Slightly late, but we could not help but tell you our on Nihon Falcom’s latest effort: welcome to the more than verbose review of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
We told you, some time ago, about the latest chapter of one of Nihon Falcom’s longest-running and most content-filled series, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV. In our review we had underlined how the game was one of the best possible conclusions achievable by a small studio like Falcom, despite the characteristic budget that is dedicated to these productions. Not so much because they have no value, on the contrary, but the main problem of RPGs so niche is precisely that they are too niche. Fame alone in the land of the Rising Sun cannot guarantee revenues and earnings high enough to cover any development hazards, especially as regards the technical sector.
We are talking about Nihon Falcom again today, but about one of his series that is perhaps slightly better known in the West than The Legend of Heroes. After the excellent porting of Ys Origin on Nintendo Switch and a sparkling Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, the ninth main chapter of the Falcom series arrives in the west. Available from early February on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, Ys IX immediately showed itself with a different atmosphere and style than the previous chapters and perhaps more akin to the The Legend of Heroes series. Let’s not go any further and let’s get started. Welcome to our review of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox!
The events narrated at the beginning of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox continue directly from the ending of Lacrimosa of Dana. So, even if it is not essential to know what happened in the prequel, the novices will find themselves slightly disoriented in the first few bars of the game. It will not last long though, we assure you, because the narrative of Monstrum Nox then takes a completely original and its own turn, leaving the past behind. The adventurer Adol and his inseparable friend Dogi arrive in Balduq City, the city-prison par excellence of the region, ruled by the Romun Empire. Obviously, if it is called Prison City there will be a reason.
The whole purpose of Balduq’s existence, in fact, is to keep a gigantic fortress that looms over the city and that, in the early stages of the game, also sees our adventurer locked up. Adol will in fact find himself, for a short series of unfortunate events, imprisoned in the labyrinthine structure, only to be able to get out of it thanks to the help of an unknown girl who gives him the powers of Monstrum. Monstrums are beings with supernatural powers who are tasked with fighting and defeating monsters in the Grimwald Nox, a sort of alternative dimension to reality that has also invaded Balduq. Adol will then take over the reins of this umpteenth adventure, which will lead him to meet other Monstrums for the creation, in the end, of an eccentric group of heroes.
While it may all sound so compelling, the script and narrative pace of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is actually the thing that least convinced us about Nihon Falcom’s production. It will be that in some situations it is too verbose and excessively breaks the rhythm of the game, it will be that, in the end, we did not find ourselves in front of all this originality. The vastness of the cast, which in addition to the rather stereotyped main characters also has a large number of eccentric supporting actors, and the faster advanced stages of the game, however, however, make the flow of the main storyline of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox not as flat and dull as we would have expected from the first hours of the game.
The real protagonist of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is the city of Balduq, the only real game map. In fact, our heroes, due to the curse that transformed them into Monstrum, cannot leave the city walls and are literally trapped inside the Prison City. A rather risky choice, considering the breadth of the titles of the previous series and which in fact made us turn up our noses, but which we have slowly learned to appreciate. The city is in fact full of hiding places, secret passages, treasures and points of interest to discover. Although it is divided into multiple micro-areas, the uploads between one and the other are so fast that it feels like you’re playing on an open-world map.
Furthermore, as we continue in the adventure, Adol will recruit new travel companions who will give him new possibilities for exploring the map. If, for example, our adventurer is endowed with the power of the Crimson Line that allows him to launch himself from specific points on the map with a grappling hook, White Cat, once enlisted, will allow us to run vertically on walls. And then off with the aerial glide, with the possibility of passing under closed doors and so on. A series of interesting ideas aimed at making Balduq ever wider and more accessible. So get ready to spend hours and hours finding that missing treasure, that hidden corner that you haven’t yet explored or a point of interest that is particularly difficult to reach. Balduq will be at your feet once the team is complete.
If exploring Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is damn fun, the beating heart of the entire production is obviously the combat system. Ys IX: Montrsum Nox is a raw action-jrpg, with a particular focus on speed and aggression. In the game we will be able to control a maximum of three characters, exchangeable with the single press of a button, and we will have four skills available for each character that can be activated via the skill wheel that can be opened with a backbone. If against the weaker enemies it will be enough to continuously “smashare” the light attack button, against the bosses and more particularly in the Grimwald Nox, the use of specific Skills will be essential to survive.
The triangle of strengths-weaknesses already seen in the previous titles of the series and which gives a greater strategic imprint to the title is also back. Slasher, Piercer and Striker are the three “classes” to which your characters can belong, giving them particular strength or weakness against specific enemies. To mitigate the sense of “forcing” imposed by having a character for each class in the team, which perhaps prevented the use of the three favorites at all times, Nihon Falcom has added in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox a particular type of accessories that, in addition to enhancing the team members, alters their class. You’re happy? We too.
The dodges and perfect parries are also back, respectively Flash Dodge and Flash Guard, which especially in the Grimwald Nox give a fair amount of points more, as well as allowing a greater survival of the hero. The very powerful Extra Skills and Boost Skills are back and all the portentous gameplay structure that Nihon Falcom had already experienced with the previous chapters, refining it and making it even more enjoyable. We don’t think we are exaggerating by saying that, on balance, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is one of the funniest action-jrpg games available on the market.
We also discussed this at the beginning and we regret having to go back to highlighting this aspect. As there is no doubt that it is, Nihon Falcom is a company that has always created niche titles. And when we talk about niche, we mean that series like Ys and The Legend of Heroes sell almost exclusively at home. Sales and revenue in the West are mostly from avid fans of Japanese-style RPGs and those who come across special discounts months after release. Precisely for this reason, it is obvious and painful to have to point out that every video game produced by the company is actually “low budget”.
Our test for the review of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox took place on a PlayStation 4 Pro and we must admit that in terms of stability, even in the most excited situations, we are on excellent levels. The game never faltered even when there were so many on-screen effects, remaining stable at 60 fps. Further mention for the uploads, which as we have already mentioned above are really fast and not annoying at all. The feats, however, stop there.
Balduq is a bare, empty and monotonous city both in terms of color palette and environments. We have often come across very low resolution textures while exploring the city, which after all is not even as huge as one might think and makes more use of verticality. The polygonal models of the characters are not evil, on the contrary, but they are clearly inferior to those we have been able to appreciate in Trails of Cold Steel 4. The direction is clumsy, the shots are sometimes just wrong and break even more a narrative rhythm exacerbated by prolixity. Ultimately, the soundtrack isn’t anything too exciting and we haven’t found a single track that really impressed us.
To conclude this review of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox we can say that we are partially satisfied with the new effort by Nihon Falcom. Exploring the alleys of the city of Balduq is gradually more and more fun and satisfying, although it can be close to many lovers of the series. The combat system has been smoothed out and refined, making it even more engaging and satisfying and, perhaps, one of the best available in the action-jrpg market. What we hope is that Falcom will be able to take that extra step from a technical and aesthetic point of view and that it will be able to lose, living its titles, that feeling of still playing on PlayStation 3. Enough with vintage!
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