It’s been a little over three years since we last saw an entry in the Ys franchise (rhymes with “geese”), when Lacrimosa di Dana breaks the period of almost twenty years where new entrants jumped the Nitnendo consoles. We absolutely loved that release, and now Ys IX: Monstrum Nox it is out, we can confidently say that guasgi respects this high standard its predecessor. Ys IX: Monstrum Nox stumbles quite a bit with some performance issues, but ultimately stands out for the sheer quality of its excellent combat, enchanting exploration, and octagonal music.
The story follows the adventurous red-haired adventurer Adol Christin and his faithful companion Dogi, whose wandering lifestyle brought them to the Gothic city of Balduq. Upon arrival, Adol was promptly arrested for the devastation he caused in previous adventures, and was thrown into the dark by local authorities without any further trial.
As expected, it’s not long before Adol escapes out of his cell, but things go awry when he encounters a strange woman named Aprilis who pulls him out, transforming him into a human / monster hybrid named Monstrum. . Adol is soon introduced to a small group of other Monstrums who have all been turned up in the same way, and are together pressed into service by Aprilis, who says she needs his help to fight an impending threat of monsters from another dimension. Adol’s curse prevents him from leaving the city, so he is left with no choice but to learn more about the dark history of this prison city and the monsters in it.
Although it can often disappear into camp territory, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox manages to attack for the most part landing with its plot. The opening hours run a little too heavy on exposure and implementation, but the pace smooths out quickly as subsequent chapters unfold each of the other Monstrums through brief subplots where Adol joins them for some missions. or mission. Not only do these chapters help give a much-needed dimension to your initially low-key comrades, but they reveal little by little more about the mysteries surrounding Balduq’s huge prison city and his authoritarian leadership not quite right. You probably won’t go far beyond Ys IX: Monstrum Nox which feels particularly amazing from the narrative, but there’s still plenty here to keep you invested for the thirty or more hours it takes to see this through to the credits.
The gameplay takes the form of a typical action RPG, with a whole dose of open-world exploration to keep things interesting. The main novelty here is the inclusion of “Gifts”, which expand greatly in your exploration opportunities. Each Monstrum has a unique ability to make crossing easier, and the city is designed in an almost Metroidvania-esque way to encourage you to continue to explore when new Monstrums join your party. Whether it’s short-range teleportation or a simple slip-on capability, each of these Gifts feels like a welcome addition to your set of tools and helps make the city of Balduq feel more comfortable. and a playing field that warms to pleasure.
The city itself is full of side missions and collections to help bolster you on your journey, and there are a variety of dungeons that will slowly unlock as the story progresses. These are usually focused more around a particular gift, and while there aren’t many puzzles to talk about, dungeons are where most of the combat takes place. As you would expect from a Ys game, the combat flow is extremely fast paced and ticklish, rewarding skillful, dexterous gameplay. Mashing the ‘Y’ button will see your character unleash a flurry of attacks, while you can configure up to four shortcuts linked to facial buttons that allow you to use heavier abilities at a time.
If you see an enemy standing up for an attack, they give you two equally seductive options for how to defend yourself. One of these is to dodge the roll out of the way, and if you do so at the last minute, you will slow down time for enemies for a few seconds while gaining a brief window of invincibility. Similarly, you can choose to block at the last second, which denies any damage and massively increases your attack damage for a few seconds.
Taken together, these various combat elements harmonize well in a system that keeps you confined to and at the edge of your seat. Even the lower difficulties have brief challenging moments to enrich the hair, and it’s a real thrill once you understand the time for the different skills and dodge and start to see how to chain them into elegant combos. Fighting is easily the culmination of the experience here, and it remains challenging as the tens of hours pass.
We would like to stop there and leave only the praise of exploration and combat, but both of these elements are unfortunately hampered by poor performance. Whether anchored or held in the hand, frame drops are a constant problem that drags everything down remarkably. When you go through dungeons and isolated combat battles, things generally have a stable-ish 20-25 FPS, but roaming in the open city of Balduq is where the real problems arise. In these cases, you’re looking at a near-consistent under-20 FPS experience, which makes it harder to navigate more complicated platform sections and makes the overall experience feel pretty understated. While we’ve been promised that some patches are on track to smooth things out, the experience here at launch is little more than disappointing.
It’s a real shame, though, as in addition to the excellent game cycle, the presentation is pretty enticing. Balduq isn’t nearly as visually interesting as the more fantastic places Adol has explored in the past, but there’s a difference Castlevania-motif esque to the endless stone structures that strikes a strangely alluring mix between welcoming and oppressive. In addition, the soundtrack (especially in the dungeons) blends into a wonderfully high-energy rock music that corresponds perfectly to both the Gothic aesthetic and the fast-paced combat. Balduq may not even be the best setting for a Ys game, but it consistently manages to make it memorable.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox isn’t a massive step up from its tropical predecessor, but it touches on all the right moves it needs to make for a addictive and challenging action RPG. The fast-paced combat, memorable atmosphere, and surprisingly rich content-rich open world make for an experience that action RPG fans don’t want to miss. If it weren’t for the performance issues, we might as well be inclined to say that this is the best example of the genre on the Switch. Given these issues, however, a completely unreserved recommendation of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox on Switch is hard to make. Performance is reported to be a bit better on PS4 and PS5, so if you have access to one of these consoles, we recommend getting it here. Otherwise, you’re still having a good time on Switch – just make an appointment for those picture drops.