The red haired hero Adol Christin has adventured back onto the Nintendo Switch with a port of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, the latest entry in Falcom’s long-running Japanese action RPG series, but this time around he’s got a new ‘do and his adventuring has been somewhat… restricted.
Breaking outta Balduq
First things first, it’s worth pointing out that Ys IX is very clearly built on its predecessor, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana. The combat is the same brand of fast action, where you build up a meter to unleash special attacks and swap characters on the fly to best hit an enemy’s weak spot. Flash Guard, which powers you up on a successful block, and Flash Dodge, which slows down the enemy if you time your evasion just right, also return. Thankfully that core is as great as ever, with battles being a fast-paced affair where you’re never standing still.
That’s not to say Ys IX is a mere retread, however. Where Ys VIII flung protagonist Adol to a beautiful deserted island, this sequel essentially does the opposite, trapping the hero in the bustling prison city of Balduq. Instead of serene nature and a small tight-knit group of castaways, you’ll instead be navigating gothic streets and bumping into cityfolk left and right.
While in most RPGs cities are a simple affair, and can often feel far too small or restrictive, Ys IX’s focus on a single location means it’s just as interesting to explore as the aforementioned island, if not even more so. You’ll be discovering shops, finding hidden treasure chests, and filling out a completion list that has the likes of glowing blue petals and scrawled graffiti.
Of course, if the out-of-battle movement was a carbon-copy of Ys VIII’s then exploring a city of varying elevations would be a chore, to say the least. That’s where Adol’s new curse comes in.
Shot by an ethereal bullet mere moments into the game, Adol takes on the form of a “Monstrum” and takes on the moniker “The Crimson King”. In this form, he can grapple to various points in a flash with the tap of a button. This alone changes the exploration a significant amount, but then you meet even more Monstrums and get to use their powers as well. Soon enough you’re running up walls and soaring across the cityscape, and it feels fantastic.
While you’ll spend much of the game eager to recruit more Monstrums to experience their powers first-hand, that’s not the only reason you’ll want to see them. Like much of Falcom’s output, the characters behind the powers are where the game truly shines, and the solid localization makes them stand out even more.
You see, much like Adol, the other Monstrums have a normal life beyond their superheroics, and naturally they have their own problems to deal with. Some may have a personal goal in mind, while others will specifically have beef with the folks in charge of Balduq. More often than not, though, it’s all intertwined, and it’s engaging to see how their personal stories unfold.
It’s not just them, though. Much like Ys VIII you’ll be recruiting allies to aid you from a home base, but rather than a cozy castaway village it’s a secret hideout befitting a group of vigilante fugitives. While these recruits often fill typical RPG roles (the shop keep, the blacksmith) they each have a story to experience, and you can give them gifts over the course of your stay in Balduq to learn even more about them. This was a great concept in the last game, and it’s nice to see its return.
It’s also worth noting that while the game has a far darker aesthetic than the light and breezy Ys VIII, it’s mostly surface level. Adol’s chipper optimism once again rubs off on just about everyone he meets, and you’ll find yourself using your spooky supernatural abilities to win over the populace, either directly or indirectly. Just picture Bruce Wayne delivering flowers to help a struggling business in-between Batman sessions and you’ll get the idea.
Ys IX originally launched for the PlayStation 4 in Japan back in 2019, but like most of Falcom’s output it never really pushes the bounds of graphics. As a result it translates rather well to the Switch visually. Character models have clear silouettes and color schemes that stand out in the thick of battle, faces are easy to read during cutscenes, and level geometry is distinct enough that it’s easy to make out landmarks.
The performance can suffer some hitches though, with the framerate taking some dips when there are a lot of NPCs on screen, but even the PlayStation 4 version can run into similar issues from what I’ve played of it. It’s also worth noting that some may be frustrated by the small font choices, despite the lower resolution of undocked play.
As for the audio, well, it’s a Falcom game. Their in-house sound team has once again knocked it out of the park with a soundtrack that has more than its fair share of rockin’ battle tunes, as well as some more relaxed tracks for when you’re hanging out with your unlikely partners in crime.
The English voice acting is also great, though I sometimes found myself hoping more of the game was voiced. As it stands, various key character moments are silent.
Noxing it out of the park
In many ways Ys IX: Monstrum Nox feels like a game that confidently builds on its immediate predecessor while addressing its key weaknesses, namely traversal. As a result you have a game that feels like a concept shined to near-perfection, and I can’t wait to see what Falcom does next.
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: July 6th, 2021
Categories: Action RPG
Publisher: NIS America