Adol Christin has a bad habit of getting into trouble. You can’t blame him: he’s an adventurer, and a good adventurer knows when there’s trouble to be found and justice to be upheld. As a perennial (and willing) swordsman-in-distress, his latest adventures bring him and lifelong partner Dogai to the Roman-controlled prison city of Balduq. Recognized in no small part thanks to his shock of red hair, he is immediately arrested for the atrocities he has committed against the Imperial Empire and thrown into jail for further questioning by the local Inquisitor. In what amounts to a kangaroo court, Adol busts out with the help of a shadowy cell neighbour but ends up cornered by a mysterious young woman with artificial limbs, who imbues him with the “Monstrum curse” – and from there, Adol is trapped within the city, prevented from leaving by a mysterious force field.
Want to know if Adol’s latest adventure is worth your precious post-call time? Keep reading for our Post Call Gaming Case Conference on Ys IX: Monstrum Nox.
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Want to listen to this episode? Check out the audio version of this review here!
Not Shipwrecked, But In a Mess All the Same
For fan favourites, the setup for the red-haired swordsman is akin to the one seen in Ys VIII — Adol is again stuck in a “closed-box” scenario, and the player is tasked with figuring out the nature of his curse in a hope to make a quick exit from Roman clutches. While unoriginal, the story does enough to escalate its twists and turns, introducing new characters who serve as Adol’s new erstwhile companions, while revealing small pieces of the overarching mystery. While Ys games have never been lauded for their narratives, being fundamentally action-focused RPGs, Ys IX does enough to provide sufficient bread crumbs to keep you guessing at what will happen next.
Scaling Heights and Flying Free
One of the latest and greatest additions to the Ys formula are the Monstrum gifts, which work as mobility upgrades for Adol and his party. Starting with Adol’s “Crimson Line” ability, which sees him zipping to various warp points that pop up in the city and in the dungeons, they evolve to more conventional video game abilities that feel fantastic while traversing the environment. Balduq feels vast and large upon unlocking its major environs, and figuring out where secrets and items are tucked away is fun all unto itself.
Fast Blades, Swift Claws, Sturdy Hammers
Combat in Monstrum Nox remains as strong as you remember for any Ys title. Mechanically, the game functions similarly to recent titles in the franchise since the introduction of the slash/pierce/bludgeon weapon types in Ys SEVEN. As a party of 3, you control one of your active party members and fight monsters that roam the dungeon or over world, using a combination of basic attacks and SP-consuming skills to defeat them.
Different enemy types have different weaknesses, corresponding to the weapon types that your party possesses. Targeting your foes strategically results in them entering a “Break” state, permitting you to deal massive amounts of damage, while using the incorrect weapon type mitigates your strength (though not prohibitively).
In conjunction, dealing damage contributes to your Focus meter, allowing you to unleash a Burst skill or enter a strengthened state while spontaneously recovering health. Skillfully blocking or dodging attacks, meanwhile, allows your party to enter a Flash Guard or Flash Step, recovering your SP meter or slowing down time to permit more offensive shenanigans. These systems play intuitively and feel amazing when things click into place.
One element to the gameplay that feels undercooked, in comparison, are the Grimwald Nox raids. I’ll spare you the story spoilers: at set points in the game, Adol and the party are pitted against waves of monsters in tower-defence style missions, where they are tasked to protect a large crystal.
You unlock various protective defences as you proceed, which can be upgraded with various materials over time, but their placement on the map is predetermined. Other than buying your crystal time, there is sadly little control that you have during these missions other than to wipe out monsters as quick as you can. One variant to this mission, which involves destroying red crystals that are scattered across the map, permits a more interesting take on your combat skills, but the fact that it can be beaten by slaying a larger baddie that shows up near the end of the mission defeats its purpose.
Sights and Sounds of Times of Yore
While Falcom is a small company, the ambition that this developer has exhibited over the many years that it has stayed active in the games industry is best exhibited by the growth that their titles demonstrate, entry after entry. While Ys games have never been show-stoppers, Falcom has continued to improve upon their graphical approach, which have continued to improve with the Tales of Cold Steel entries, into a respectable title here. While performance is lacking – several areas in Balduq run at a choppy framerate when monsters began to pop up in crowds – the designs are impactful and leave a strong impression. This isn’t a game that shows off the PS4 to any grand degree – and it arguably looks more at home on the PS3 – but its anime stylings are tasteful (for a majority of the party) and the animation work is superb.
Aurally, the game is a treat to the ears. Battle tracks are driving rock ballads that Falcon is known for, while a smattering of other fun genres flesh out the limited but charming districts that make up Balduq. The English voice acting, on the other hand, is less impressive: hearing Adol sound-off about finding a “treasure chest” was an unintended source of entertainment while running through the dungeons. While the rest of the party is serviceable, that one soundbite popped up enough in the first two hours of the game that I had stuck with the Japanese cast for the rest of the adventure.
A Monster of an Entry that Deserves to be Slain
I loved Ys IX, much more than I thought I would. While not a dedicated fan, I have played enough Ys games – both classic and those modelled after the gameplay mechanics in VII – to recognize how far the games have come. Monstrum Nox provides enough in the way of traversal mechanics that make it a strong and unique addition to the series. No matter how you may feel about Adol’s new look – I know I’m personally hoping for a return to his classic outfit in a future title – this is an adventure worth going through with the Red Swordsman in tow.
- Fast, fun and energetic action combat system that the series continues to be known for.
- Fantastic music and soundtrack.
- Serviceable story that provides good incentives to push forward in repetitive segments.
- Grimwald Nox sections feel forced and contrived.
- Systems do not intersect with each other as much as they did in Lacrimosa of Dana, and can make the overall game feel more disjointed in spirit.