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Nihon Falcom is no stranger to the JRPG market, known for their reputable series like Ys and The Legend of Heroes. Having enjoyed much success with Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of DANA, the Japanese developer took a decisively different approach with the latest Ys instalment. Featuring a much darker and grittier tone, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox offers a new experience for longtime Ys series fans that is now available for the PlayStation 4 system with a scheduled Nintendo Switch and PC release in 2021.   

The events of Monstrum Nox begin with Adol and Dogi arriving at the city of Balduq. Going about their own business, they are surrounded by troops before Adol is taken into custody and imprisoned for unknown reasons. Having a warrant for his arrest, Adol’s legendary adventures are brought to light as he is interrogated and deemed a criminal for his past misdeeds. With little choice but to escape, he encounters Aprilis, a mysterious and shadowy figure who apologizes and shoots him on the spot. Consequently, he is afflicted with the Monstrum curse that alters his appearance and grants him ungodly powers against his will. Trying to make sense of his predicament, he learns that others Monstrums are trapped within Balduq as they are hunted by city soldiers and officials.

 

Each of Adol’s Monstrum allies have unique personalities that make for a very colorful cast. The White Cat steals from the wealthy and gives herself the distinguished title of a chivalrous thief aiding the poor in their time of need. True to her name, she is quick and agile with a cat-like physique. The Feral Hawk is a vengeful individual that drinks excessively, picks fight with others and is known for his explosive temper. The Doll is an enigmatic ally who bears the very resemblance of a flawless doll. Blessed with special perceptive abilities and being rather stoic in nature, her true origins are unknown. The Renegade is equally an enigmatic ally possessing vast knowledge but is rarely ever seen that has led many to question his very existence. Last but not least, the Raging Bull is a formidable ally wielding a large hammer who is rumored to have family members living in the city of Balduq. As the most calm and composed ally, she often serves as the voice of reason in diffusing arguments amongst the other Monstrums.

Combat skills are specific to each Monstrum that require the use of skill points. As you land and connect your attacks on enemies, the SP or Skill Points gauge will refill in a short period of time. The White Cat utilizes Wild Scratch for a powerful swipe while the Hawk discharges a powerful shockwave through his foes from a long distance. The Doll mercilessly uses her blade to unleash a flurry of slashes against groups of enemies whereas the Raging Bull uses her immense power to inflict heavy damage and send her foes airborne. As for the Renegade, he summons a large orb of darkness that pulls and traps enemies while inflicting steady damage within a specific radius on the battlefield. In addition to combat skills, the Monstrums are equipped with their own abilities to thrive in their immediate surroundings to survive, locate hidden items and reach areas that are otherwise inaccessible for other party members. Activating boost mode in battle significantly raises your character stats to unleash devastating damage on unsuspecting enemies.

 

Adol is not alone in his pursuits as he meets a variety of residents with some enlisting to join his cause as collaborators after certain conditions are met. They range from Maxim, a shady merchant in the alleys of Balduq with access to black market goods and exclusive items, to Silhouette, a masked young lady offering to run errands as his personal assistant. Throughout the game, you may encounter blue flower petals rumored to bring good fortune to the beholder that can be delivered to Marguerite for different rewards. If you stumble across city graffiti, examining them and speaking with Professor Vallin, city anthropologist, will net you other rewards to make it worthwhile. 

Those looking for a diversion from the main plot will find it in Grimwald Nox, an alternate world where the Monstrums fight to eradicate hordes of evil spirits known as Lemures. As expected, Adol and his allies can set up barriers, traps and decoys to keep them at bay. Successful outcomes will lead to the dispelling of various barriers across the city of Balduq with aid from Monstrums outside of your immediate party. The Grimwald Nox can be replayed to reach the coveted S rankings as well as securing other victory spoils.  

 

Adol’s adventures are categorized into chapters that consist of completing specific objectives and dispelling the barriers throughout the prison city. This requires maxing the NOX gauge by defeating the Lemures around the black pillars of miasma that leads directly to the Grimwald Nox battles. Alternatively, you can fill the NOX gauge by completing side quests to aid the local NPCs and recruit others to permanently join your side. In due time, previously inaccessible areas are unlocked that allow you to explore further locations within Balduq. The closed off nature of the city is readily apparent for quite a while before Adol is able to leave and set foot outside the prison city grounds.  

Visually, Monstrum Nox does not disappoint in the graphics department. Character designs are colorful and the aesthetics hold up well for the anime style designs from the hairstyles to the fashionable outfits. Apart from this, the environments have a tendency to appear dull or bland in certain areas that is exactly the atmosphere one would expect from a prison city. Fortunately, the frame rates are smooth and consistent, even during battle sequences with few noticeable errors. The skill-based Monstrum attacks and special effects in combat is where the game truly shines.

 

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is an enjoyable and solid JRPG title that boldly takes risks with new gameplay mechanics. With a compelling narrative, intriguing characters and a fitting soundtrack, Monstrum Nox has a lot to offer series fans as well as newcomers. Although the in-game references may be lost on those who have not previously played a Ys game before, this game is charming, sufficiently paced and a delightful adventure at its very heart. JRPG fans sitting on the fence about this game should pick up Ys IX: Monstrum Nox without hesitation.

 

PROS (+): Intriguing Characters, Engaging Combat, Intricate Plot

CONS (-): Bland Environments, Minor Localization Issues

 

SCORE – 8.5/10

This review is based on a digital copy of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox on the PlayStation 4 provided by the publisher.

 

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