For the uninitiated, the long-running Ys franchise has had an illustrious history, through multiple generations of video gaming. The JRPG had been proclaimed at one point as the pinnacle in action-adventure role-playing titles, with an an original narrative that has not amassed a cult following, but has managed to maintain a devout audience from its first release on PC, back in June of 1987. Primarily known as “Ancient Ys Vanished”, the tale of young adventurer Adol Christin (known as Aron in some circles), see’s the swordsman traverse through the land of Esteria. In the small village town of Minea, Sara, a fortune teller informs our hero of a great threat which draws near and the only way to stop this malevolent presence is to collect all six Books of Ys. Throughout its prolific timeline, Ys has attracted a mixture of gamers that have gone on to appreciate the series mixture of mechanics.
From the classic top-down, turn-based encounters to the modern musou freestyle hack-and-slash, Ys has evolved much like many established series that share a similar path. An establishment within its category anbd inspiring a litany of other franchises alike, Ys continues to demonstrate itself as a staple within the gaming industry, adapting and re-inventing itself with every new chapter. It refuses to recycle the same old ploy for fans to simply accept. A refreshing touch of gameplay and presentation seeps its way through, and makes for an encroaching follow-up each, and every single time. It maintains its high distinction for being one of the greats in gaming, paving the way for many other series to follow in its footsteps.
The Monstrum Mash...
Our tale continues with heroic traveller Adol Christin, as his expedition leads him towards the northeast of Esteria, near the Gllia region which sits under the guard of Romun. It’s there where young combatant is confronted with false accusations made to frame him for the disappearance of the Romun imperial fleet, a militant group that keeps guard of the land. It’s unknown of the army’s whereabouts after the force were sent on a voyage through the Atlas Ocean. Transported to Balduq, the youngster is held captive within the confines of ‘prison city’, the largest jail facility in Esteria. The intimidating high walls of Balduq are its trademark for keeping prisoner’s at bay, without hope of ever escaping. While the town itself may seem like a forgotten dystopia, its bustling nature contrasts its over exaggerated aesthetic.
Aided by a cloaked figure, Adol escapes his captivity and explores the archaic metropolis. The outskirts of Balduq have slowly evolved throughout the years from desolate wasteland to a lively patronage. Motels, Bars, Banks and most importantly, transportation facilities are on the rise, with public baths and theatre’s in development. A true uprising and turnaround for such a bleak hope in the former Balduq. While things are looking spectacular for the establishment, a rumour swirls within circles that a new evil is on a warpath towards Esteria, known as “Monstrums”. Described as haunting apparitions, Adol begins to recognise some distinct attributes, namely the attire these ghoulish figures are draped with. These “demons” are said to possess supernatural talents, that are putting them to use for evil in majority of circumstances, while some are helping the less fortunate of Balduq’s populace.
Ys IX displays hope, heart, charm, and the series' biggest effort in some time. A carefully penned narrative that continues the tale of our crimson maned, silver clad hero, transforming into a superior version of himself to take apart the overruling empire...
The erratic nature of the Monstrums sets a polarising precipice amongst the community, but are predominantly intimidated by these unorthodox creatures. After this is all explained to Adol, he comes to the realisation that he had been possessed by the cloaked figure, revealed as Aprilis, one of seven Monstrums that had infected our protagonist, after being shot with a bullet that transforms the swordsman into the Crimson King, an alter ego of Adol. His new character traits lend him heightened abilities, enhanced weaponry, long red hair, and flashy new attire. Each encounter enables you to take control of multiple fighters simultaneously in one scenario. For those that may have already played past titles such as Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, you may be familiar with Monstrum Nox’s gameplay loop. Much of our character’s exploration is unfolded in third-person perspective.
Initiating battle by striking first is elementary, while forced into some sequences may tend to force your hand. There are multiple periods within the campaign that may test your dexterity with its open battlefield mechanics throwing onlookers into the deep end. Fortunately, the aforementioned gameplay structure is quite easy in adapting and may find yourself raising the game’s difficulty midway. While SP may deplete at a rapid rate, you may replenish your Mana by simply landing easy melee attacks, or taking a relaxed route and regenerating stamina points, to build up your meter for a respective party member’s special attack. For those that are looking to rush through easy battles, utilising the returning Boost Mode feature will elevate your close ranged attacks, while raising your defence but only for a limited period.
The Great Balduq Bash...
✔️The best in the Book of Ys Saga.
✔️A transformative chapter that may change/influence the series going forward.
✔️Localised to perfection with VO Royalty.
❌Some bugs, but nothing a patch can’t fix.
❌Some stuttering in performance.
Included with Boost mode, is the ability to rush enemy’s at a quicker rate. The expeditious pace of the title is only elevated further by using this extraordinary ability, and delivers an astonishing sensation. The rush of landing a flurry of hits on a swarm of Monstrums is so satisfying, while dialogue between each party member in battle delivers informative, or comical moments that progress the campaign’s narrative. With every set piece and cinematic sequence, the tension was palpable as the story’s climax drew near. I knew I was experiencing something special; a unique chapter within the Book of Ys, a mysterious melding of musou and magical role-playing that had not been seen within the franchise since its non-canonical, standalone chapter in Ys V.
Ys has prided itself on being one of rare cases of campaign narrative that has seamlessly connected its lead character throughout its long-running series. Sure its timeline may be a little discombobulating, but its “Star Wars” like roadmap allows players to connect the dots and carve their own path. With Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, Nihon Falcom took development in presentation a step further, demonstrating a certain pallet that pours a sense of paralysis in its archetype. Just entering Balduq’s prison-like institution boasts a debilitating outlook for our group. The terrifying overlay encourages our group to be on high alert within their investigations. The entrapment of Adol, poses a hopeless perspective but one that he promises to overcome.
Ys has had a tumultuous history in terms of its performance, across multiple platforms. Unfortunately, Ys IX bears remnants of its laggy predecessors in some regards. Depending on situations and busy circumstances on screen, you may find the common stutter or freeze-frame occur. This did throw me off a times, especially in the heat of battle. I had the game unfortunately crash twice while playing due to these off-putting stutters. In the title’s defence, its gorgeous design and aesthetics are marvellous to gaze at. I was awestruck from improvements made from Ys VIII. From character to costume design, to texture and model creation, I have to give credit, where credit is due. A magnificent display, and arrangement in alluring landscape. A lack of lighting and shading is quite evident and can be overbearing with more vanilla textures prominent; title could have benefitted from these improvements, but it’s stunning nonetheless.
While known for his works in The Legend of Heroes Saga, Hayato Sonoda once again returns to the composer’s booth for another historical overture that accompanies a blend of mystique and wonder throughout this adventure. While taking a more contemporary route – something the series had historically strayed from – the overture was befitting of the locale’s medieval architecture. A slow, tedious beat sooths the calm before the storm as the anticipation of altercation arises. Damaging encounters with expeditious pacing and rapid tempo make for some jaw dropping moments, which may leave the player completely flustered while trying to contemplate ongoing circumstances. The complexity shown in the composer’s works are confounding with tones and tunes that are sure to give great height to many engrossing situations.
With an exalted legacy withstanding, it’s only fitting for such an entry to entail video game voice acting royalty within its casting. The esteemed Bryce Papenbrook (Demon Slayer, Attack on Titan) portrays our lead in his first time appearance within the Ys franchise, along with astounding works of one Cristina (Vee) Valenzuela (Konosuba, Genshin Impact) adding another role to her amassing resume. Erica Mendez (Fruits Basket, The Promised Neverland), Griffin Burns (Fate/Grand Order, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure), Erika Harlacher (Persona 5, Violet Evergarden), Brittany Lauda (Akudama Drive, Darwin’s Game), Anairis Quinones (Horimiya, Attack on Titan), Zeno Robinson (Horimiya, Kuroko’s Basketball), Laura Stahl (Monster Hunter Rise, Genshin Impact), and Dawn Bennett (Pokemon, The Helpful Fox Senko-San) all bring their experience and expertise in vocal range, and serial anime tropes to the title. This is an incredible cavalcade of voice over talent that was wonderful to experience throughout this amazing story.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a JRPG Essential in 2021. An incredible narrative that will no doubt inspire the series going forward. An expeditious escapade the hopes to insight some momentum in its long-running franchise. While Ys’ legacy has had somewhat of a severed establishment in its fanbase for quite a period, this may be a homecoming for many. Ys IX displays hope, heart, charm, and the series’ biggest effort in some time. A carefully penned narrative that continues the tale of our crimson maned, silver clad hero, transforming into a superior version of himself to take apart the overruling empire that seeks to ruin the northeast province of Esteria. An apropos setting for our hero, that imagines a character redevelopment, and unique personality quirks that are a huge improvement and refresh that I hope to see ingulf and influence the Ys series, for years and generations to come.