It’s a great game held back by the technical limitations of the Nintendo Switch. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but I would only recommend this version if you have no other gaming platform but the Switch. If you’ve played Ys VIII, or any Ys game for that matter, you’ll know exactly what to expect. The story is good, combat is very fun, the characters are super likable and the change to a more Gothic style is a breath of fresh air. Exploring the city is also really addicting and rewarding as soon as you have the tools for it. I like this game A LOT, but frame rate issues and terrible pop-in make the Switch version the worst one out there.
Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana was both the very first Ys game I’ve played and reviewed, and I quickly fell in love with it and wondered why I never played these games before. Ever since then, I went back and played Ys 1, 2 and Origins. As I got more familiar with the Ys series, my excitement for Ys IX: Monstrum Nox increased every day. Since I played the previous entry on Switch, I decided to wait until the follow-up title released on the same platform as well. After giving it a good, long shot on Switch and seeing everything this game has to offer, I can very much say that this game is great, and it can be better if you play it anywhere that’s not on Switch.
I guess that will be a great place to start, since most Ys fans will most likely know what to expect, content wise. Long story short: It’s another Ys game, and I say that with the most positive connotation that I can. We’ll get to those parts shortly, but first, let’s address the worst parts of this game up front, which have mostly nothing to do with the game’s content or gameplay and everything to do with the technical limitations of running a game this large on a Nintendo Switch.
The entire game runs at 30 frames per second at maximum, while hectic battles with tons of special effects will tank that frame rate to be far lower. When walking around the big city of Balduq, there will be many moments where the game will slow down from loading all the NPCs and buildings into view. The game eventually runs a little better when it gets used to it, but you’ll definitely feel the console gasping for air as you leave an interior and back out into larger environments. It doesn’t help that you quickly receive special abilities that will aid in exploring the world in a faster, more efficient way. You’ll be dashing, climbing and flying your way through the whole city, which will make the game struggle and give you a very inconsistent frame rate as it tries to load everything into view.
Even smaller things make the game hitch up in strange ways, such as walking into a healing spot. These are essentially checkpoints that allow the game to auto save. However, this will cause the game to freeze for a split second before going back to normal; sometimes a bit longer. This happens every single time without fail, alongside all the other things that cause slowdown. The only time I ever saw a glimpse of 60 frames per second was when I was looking at my map or whenever a short cinematic plays for unlocking new areas in the city, which contains no NPCs or big parts of the environment that need to be loaded in.
From a technical perspective, this game is a mess, and NIS America has already confirmed that there will be patches coming out that will improve stability and fix some bugs. However, if you are used to playing games on PC or PS4, then these issues will definitely throw you off. If inconsistent frame rate, low resolution and constant pop-in are not things that bother you though, or if the Switch is the only platform you own, then you can probably look past it and have a great time. I certainly got used to it and enjoyed it as much as I did Ys VIII, which I’m pretty sure ran a bit better. It’s a real shame, because without all of these blemished, the gameplay flows like a hot knife through butter and is a joy to play.
In terms of interactions and combat, it’s almost identical to Ys VIII. And by that I mean it’s very action focused, playing more akin to a hack n’ slash action game than a traditional turn-based RPG. If you’re someone that wants to get into RPGs, but you don’t like turn-based combat, then play the Ys games, because this format will probably be more exciting for you. In case you don’t remember, the previous game involved exploring a large island, gathering a group of characters that help you fight tons of monsters while engaging in a Metroidvania-style progression system where you slowly get upgrades that give you access to new areas. Rinse and repeat and enjoy the story until the credits roll.
It’s pretty much the exact same thing with Ys IX, but instead of exploring an island, you’re exploring a gray prison city where most areas look similar. If you think you’re going to see a wide variety of areas to explore, then I suggest you temper your expectations. This game’s story is smaller scale and more personal than previous entries, in which the fate of the whole world might have been at stake. Here, you are mostly trying to break a curse that doesn’t let you leave the city.
Because of those conditions, you’ll be mostly exploring gray buildings with even grayer dungeons and caves. Granted, it’s very fun to keep accumulating tools in your arsenal for you to essentially fly around the entire city collecting items, discovering new locations and fighting enemies, but it’s difficult to deny that most of the game kinda looks the same. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we’ve definitely seen more varied environments in the past.
I do not wish to spoil the story for anyone, so I won’t go into too much detail here outside of the introduction. Although there isn’t a whole lot going on at the start, it doesn’t stop getting more intriguing as time goes on. Similar to the previous Ys game, the plot starts in a very simple way with Adol and Dogi arriving in the city of Balduq, well known for it’s enormous and impenetrable prison.
For honestly silly reasons, our adventurous hero Adol Christin gets arrested and becomes a prisoner of said prison. As he tries to escape, he gets embroiled with a group of super-powered people called the Monstrums, who want to stop an evil realm called the Grimwald Nox from overtaking everything with the monsters resting within it. It’s a pretty simple “kill all the monsters, save the world” kind of story, but it very quickly takes a trip to Crazy Town and goes off into other directions that make it more interesting. All of this is accompanied by great camera work during cut scenes that are a step above any other Ys game that came before this one.
In typical Ys fashion, there will occasionally be a few references to previous games, but there’s nothing stopping any newcomers to pick the game up and enjoy the isolated story, in more ways than one, since you are literally unable to leave the city until certain things happen that let you explore a bit further away.
The only thing that might come close to story criticism is that there’s isn’t a lot going on during the middle portion, since there are full chapters dedicated to just introducing the new cast of characters and establishing their motivations. It’s not until everyone makes themselves known where the plot actually starts to move forward. Even then, I didn’t have a bad time at all during these parts, since every character is very likable and voiced competently in both English and Japanese. Even Adol himself, who is usually a silent protagonist, talks more than he ever has in both dialogue choices and voiced lines. With that said, the dialogue can get a little awkward with seemingly random lines being voiced others are not. You could be in the middle of a voiced conversation, and suddenly the voice acting just stops, which is definitely distracting during fairly important parts of the story.
After becoming so enamored with Ys VIII and its characters, I was afraid that same magic would not be present with the follow-up, since now I have certain expectations going into it. I’m happy to say that the same charm is still present here and you won’t be disappointed with the writing of the characters and world on display. I look back very fondly on the castaway crew from Ys VIII, and now I’m pretty sure I can say the same about the Monstrums and the citizens of Balduq. Although the atmosphere and soundtrack is more befitting of a Halloween game than a Japanese fantasy RPG, this is still a tried and true Ys game with all the traits that have made the series great since the beginning. It doesn’t contain any earth-shattering changes or innovation, but it does just enough to put a fresh coat of paint on the solid foundation the Ys series stands on.
Ys IX: Monstrum Nox reminds of when I used to review games on PlayStation Vita, a portable console that would usually get ports of bigger PS4-level games. They would not run anywhere near as good as any other platform, but I still thought it was a pretty big achievement that these games would work at all on such a small console. And even with the limitations, I could look past them and still have a lot of fun with those versions. Attack on Titan, Blue Reflection, Dragon Quest Builders and Catherine: Full Body are a few examples that come to mind. Ys IX on Nintendo Switch is an identical situation in which I had a great time, but you’re probably better off experiencing this awesome game somewhere else.