Ys is back on PC, a bit delayed after the console release, but at least the wait wasn’t too long. Ys VIII was both my introduction to the series and my personal game of the year back in 2018 – so I had high hopes going into this one.
Alright so I’m going to start this one off the same way I did with my review for Ys VIII – by discussing the combat. The Ys series has always been known for its action-orientated take on JRPG combat and Ys IX is yet another shining example. It plays in real-time, has a mountain of different abilities and moves to use, and – overall – is just fun to play.
Just like in previous games, you’re able to play as Adol and a number of different party members. These party members have different attack types and you’ll want to maintain a decent balance there in order to take down enemies quickly. Adol does little damage against enemies with shells, for example, but his buddy White Cat has the “strike” attack type and does a lot of damage against these enemies. You can have three active party members at any time and you get a bonus by having one of each attack type or by having a set of three.
Unlike in Ys VIII though, you have access to items early on that allow you to change a character’s attack type – a welcome change as I was no longer required to use characters I did not want to use. This allows you to experiment a bit more and find what characters you actually like to play as rather than just what are the “best” to have on your party.
Aside from that, the core to the combat is actually kind of basic. As in, you just get your one combo standard combo string and one aerial string per character. One would think that would make the combat boring, but the depth actually comes from character abilities – of which you can have four equipped per character and each has about ten total to unlock over the course of the game.
This is where the real meat of the combat lies, as you get your dash attacks, large AOE attacks, aerial risers, and combo finishers that can be strung together however you wish. It’s like a fighting game in a way – you have all the tools to come up with your own combos, it is just up to you to figure out the right formula and what works in each scenario.
It’s a lot of fun in practice and yes, this all sounds like the makings of some great combat, but if you have played Ys VIII – the overall gameplay is basically the exact same. On one hand, the system in VIII was already top-tier, so it’s nice to see it again here, but I won’t deny, it would have been cool to see some more changes made here.
The real changes were made in the exploration department – which drastically improves in some areas, but falters in others. The map unlocking as you progress and opening up new areas to explore is the same as it’s always been with the series, but new to IX are a bunch of cool abilities called Monstrum Gifts. Running up walls, breaking down certain structures, being able to double jump from the start of the game, and even just straight-up gliding – the game has a much better sense of verticality to it and it makes the exploration far more interesting. Some of these abilities even have combat applications, like one that allows you to spot the weak points of a boss along with highlighting secret switches along the wall.
The level design is done in such a way as to aid in this exploration, putting chests, secret graffiti spots, and other neat stuff to find in spots that may look out of reach, but once you have the right abilities – can be accessed with a well-placed wall-run, glide, or combination of the two or more. As with other Falcom games, there is a LOT to find here and given that most of the game takes place in a single city – a lot of effort was put into making that single city as dense as possible.
This is good, but it comes with the drawback of having a much smaller overall map. In fact, the game as a whole is just smaller in scale. Smaller story, smaller map, shorter length – it’s not quite as ambitious as previous Ys games and I was a bit disappointed that these cool new exploration abilities weren’t able to be used in this big, open map like what we got with Ys VIII. That game had a real sense of adventure to it, being dumped onto this tropical island and discovering its secrets – a feeling I didn’t quite have with IX, being in a prison for a good chunk of the game and being enclosed within the walls of a city for the majority of it.
This has effects on the combat as well. This is a populated city after all, so there are no monsters just roaming around randomly. Instead, a lot of the combat takes place in an alternate dimension – one only you and your party can access. You’ll find these “pockets” scattered about the city that freeze time when you run into them and spawn enemies around you – making the fight invisible to the citizens. I found this to be a clever way to work around the issue, but again, it felt like an overall downgrade from VIII where there were giant monsters and all sorts of bad dudes roaming about.
It gets a bit worse when you realize that there are several chunks of the game where you have to travel to this dimension and do a tower defense minigame. These segments just felt lazy – the easiest way to pad for game time by having you fight wave after wave of enemies just to open up the next actual area on the map. Yeah, Ys VIII had something like this too, but it wasn’t such a central part of the game loop like it is in IX.
So, while the setting might be a downgrade, one thing the game did improve on is with side quests. Normally, with JRPGs like this, we get the same old boring fetch quests, “go here and kill this” quests, or others with similar lazy objectives. Ys IX, while still giving us a few of these, goes on to give us actually interesting side quests – with unique characters and all. Sometimes they tell a short story, sometimes they do this while earning you an upgrade or two along the way, and sometimes they just work to expand upon the history of this city you find yourself in. Whatever they may be, they’re a nice breath of fresh air in a genre that really loves its fetch quests
And that brings me to the story – a huge chunk of the Ys IX experience and one that definitely is not without its issues. Ys is not really known for its writing, but even I was able to enjoy the story in VIII with its sense of adventure, perspective-swapping, and mystery that actually held my interest through the thirty or so hours it took to finish up. Ys IX, despite being a shorter game at 26 hours compared to the 38 of Ys VIII, not only places more focus on the story with longer dialogue scenes and such, but does so in a very structured manner.
By that, I mean within just the first few hours, you can already feel the “story loop” develop. Each chapter introduces a new character, has you go through their story arc, has you complete one of those tower defense missions, unlocks a new area on the map, and has you go through a story scene in the prison. Repeat this a number of times and you got the core to Ys IX. For a game about adventure, it’s quite literally the opposite feeling – one less of discovery and more orderly.
Falcom’s other big JRPG franchise – Trails – has adopted this approach with its recent games as well, so perhaps this is just the studio’s way of consolidating how it does its narratives. It’s unfortunate, because while the stories themselves can be interesting, you can never really escape that “structured” feeling and it does bring down the experience a bit – makes it feel like I’m going through a checklist rather than being on an adventure.
Still, that’s not to say that the story is entirely bad here – it’s actually far from it. It may not be as interesting as VIII, but the increased story focus does allow for the characters to see more development and I grew to like the cast here – perhaps more so than VIII. The little story arcs you follow, the interactions the characters have outside of the main story, and the addition of a new “gifting” mechanic all add to this as well, giving even more time to allow this cast to develop and really humanize themselves.
The plot itself is a bit weaker than the characters within it – taking up a bunch of the usual JRPG tropes and delivering a story that is predictable and a bit overly complex for its own good. This is most evident in the final chapter, which – without spoiling – is so rushed in comparison to the rest of the story that it kinda kills the excitement behind some of the major developments.
Yeah, you can see a lot of them coming so I guess it is not as big an issue (or maybe that makes it even more of an issue), but it still would have been nice to see them take another additional chapter or two to really wrap it all up instead of just dumping everything at the end. The writers obviously had all of these ideas in mind from the beginning, but ran out of time to really flesh them out and make them feel meaningful – leaving the last third of the game feeling sloppy compared to the solid first third.
And another minor complaint I have – but one that’s not really new to the series – is the overuse of meaningless choices. The dialogue will stop during some scenes and allow you to select from a couple different options, but it doesn’t really matter what you pick. The story moves on all the same and the only thing that changes is maybe one or two lines of dialogue – if any at all. It felt more like a means to make you feel involved with the story when really, you’re just along for the ride. I hate to see it in visual novels, so of course it’s no different here.
Now, as for the graphics – there’s really not much to say. The game looks pretty much the same as Ys VIII and the recent Trails games. It’s not a bad look, but don’t go into there expecting the studio to be pushing boundaries. It is 100% a game developed for the last generation and the graphics reflect that.
The music, on the other hand, is some really good stuff. Not quite as good as VIII – a recurring theme in this review I guess – but I have yet to be disappointed by a Falcom soundtrack and Ys IX is no exception. Fast and powerful battle themes, epic boss music, and the more relaxing stuff for the town and story scenes too – it’s got a good range to it and is 100% something I will be listening to on and off in the future, just as I have with past games in the series.
And of course, I can’t close out the review without mentioning the PC port – especially given that it was likely the reason why we even got a delay between the PC version and the console versions. All in all, the port itself is pretty good. You’ve got the usual graphic options like resolution, VSync, display mode, and whatnot, but the port goes a bit beyond what we usually see in the genre with more obscure settings like sampling rate, draw distance, multiple shadow options, multiple postprocessing options, and a framerate slider.
The game supports a maximum of 144 fps and I had no issues running it at that resolution smoothly at 1440p on my aging 1070 Ti. Granted, I was running a mix of medium-high settings to achieve that, but it’s definitely not a hard game to run. It supports 4k resolution, ultra-widescreen, adjustable field of view, and even has a color blind mode – props to the studio for that. And this is all done from within game, not some launcher you have to access outside of it – also nice to see.
Control-wise, it plays flawlessly on an Xbox controller, but also has mouse and keyboard support that isn’t even that bad. Like, there’s mouse support in the menus, the camera doesn’t skip around, and the default keyboard layout actually feels logical – of course, it can be rebound if necessary. I still prefer the controller layout for sure, but this is one of those ports I can at least recommend to keyboard players without having to warn them first.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, although not quite as good as Ys VIII, is still another excellent addition to the series – bringing some notable improvements to it while keeping the core to what makes the series great. Exploration, for example, is a lot more involved this time with the addition of Monstrum Gifts. In return though, the map size and overall scale of the game is smaller. Story-wise, it has its ups and downs, but is an overall enjoyable ride with a nice cast of characters attached to it. The combat is practically the same thing as the last game, but it was good there so of course it’s good here as well – although I won’t deny I would have liked to see some more changed made to it.
For Ys fans, it’s an obvious pickup, but if you are new to the series, I would recommend starting with a previous one – Ys VIII is an excellent entry if you want a more modern approach, but it honestly does not matter too much with this series, the stories are only loosely connected outside of the first couple.
Quote: Ys IX, although not quite as good as Ys VIII, is still another excellent addition to the series – bringing some notable improvements to it while keeping the core to what makes the series great.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox retails for $60 USD on Steam, but you can support the channel by buying an official Steam key through my Green Man Gaming partner link. The game is also available on GOG, Switch, and PS4.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.