Ys IX: Monstrum Nox official artwork and logo

Despite being a long-running series the premise behind each Ys game can be very quickly summarized. You play as the ever-adventuring Adol Christin as he crashes yet another ship into yet another island, becomes involved in some sort of grand mystery, saves the world in a heroic fashion, and eventually leaves everyone behind with smiles on their faces and their priceless monuments in ruins.

While this does get a little bit silly sometimes, there is one very important upside - you can pick up just about any game from the main series and start there without worrying about previous context or who the characters even are. So if you're thinking about doing just that with Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, or if you're simply curious about how it compares to its predecessor Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, allow me to share my thoughts and impressions now that I've spent two rather eventful weeks with it.

PC Port Quality

Considering that I couldn't play Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana for a full year after launch due to constant crashes, and that's not an exaggeration, the first thing I wanted to see with Monstrum Nox is how well it performs. Thankfully, the answer is incredibly well! I've been playing it religiously over the past two weeks and I have encountered zero crashes and zero game-breaking bugs in all of that time. The whole experience has been silky smooth from the very start to the very end, which has gone a great way towards restoring my faith in the series on PC.

As for the settings and options, I'm pleased to say that the PC version offers a variety of knobs to tweak, both in terms of performance and gameplay. You can increase or decrease your FOV, raise the framerate cap all the way to 144fps, as well as mess around with numerous graphical sliders in order to achieve a nice and consistent performance. Depending on the power of your PC you can even greatly increase the draw distance, with the max setting allowing you to pretty much see the entire city while standing on one of the bigger towers.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox screenshot of a long, wide view of the city

It's a bit blocky, but you can see the whole city at once

The gameplay focused menus are just as handy and allow you tweak a surprising amount of elements. You can adjust how sensitive the camera is both vertically and horizontally, invert it on either axis, turn on or off an assortment of UI elements and indicators, and even change up how your AI companions act in battle. None of these are massive features on their own, but when combined they let you customize your experience to a great degree, which is something that I really do appreciate seeing.

Speaking of which, the keybind menu is another well designed one. Not only does it separate things into neatly organized menus so you don't have to browse through a massive list, but PC and console keybinds are right next to each other so it's incredibly easy to cross-reference then while setting up for the very first time. Not that it's actually necessary, however, as the standard mouse & keyboard controls ended up working perfectly fine for me all throughout the campaign. So whether you prefer to play with a gamepad or mouse & keyboard combo, you shouldn't have any issues with Monstrum Nox.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox screenshot of the settings and keybindings menu

After WC 3: Reforged I've come to greatly respect good keybinding menus

It's also worth mentioning that despite the open-world city of Balduq being fairly large, and the characters capable of traversing it at ridiculous speeds, the framerate has managed to remain nice and consistent for me. The same applies to the combat encounters. It didn't matter if I was fighting a gigantic spider or a whole assortment of flying enemies buzzing around my head, Monstrum Nox performed admirably and had minimal stuttering.

All of this smoothness does come at a bit of a cost though, and that cost is visual fidelity. While most of the character models are well done and filled with little details that add touches of personality, the environmental textures are remarkably dated, even with maxed out settings. This is especially noticeable on buldings as some of the stone textures look like they were lifted out of a PlayStation 3 game, all blurry and without any sort of depth to them.

I can only imagine this was done in order to make the massive open-world areas function without loading screens and NPCs disappearing, but even so, having the option for higher quality textures would've been lovely to see. As it stands, this is a small blemish in an otherwise excellent PC port!

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox screenshot of some very blurry textures

Some of them are really, really bad

Story

With Monstrum Nox being the ninth mainline game in the Ys series, I'm sure it'll come as a massive surprise to hear that it plays exactly like a modern Ys game. What this means is that you'll divide your time between exploring large dungeons and open world areas, chatting up an assortment of colorful characters, and naturally, beating up untold hordes of monsters and massive bosses. Like I said before it's a tried and tested formula the series has been using for years now, and it works wonders in Monstrum Nox as well.

That said, Monstrum Nox does break the formula in one humorous way. Instead of the main character Adol crashing yet another ship in order to kickstart his next adventure, in Monstrum Nox he simply walks into a new city like a normal person... only to then get immediately arrested. As it turns out, saying stuff like "a ghost did it" when the authorities try to get you to explain why you've lost numerous ships in the span of two years doesn't exactly go over well! And so you'll end up getting imprisoned, which is where the story begins in earnest.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox screenshot of Adol getting captured

It's strange to see actions having real consequences in an RPG!

I won't go into any details in order to avoid spoilers, but I have to say that Monstrum Nox's storyline is genuinely intriguing, though also a bit unfocused at times. In one moment you could be staging a prison break while discussing serious topics like the dark side of imperialism and mass incarceration for the sake of profit, only to then after start running all over town in order to return a stuffed teddy bear to a little girl - all the while being a wanted fugitive! It feels like these quests are from two entirely different games, and while I don't mind a bit of lighthearted humor to break up all of the seriousness, I feel Monstrum Nox could've paced itself better in the early game.

Thankfully, once the plot actually gets rolling after a couple of hours of messing around it becomes very interesting very quickly. Again, I wont spoil anything as that would just be rude, but there is one very specific moment early on where Monstrum Nox breaks the usual JRPG mold and adds a strange twist to the whole story.

Once that happened I couldn't stop playing as I simply had to know what in the world was happening, and that is a very good trait for a story to have! So even though it's still the fairly standard "Adol saves the world while being the nicest man that has ever lived" ordeal, there were enough interesting bits sprinkled throughout Monstrum Nox to keep me engaged and pushing forward.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox screenshot of the Balduq prison church

This is certainly no ordinary prison

All throughout the campaign you'll be recruiting new people to join your little underground club, many of which are larger-than-life personalities. I initially found many of them to be quite annoying, especially during the slow-paced introduction, but over time I did grow to like and respect them. Even Feral Hawk, the edgiest edgelord who ever edged in the edgiest part of Edgeville, ended up being a fun character to hang out with after a while, which I must admit came as quite a shock to me. I fully expected him to remain unlikable all the way through, but he quickly became more tolerable and eventually even ended up being one of my favorites alongside White Cat.

The reason I found some of these characters to be both annoying and captivating, often at the same time, is mostly due to the wildly inconsistent voice acting. During one scene characters can act like sensible people and talk as if they were holding an actually important conversation, only to then immediately swap to stereotypical JRPG overreaction that will never not sound unbelievably forced to me. So if you were to ask me whether I think the voice acting is good or bad, I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you since it all depends on the scene. Some of them are downright brilliant and really showcase the characters and their personalities, while others just make me start thinking about mashing the skip button lest I get a chronic case of eye-rolling.

As for the music, it should also come as little surprise to hear that yet another Ys game has a great score. The tracks can be slow and mysterious while exploring dungeons to fast and chaotic during bosses, and the vast majority of them do their job quite admirably. Still, I would've loved to see a bit more variety as some of the tracks can get reused far too often.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox screenshot of the giant teddy bear

Worry not, the teddy bear is safe!

Combat

When it comes to the combat, it's pretty much the same thing as Lacrimosa of Dana, just with a few extra bells and whistles thrown in. You'll still be dodging and parrying enemy attacks in order to get damage or speed boosts, chaining skills and strikes together in order to overwhelm and stun the enemy, and naturally, swap around between your three party members in order to best react to the situation as each one has their own unique abilities and playstyle.

The similarity between the two games is not a negative, however, as the combat system works great in both Lacrimosa of Dana and Monstrum Nox. It's flashy, incredibly fast paced, and once properly mastered it can make you feel like you're straight up invincible. More importantly, it's also a great deal of fun to air-juggle enemies, unleash massive combos on bosses without getting hit even once, or even just kind of throw out random abilities like a crazy person.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox screenshot of combat abilities making a visual mess

While fun, the ability barrage can get a bit visually messy

If you have any sort of experience with action games I would highly recommend cranking the difficulty almost all the way up. At its base level the combat in Monstrum Nox is insultingly easy, to the point where you could probably blaze through the entire game without falling below 50% health. Not only does this cheapen the experience as there is no tension, but it also renders a lot of the gear, food and potion items you find throughout the world effectively useless. 

This difference in difficulty settings is especially noticeable in the Grimwald Nox, a sort of mirrored dark world where you face off against hordes of enemies in battles inspired by tower defense games. Before you venture inside you'll have a chance to build and upgrade a variety of pre-set equipment to help you out, as well as recruit and further befriend your fellow rebels to receive powerful buffs throughout the Grimwald Nox missions. On normal difficulty all of this is basically meaningless fluff, but once you really crank it up the upgrades can become a much-needed lifeline.

Then once everything is set you'll face off against numerous waves of enemies that can spawn all around you, with your task being to simply kill them all before they crack open your base. I never found these battles to be particularly nasty given that you have all of your party members fighting alongside you, but they are certainly a spectacle to behold and a nice diversion from the usual dungeon and open world exploration.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox screenshot of the upgrade screen from Grimwald Nox

I would've liked to have seen the Tower Defense system expanded a little bit more

Exploration

Besides all of the fighting, you'll also have a chance to explore the city of Balduq and the surrounding areas. At first the amount of space you can roam in will be frustratingly limited, but as you break through the Grimwald Nox barriers the world will slowly begin opening up. The same goes for your mobility options.

Each of the main characters you recruit, the titular Monstrums, will share with you a portion of their power. White Cat will let you climb vertically up walls, Feral Hawk will let you glide, The Doll will let you use Batman's detective vision to find secrets and collectibles, and so forth. Combine all of this with your power that essentially functions as a grappling hook, and you've got yourself a suite of mobility options that will let you go from one part of the city to another remarkably quickly. More importantly, being able to zip from one building to another like some sort of superhero is also really, really fun.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox screenshot of the player gliding

Regardless of the game, gliders are always a joy to use!

All of these tools are here in service of finding collectibles like flower petals, graffiti and even chests full of loot. Unfortunately, none of them offer you much of anything, even when you collect vast quantities of them. Before finishing up my playthrough I decided to go through the city and collect a whole bunch of those blue flower petals, only for my reward to be a couple of items I could've bought on the cheap in a nearby shop and a minor stat boost. I'm sure there's something cool waiting at the very end if you collect literally all of them, but I doubt I'll ever find out as the busywork got a bit tedious for me after a while.

The dungeons fare a lot better in this regard, because even though the items you find are equally as unimpressive, they are at least hidden in more interesting locations so you'll need to actually utilize all of your mobility options in order to find them. There were certain secrets that made me feel like I was abusing bugs in order to reach, but after searching around it seems like that was the intended path, which came as a rather pleasant surprise to me. So even though I didn't find much in them, at least I had fun sniffing out all of the dungeon chests!

As for the bosses at the very end of these dungeons, I found them to be of varying quality. Some were complete pushovers where I barely needed to pay attention to what they were even doing, while others were so incredibly aggressive that the whole battle turned into a sort of frenzied dance of parries, dodges and attacks. The latter category was by far my favorite, and while there weren't that many of them to be found, I loved fighting them so much I even went back to challenge a few on a higher difficulty setting. After all, it's always a pleasure to completely wipe the floor with a boss that previously gave you trouble!

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox screenshot of the massive spider boss

Can't have a JRPG without a giant spider boss

Closing Thoughts

While Ys IX: Monstrum Nox mostly sticks to the tried and tested formula of Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, the addition of new mobility options like wall-running, grappling and gliding still leaves it with a strong identity of its own. Add to that some fun characters, a nice little mystery to uncover and a remarkably solid PC port, and it's no wonder that I've greatly enjoyed my time with Ys IX: Monstrum Nox.

So if you're a fan of action-heavy JRPGs and you don't mind the dated visuals or some of the cheesiness that comes with the territory, I'd heartily recommend jumping into Ys IX: Monstrum Nox.