If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! That’s pretty good advice in general, but it especially applies to video games. Innovation is great, of course, but innovating at the cost of reliable systems and gameplay might lead to problems. Sometimes it’s better to take a tried and true system that works and innovate on top of it rather than trying something entirely new.
That’s what we’ve got with Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, the latest Ys adventure from Falcom, and it’s an idea that worked just fine when it comes to creating a familiar role-playing game that’s worth playing.
We’re following adventurer Adol Christin on one of his later adventures, this time as he visits the Prison City of Balduq. The name might suggest what the locale’s most significant landmark is, but if you aren’t locked up in the giant prison that serves as the centerpiece of the city, Balduq’s actually a very nice place! Naturally, Adol is immediately locked up in the giant prison.
Also naturally…he escapes! Less naturally, he’s granted demonic power by a mysterious woman, turning him into one of the Monstrums of Balduq, a group of superpowered problem-solves with varying degrees of a bad attitude. I’ve heard it described as a fantasy version of Suicide Squad and that’s not entirely inaccurate. Monstrums can’t leave the city, so Adol’s going to have to solve Balduq’s problems – namely, the infestation of ghostly jerks called Lemures stemming from a phenomena called the Grimwald Nox – if he ever hopes to continue adventuring.
The experience here owes basically everything to the previous Ys adventure Lacrimosa of Dana. It’s a joy to play through and through. The best way to explain why it works so well is the snappy way Adol reacts to the controls; this comes off as a game that really wants you to play it. There are dungeons to crawl through, side quests to clear and secret upon secret strewn all throughout Balduq, which is presented as an open world that you’ll unlock over time as Adol does his job battling monsters as a Monstrum. There’s even base defense missions, a key element of Dana that returns here!
When it comes to combat, Adol and co. can hack away with weapons, use special skills, block attacks, dodge and enter a super mode for a little more kick where necessary. As in Dana, combat is flowy and enjoyable, with a focus on switching characters to hit enemy weaknesses and on careful dodging and parrying to gain short-term damage and speed buffs. Boss fights are huge and impressive, though they might lean a bit heavily on the “giant, glorpy monster” side of things, especially early on.
Regardless, combat never feels like a grind and enemies’ tendency to drop loads of money and crafting materials on death lends a sense of purpose to the slaughter.
Dungeon exploration gets shaken up a bit by the addition of the Monstrum’s Gifts, the superpowers that make the Monstrums what they are. As the Monstrum known as the Crimson King, Adol’s got a zipline ability called Crimson Line, allowing him to rapidly hop to specific grapple points throughout the city and dungeons. Later, other Monstrums will join the crew, offering wall-running, gliding, breaking through weak walls and so on.
It’s typical Zelda-style gadgetry that allows you to unlock more areas as you proceed through the game, but layering this onto Dana’s fantastic combat makes Monstrum Nox feel fresh and new. There’s plenty of fun to be had retracing your steps in Balduq and finding new secrets as you obtain more Gifts. There’s even a bit of gift usage in combat – this becomes more prominent as you proceed further into the game, but even early on Adol can use Crimson Line to zip around bosses, which is nice.
We’re talking about the PC version today, so how does it compare to previous releases? The PS4 version of Monstrum Nox that released back in February wasn’t exactly bad, especially on PS4 Pro, but it definitely had some technical issues such as a questionable draw distance limitation. Playing on PS5 helped a bit on the performance end, but that draw distance thing was still an issue.
On PC, you can crank the draw distance up as far as you want! Go nuts! See outside of Balduq and on to the horizon! This is a surprisingly demanding title by Ys standards, but if you’ve got the hardware for it, the PC version of Monstrum Nox is the way to go.
Oh, and it must be said: the translation is absolutely fine this time. No need to wait months for a retranslation patch. Remember how that happened with Lacrimosa of Dana, complete with an apology from the head of NIS? Well, we’re good to go here, so fear not.
If you missed Ys IX: Monstrum Nox the first time around, you owe it to yourself to pick up the PC version. It’s the most technically adept version of the game by far, and this is a solid game that deserves the attention. Players who’ve already gone through this one on console probably don’t have a pressing need to double dip, but newcomers should absolutely dive in and experience Balduq. Just try to stay out of prison. It’s rough.