Ys IX: Monstrum Nox Review: Escape On The Go
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox doesn’t make the best first impression on the Switch. While I played through the game earlier this year and loved it, playing the PS4 version mostly on a PS5 allowed me to rarely worry about performance issues. I expected a downgrade on the Switch, but in the early moments, I was shocked by how much of a downgrade it was. I felt like I couldn’t move my camera without the framerate falling apart. This is the sort of performance issue that even those who claim to not see framerate will definitely notice.
There’s good news, however. The early moments of Ys IX, already a slow section of the experience, are some of the worst-performing throughout the game. There are consistent issues throughout—especially in wide-open areas in handheld mode—but once things get going, they’re rarely serious. There’s certainly a bit of slowdown when running around the huge prison city of Balduq. Now and then, particle explosions during combat turned the game into a slideshow. Most of the time, however, particularly in dungeons, things run fine. Not as well as they do on a PS5, certainly, but well enough that Ys IX is still well worth your time on the Switch.
Thirty Years In The Making
Monstrum Nox drops Adol, the protagonist of the Ys series, and his friend Dogi into Balduq. Almost immediately, you’re imprisoned, questioned about your long history of adventure. In a wonderfully meta twist, the series directly comments on how insane it is that Adol has found himself in so many crazy situations over the years. This is, after all, the ninth mainline game in a thirty-year franchise, and the series has hinted that we’ve only seen the tip of Adol’s adventures.
Direct references to past games, and how somehow Adol always comes out of things without the power and weapons from past titles can be very funny. These are brief, however, nothing that will confuse those new to the series.
After breaking out of prison in the early parts of the game, a mysterious hooded woman stops you and shoots you with a magic gun. This awakens new powers in Adol, turning you into the latest Monstrum. Monstrums are people with great power, but who are cursed to stay in Balduq. You’ll need to work with the others to discover what is going on if you ever want to get back on the road.
A Wonderful Cast
My initial impressions of the story weren’t great. Everything feels a bit too anime early on. Stick with it. The cast of Monstrum Nox is its greatest strength, with each having a strong personality as well as unique abilities. These abilities allow you to further explore Balduq and uncover its secrets. One early addition lets you run up walls, while another can help you glide. Exploring the city was one of my favorite things about the original. I rarely try to unlock everything in a game, but I came close here. The abilities all feel great, and the city is designed around them. The performance issues on Switch take a little of the joy out of them but nowhere near all of it.
Characters all bring a unique style in combat as well. Adol is the best balanced of the bunch, while others are faster or hit harder. One uses only magic and feels completely different from the rest of the cast. In many RPGs, it’s easy to get used to your early party and stick with them, but in Ys IX, I wanted to fully explore each character. They just all feel so different. Combat transfers wonderfully to the Switch, outside of performance issues which thankfully rarely cropped up during battle. The dodging and blocking mechanics integrate wonderfully with the wide range of moves each character has, feeling incredibly natural. They require timing, but unlike in Scarlet Nexus, for example, you don’t need to be so exact that it is barely even worth trying.
I loved building up my base, adding new companions, unlocking new options. It reminded me of building my castle in the Suikoden series. While not as involved as that, with the characters available being more limited, I appreciated that everyone found a way to contribute what they could.
Outside of performance issues, my least favorite part of Monstrum Nox is the Grimwald Nox. Several times a chapter, you’ll be dropped into a small arena where you either have to protect a crystal from waves of enemies or kill a certain amount within a time limit. The characters you have unlocked for your base will join you to help, but they don’t bring a lot to these encounters, which quickly feel repetitive. The battlefields they take place on aren’t distinctive enough to feel interesting.
That’s a bit true of Balduq as well. I loved exploring the city, but mostly because the moves and powers feel so good to use. Balduq itself is dark and gloomy. If each neighborhood felt more distinctive, I would have been much more interested in the city itself. Even playing on a PS5, the graphics in Monstrum Nox weren’t impressive, and they certainly don’t look better on Switch. Character designs are strong, however, even in lower resolution. I had little to really complain about beyond the reduced draw distance. Voice acting and music are both fine, though neither ever really rises above that. Considering how excellent past Ys soundtracks have been, this is a bit of a disappointment. Everything here sounds nice enough, with some catchy tunes at times, but nothing is really memorable.
Despite at times significant performance issues, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox works well enough when it matters on the Switch. Players able to spend their time on Balduq on another platform will want to consider doing so, but if your only option is to play on the Switch or you really want to play on the go, Monstrum Nox is still at its core one of the best action-RPGs I’ve played in years.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PS4, PC, Stadia; Publisher: NIS America; Developer: Nihon Falcom; Players: 1; Released: July 6th, 2021; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox provided by the publisher.