Our Score: 9/10
This review will contain no spoilers.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is an action JRPG and a part of the long-running Ys franchise. It stars Adol Christin and his best friend Dogi. Although it may look daunting that this game is the ninth in a series, it requires no knowledge of the other games to enjoy. Ys stars the same two characters and takes place in the same world for all of its games, but most of these games take place on different continents, which each have their own side characters and plots.
A simple premise to the franchise is that Adol and Dogi love to adventure, and go to different lands and always get themselves caught in a plot. In fact, I once jokingly summarized the plot to a friend as, “Adol gets on a boat to a new land, and bad things happen,” but the truth is that the series does have great lore and interesting characters.
Adol is famous as a red-headed adventurer, but he does it for the sake of the journey itself; he doesn’t want to get famous or rich from adventures. When he finds himself enthralled in a conflict, he always wants to help people and protect innocents.
Although you don’t need to have played other Ys games in the franchise, Ys IX does have a lot of interesting throwbacks to its older titles, in the form of lines of dialogue from a few of the characters as well as recurring bosses from older Ys titles.
In this game, Adol adventures to the city of Balduq. There are strange things occurring in Balduq, where Adol finds himself with a “Monstrum” form and also has interesting magical powers called a Gift. There are spirits called Lemures invading as well, which seem to be drawn by negative emotions. Adol finds himself using his Monstrum form and allying himself with many people, some of whom also have Monstrum abilities, to save the city.
One of the things about Ys IX I was blown away by was its main city, Balduq, also called the “Prison City”. The graphics are not technically impressive cutting-edge graphics; however, the art design is some of the best I’ve seen in a JRPG.
This game contains a wide variety of dungeons and areas including deserts, forests, laboratories, underground caves, and more. The world is vast and colorful, and I enjoyed taking a breath and looking at beautiful nature including waterfalls, theaters, and mountains.
As well, you acquire many amazing abilities throughout the game, from being able to hook onto roofs, wall-run up buildings, and even glide down like a hawk. It makes exploring very varied and unique, and it also makes obtaining all of the collectibles to be very fun. It’s NOT like a regular JRPG where you have to manually and slowly run and jump to gather collectibles.
In fact, by the end of the game, I was able to explore and run through old areas of the game 3-4 times as fast because of how many amazing field abilities I had. If you are struggling to get a hard-to-reach treasure chest, for instance, you can return later with more abilities to grab it much more easily. The game is extremely friendly and many of the areas are littered with teleport locations, so you can take a break almost anytime to craft and upgrade equipment, or even do side content instead.
The city of Balduq itself is amazing because it is not just copy-and-pasted assets. Balduq actually feels like a city, from depressing poor areas such as the Shantytown, and contrasting the Noble District which has the fanciest houses for the elite.
You also have a Knights HQ which is full of their garrisons and equipment, markets full of vendors each selling from their own stalls, and even a giant prison in the city in which the game is focused on. Despite it being the sole city in the game, it really does an amazing job and is one of the best cities I’ve seen in a video game.
The game is chalk-full of collectibles to gather within the city such as azure petals, which can be given to a character for rewards. There are also collectibles such as treasure chests with goodies, and landmarks of distinctive areas.
So that you’re not overwhelmed, the city of Balduq is slowly unlocked as you progress through the story, and there are many surrounding areas outside the city that are also unlocked slowly. You will acquire own building with the main cast of characters early-game. Over the course of the game, more and more characters will join your cause through your efforts, such as a maid and doctor to name a few.
This title is from the developers at Falcom, who are known for including a lot of lore and character dialogue in their games, and this game is certainly no exception. If you’re unfamiliar with their games, they’re famous for having a lot of dialogue and long narrative cutscenes.
To give an example, all of the NPCs in the city will update their dialogue after a plot event. If you enjoy talking and learning about the lore of the game, you will get plenty of extra play time. But if you don’t want to do that, there’s still great dialogue from the main cast of characters within your base. The English translation is extremely well-done and all of the dialogue and lore in the game comes naturally.
The battle system is action-based. If you are familiar with fast-paced action from other action JRPGs such as the “Tales of” or Nier franchises, this game is similar in nature. Even if you’re not good with action games, don’t worry, the game is extremely accessible and has many difficulty options.
It’s not a grindy game and most of the length of the game comes from its cutscenes. You can purchase equipment for your characters and craft or upgrade new equipment using materials you find around the city. You can purchase skill books to learn and use new skills and even make combos in combat. There are plenty of enemies and bosses to tackle throughout the adventure.
This is a long JRPG game, and there’s no way around it with this being a Falcom game. We spent around 60 hours to 100% the game which included beating the main storyline, beating the optional boss, completing all side quests and obtaining all collectibles. It would be possible to beat the game without optional content in roughly 40-50 hours.
Although it’s a long game, the narrative of the game is phenomenal and there are many cutscenes showing the characters and explaining the lore. There are 40 sidequests in the game that show the lore of the city as well as many of the interesting issues happening in the city as a result of the Lemures.
I found that, although this is a JRPG, the story doesn’t have many clichés or “fan-service”. I found the story to be extremely mature, with plenty of clever twists throughout. The main cast of characters are very different, and many even have Monstrum forms that look extremely unique and colorful.
The differing personalities of the main cast really go well and the characters play off of each other. If you liked the Tales of games for their “skits” and funny character interactions, this game is pretty similar, being full of numerous cutscenes where characters interact with each other, from personality clashes to characters learning and becoming more responsible.
The affection system is well-done, and allows you to go above and beyond what you’d see in the main cast in just storyline cutscenes. If you keep talking to characters and give them a gift item, you’ll get an exclusive cutscene that often shows the character in a very different light, such as them talking to Adol about an issue they were struggling with and trying to overcome it. One of these affection cutscenes even had a character reuniting with someone important and I was tearing up with how beautiful the scene was.
You can choose the spoken dialogue in the game. We played the English dub, which was well-done with professional voice-acting. One of our criticisms with Falcom’s Trails of Cold Steel series earlier is that there were a few awkward scenes, where there would be a new character introduced in a cutscene, and only that character would be voiced even though there’d be another 5 characters they’d be speaking with who were unvoiced. It was an understandable decision due to how large the scope of the games were. In Ys IX however, all major cutscenes will have all the character in that cutscene voiced. Affection cutscenes are also voiced.
The gameplay overall really feels like the developers at Falcom have learnt from developing games for so many years, and this game is a large step up from Ys VIII that was released in 2016. The quality of life improvements in this game compared to older Ys title is simply astonishing. For instance, the game has collectibles and there is a Records menu where you can track how many treasure chests, enemies, landmarks, and more you have seen in the game.
You can get a maid early-game who can go out to all the shops you found and pick up items to buy for you. Although older Ys titles had many missable content such as quests with barely any indicator, this game lets you easily keep track of everything with plenty of markers on the maps.
If you really enjoy JRPGs and anime content or action games, I strongly recommend this game. It’s not a perfect game, but it is very well-made and takes a very narrative and lore-heavy spin on the JRPG genre. If you need help acquiring any collectibles, we have published a walkthrough that covers all missable items here.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a great title from Falcom and we cannot wait for their next big-hitter, Hajimari No Kiseki, the sequel for Trails of Cold Steel IV, to be localized.