal while Aprilis defends its. If you lose, the world is doomed; so you’re tasked with eliminating waves of enemies from harming the crystal. These are important set pieces, too, as clearing Grimoire battles will also open up areas of the city you can’t yet access, making them important to progression. It’s a nice upgrade from the previous defense/offensive battles from VIII, wherein completing them means more than just ‘survival’.
Visually, Ys IX isn’t particularly stunning. In fact, playing on my PS5, the game seemed almost pixelated. While the Ys games have never boasted graphical fidelity, I wonder if we’ll have a new engine for the next entry like The Legend of Heroes will have here shortly. With that said, the game is fluid, and runs close to 60fps on the PS5 – which is a huge benefit in such a fast paced game.
Sound design in Ys IX is also tremendous. Falcom have a knack for filling their games with stirring melodies and riveting battle tunes. It’s no different here. You could be hanging out in the Dandelion, having a meal to the tune of a jazzy piano piece before battling to some shredding guitar metal reminiscent of Dynasty Warriors. It all works together, and each song fits its purpose well. Voice acting is also reliable with veterans returning to reprise their roles. As a JRPG, Ys IX does suffer from some odd cultural/localization issues that creates awkward dialogue, but the whole of the experience is well received.
Update: 2/3/2021 – Day 1 Patch Appears to Have Fixed PS5 Crashing Issue. We’ve spent hours testing it on PS5 after launch and have experienced 0 crashes.
It needs to be stated that Ys IX does have some odd issues playing on my PS5. Beginning in chapter 3, my game began to crash at random points a number of times. While not as devastating as the Ys VIII PC crash problem, it was frustrating. Fortunately, the auto-save system keeps relative pace to where you’re at. I never lost too much time thanks to the auto-save, but it began to feel like a PS5 crash was inevitable the more I played. With that said, other outlets have reported having no issues running the game on their PS4 Pro model, so it may be a PS5 compatibility issue. We’ve reached out to NIS America and will update with their response.
Overall, the journey of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a memorable one. The terrific narrative twisted its way around and really pulled me along. It’s hard to express how into the narrative I became, but it really started to engulf me around chapter two with the other prisoner (to avoid spoilers). Maybe we’ll run a spoilercast for that. Gameplay is smooth as ever and shines as one of the series’ best aspects, while voice acting, music direction, and the new abilities keep this game fresh and evolving. You’ll get over 30 hours of gameplay on your first playthrough, and if you’re a trophy hunter, you’ll spend much and more going for that platinum. I highly recommend this one, even with the occasional PS5 crashes.