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Backlog Twosome | Ys IX: Monstrum Nox

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Jumping into a new series that has been going strong for years, if not decades, can be an intimidating prospect, especially as those sequel numbers and subtitles rack up! I mean, there’s usually tons of history behind it, and many assumptions made by the writers that you have probably played the past games if you’re playing the current one. There are inside jokes to decrypt, plot threads spanning multiple games to unravel, and of course, a dedicated fanbase to impress. You know, by showing them that you know where the heart of this series lies and all of its long established details. But, this isn’t always the case.

Well, the JRPG wizards Falcom have teamed up with the localization masters extraordinaire NIS America to bring us yet another addition to their storied action RPG franchise, Ys, with Ys IX: Monstrum Nox. But as a duo of backloggers new to the series, will the ninth entry be a good jumping off point, or will we be left in a flurry of confused plot twists and misinterpreted character cameos?

Also, before we jump into the meat and potatoes of Ys IX, this review should be thought of as a collection of our first impressions. Although we haven’t completed the game yet, we felt we spent enough time (8-10 hours) within the Ys IX world to give it a fair critique from a gameplay perspective. If however, after completing the game, any of our impressions and/or recommendations have changed, we’ll be sure to update this review.

I’ve never played any of the previous Ys games and honestly only heard about them in passing. I do like a good old JRPG though so I was excited to give Ys IX a try. I was worried having never played any of the older games that I would be lost story wise but I think the developers did a great job of keeping the references to a minimum. Don’t get me wrong there are a few things here and there, and maybe more than I am perceiving, but I don’t feel out of the loop at all jumping into this game so late in the series. Really it just makes me want to go back and play the others, which is a pretty good sign I’d say!

Although the Ys series has been around since the late 80’s, I hadn’t become aware of it until relatively recently. After I did however, it seemed like every JRPG fan was talking about it. From their favorite in the series, to which version of each iteration was the best, and of course, the upcoming release. To say I was intrigued would have been an understatement. The only probably was, where should I begin?! I typically like jumping in on a series from the beginning, but the Ys games as a whole, especially in the retro realm have become quite collectible. Not to mention the plethora of remakes and remasters of the first few games, to add to the confusion.

So, after seeing that the latest addition, Ys IX, was just around the corner, we thought it would be a good opportunity to get our feet wet. Sometimes you need to take risks and dive in deep on a JRPG series, you know? 

As an action RPG, I absolutely think that Ys IX holds up, and the great news is, starting this deep in the series didn’t feel confusing nor did it feel like we were missing anything by not playing the previous games. I mean, there are a few references to some previous storylines, and there are a few characters that I’m sure are cameos from them, but instead of discouraging me from wanting to play more, it actually made me excited to play those past games once we completed this one.

I’m not too concerned about the story and how it plays out though, since we aren’t really far enough to judge that anyway. However, I will say that it has been intriguing. Nonetheless, the aspect of Ys IX that has really impressed me so far is it’s fun and intuitive action RPG mechanics paired with almost metroidvania style exploration. Sure you’ll run around hacking and slashing enemies, gaining experience and items, and fighting the odd boss or two, but as you start adding characters to your party, they’ll impart you (your party) with new skills that’ll make exploration easier, and gain you access to areas of the map you couldn’t reach before then. The best news is, you can easily swap between them on the fly!

You’ll also be given the chance to complete side quests, which will reward you with items and equipment, and you’ll have access to various other JRPG features like shops and crafting/cooking to keep any fan of the genre occupied for hours.

Since I know little to nothing about what the previous games in the series were like my frame of reference will have to come from how it holds up against other modern JRPGs. We only reached chapter 3 in our playthrough so far but I can confidently say that Ys IX is a top notch example in this category. I find a lot of modern JRPGs these days to be cookie cutter experiences in their approach to their overall style and gameplay, and it’s very discouraging to say the least. I’m not saying that Ys IX doesn’t have any of those tired tropes, but the devs really added so much more to freshen things up. The fact that I find myself quite eager to continue playing is a testament to how much this game has grabbed and held my attention.

There are a lot of interesting mechanics introduced fairly early on and it definitely felt overwhelming at first. Of course, the more you play the easier it is to catch on, and the better you become at finding the best ways to utilize your abilities. Something I really appreciated though, and added a nice dose of simplicity, was that as you acquire new team members you never need to swap between them and the main character in order to use their unique abilities outside of battle. It makes exploring that vast city of Balduq a breeze!

Unfortunately, along with all these fancy abilities and the multitude of gameplay mechanics, comes tutorial screens abound! So many! And more than once on certain things as well! It’s a small gripe but it definitely interrupts the game flow having these screens pop up with the frequency that they do. I don’t feel it needs to be explained more than once, if at all, how items are used or what buttons to push to activate my moves.

At this point I’m not really sure if I would change anything about Ys IX, but one thing that I would love to see improved would be the localization, specifically with the spoken dialog, and the ingame animations. Although the translation itself isn’t bad, the performances sometimes feel awkward and forced. Or maybe just be out of place, especially when the main character yells at you everytime he sees a treasure box! Which makes me wonder if leaving the Japanese voiceovers would have been a better choice. Nothing gamebreaking, nor immersion hindering, just a tad annoying. On top of that, the stiff animations make the game feel outdated and just added to the awkwardness of the dialog and detract from the beautiful art direction.

Which leads me to the one thing that really makes Ys IX shine, it’s graphics. Which are colorful, full of interesting, and uber cute character designs. Something I hope remains consistent for Ys games new and old. Also, the whole aesthetic of the game feels very chill and wholesome, even when it gets a little dark, and I really appreciate that.

Now, I may not have much reference for the past games, but I think that if you’re a Ys fan, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with Ys IX. It seems charming and does some interesting things with its exploration and combat that breathes some fresh air into an occasionally stale genre. I also think that if you’re a JRPG fan in general, which is something I can relate to, then I think Ys IX and possibly the Ys series in general is definitely worth looking into, for the same reasons!

If you’re a fan of the Ys series then this is a no brainer. It seems like a solid entry into the series and the longest entry as well. Extra Ys for your buck is never a bad thing. If you are new to the series, as we are, then it’s still a thumbs up from me. It’s just a great JRPG with lots of interesting and innovative game mechanics that spice up the tried and true classic logistics perfectly. Playing Ys IX: Monstrum Nox has lit the spark in me to go and try out the others in the series and there really can be no better endorsement than that!

Honestly, I’m excited that we finally broke the seal and took a chance on the Ys series. It’s even more exciting that it turned out that Ys IX is a super fun game that satisfies those JRPG cravings you get every now and again. I just wish that we jumped on the bandwagon sooner. The good news however, is that there’s a bunch of games that came before it, so we have a lot to look forward to once we complete Ys IX: Monstrum Nox!

If you’re interested in checking out Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, it’ll be available on the PlayStation 4 February 2nd, and the Switch/PC in the summer of 2021!