By the looks of the recent PlayStation 5 native re-releases of previous Ys games, NIS America definitely has something up their sleeves. Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana received that treatment back in November 2022 and now Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is receiving it in May 2023. I’m a big fan of the series as it evokes vibes of long-forgotten nostalgic PlayStation 2 era games that I played when I was a kid. However, not a lot of effort was put into this particular PS5 port of a fantastic game, to the point where I can’t really recommend it to fans who have already played it.
As the ninth and latest entry in the long running Ys franchise, Monstrum Nox continues to follow the adventures of protagonist Adol Christin and his best friend Dogi. This time around, the two get caught up in the drama surrounding the city of Balduq and Adol is arrested and thrown into prison. So what is a Monstrum, as seen in the title of the game? Well Adol himself actually gets transformed into one after being pierced by a mysterious woman named Aprilis as he is escaping the prison. Monstrums are normal civilians that are gifted with supernatural abilities after being chosen by the aforementioned woman in order to fight against creatures known as Lemures. The game’s narrative might seem very simple and straightforward at first, but things become much more complex and deep as you progress. Ys IX features a diverse cast of characters that impressed me every step of the way with their intrinsic motivations and emotional depth.
Compared to other games coming out in 2023, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox definitely doesn’t score too high in the graphics department. The visuals here look bland, for lack of a better word. The game takes on a grimmer and darker tone compared to its tropical island-based predecessor. The environmental details are mostly gray-toned and muted, but the character designs are intricate and well drawn. The game suffers from annoying pop ins too. Even the in-game menus have a PS2-era feel to them with their old-school borders and cursors. This is not to say that this is a bad thing, just that this game evokes more of a nostalgic JRPG vibe from the early 2000s than more modern day titles. There’s a reason why games like these are so niche and this is one of them.
Coming from someone who enjoys combat heavy action games, it was a bit awkward to see that attacking was mapped to the circle button, locking onto enemies was mapped to the triangle button, and dodge rolling was mapped to L1. Thankfully, the game does offer the freedom of rebinding all the button controls, so rest assured for those who prefer R1 or square for attacking and circle for dodging! Combat is executed in a real time hack and slash fashion, where you have a basic attack, along with the ability to jump and dodge. As you progress, more Monstrums join your party, and ultimately extend your arsenal of abilities to use in and outside of combat.
A special wave-based defense mode is introduced not too far into the story, when you get transported into a mysterious dimension known as the Grimwald Nox. Your main goal here is to protect a crystal from waves of enemies, with a boss-level monster at the final wave. You are on the clock and scored in this mode, and with the high-octane music in the background, it definitely feels like an arcade-y experience. Don’t worry, your fellow Monstrum friends will aid you in this endeavor, so you can truly feel the camaraderie against a common threat. Outside of this particular game mode, you can have three characters in your party at any given time that you can instantly switch between, although it’s a bit of a letdown that you can’t have all your allies active at the same time.
Every Monstrum features a unique skill that allows you to explore Balduq in a different way. As Adol, you have a double jump and a grapple hook at the beginning of the game, but others, such as White Cat and Raging Bull, can scale walls and smash through obstacles respectively. By the end, the entire town feels like a huge playground for you to navigate through in any way you like; it’s an extremely liberating feeling. Verticality is something every game should include nowadays as it pretty much changes everything about gameplay. Outside of battling devilish entities, you engage in various side activities including cooking and crafting, along with taking on side quests. Be prepared because there is a lot of reading to do in order to learn these mechanics and tons of dialogue to listen through.
It’s without a doubt that the PlayStation 5 native version of Ys IX is the best way to enjoy this game, but it’s hard to recommend another purchase of it if you already own another version. There unfortunately is no upgrade path between PS4 and PS5 versions nor is there save data transfer, meaning you will need to start the game over. In fact, the PlayStation 4 native version of Ys IX already plays exceptionally well on the PS5 through backwards compatibility. The PS4 version actually already received a 4K patch on PS5 a while ago. I guess you could justify it somewhat if you’re a diehard achievements collector wishing to snag another platinum trophy!
The PS5 release actually doesn’t offer many noteworthy enhancements compared to the last gen version, other than stabler frame rates, smoother performance, and slightly faster load times. It’s actually quite puzzling that Ys IX didn’t get the boosted 120hz mode that Ys VIII did when it got a PS5 version. That being said, this game does run at 4K60FPS so there’s little to complain about at the end of the day. It should be noted that no actual new content was added in this version of the game. What this re-release does offer is all the cosmetic DLCs bundled up, which include plenty of unique outfits for each playable character. Players with previous save data from Ys: Memories of Celceta and Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana will receive some in-game bonus items as well.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a fantastic starting point for newcomers to the series, as it effortlessly immerses you into the secrets behind the prison city of Balduq. The frantic and fast paced combat combined with slick traversal mechanics allow for a highly addictive gameplay loop. It is, however, a bit questionable the level of effort put into this native PS5 port considering there’s very little improvements made and no upgrade path from PS4. If you haven’t experienced this fantastic JRPG yet, then this is hands down the definitive way to enjoy it, but I can’t recommend another purchase for those who already have.