Thanks to NIS America for the review code
Title: Ys IX: Monstrum Nox
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 07/06/2021
In this RPG adventure, taking place after the events of Ys Seven, you take control of Adol once again, as he ends up in the prison city of Balduq and must find out the mysteries behind the Grimwald Nox, along with teaming up with a group of people suffering from the same curse as him, in order to investigate how it all links together.
Just like traditional Ys fare, the story here ties in very nicely with the rest of the series, with plenty of nods to past games, but also not mandating that you played any beforehand, meaning this could be just as good of a starting point as the rest of the series. (save for II and VI)
Ys IX continues the same “party trio” design system that started way back in Seven, so it’s no surprise that a lot of aspects from games in that engine carried over, getting yet another makeover. Like those games, this is an action RPG taking place from a third person perspective, with a big interconnected world to explore, consisting of plenty of secrets and dungeons to find.
The biggest difference this time around comes from how the majority of the game takes place in the giant city of Balduq, which is incredibly massive. Ys VIII had a lot of huge locations as well, but Balduq is arguably bigger than some of those due to how the entire town is just interconnected, with it consisting of tons of buildings and interior areas to explore.
Right off the bat, this huge city causes an infamous issue that the game even suffered from on PS4 Pro, and that’s the impact on IX’s performance. As expected due to the hardware of the Switch and precedent from VIII, IX aims for 30FPS, and the resolution changes to compensate for this. In docked mode, the game looks decent, as even with reduced visual quality it still retains a lot of the original vision, and indoor places have the framerate hold up shockingly well, so much so that it manages to still be fun to look at and play this way. Even in handheld mode, where the visuals look a lot worse and can lead to some models looking hilariously low-poly at times, it manages to still run decent enough when in dungeons or interior areas, to the point that it even felt better than VIII’s port did at times, a truly marvelous feat considering the gargantuan nature of this game compared to the former.
However, when you step outside into that aforementioned big city, things take a critical hit. The Vita version of Ys VIII didn’t really run so hot, and despite being immensely fun it was definitely pushing that system to the extreme with lots of frame dips, but the Switch version managed to fix most of those issues while being behind the PS4/PC ports and dipping a ton. In the huge city however, the framerate drops off and on, never being consistent, especially in handheld mode where the framerate tanks whenever you so much as stare at a huge building. The game is nowhere near Arc of Alchemist levels of bad thankfully, but it definitely becomes a very stuttering mess that can be really annoying on the eyes, especially during on-the-go sessions.
Areas with huge buildings in your line of sight will just be a lot more annoying to run through, while the parts of towns with not as much going on will run a bit better, but will still make the game feel pain. The good news is, this doesn’t matter when you’re just exploring the town and finding hidden items or going to the next objective, but when you enter a portal to fight monsters, thus summoning big enemies to the already huge town? It just completely wrecks the performance in both modes, with the game briefly going to single digits during some of these fights in docked mode after I use a special skill, leading to a very unfun time whenever you have to take on enemies in this town.
Thankfully, the parts where you’re teleported away from the town to a pocket dimension to defend from run significantly better due to being a smaller area, and that’s sorta the trend I noticed. If you’re in an interior/small area like a house where there’s not much to render, the game will be near a consistent 30FPS close enough to still be enjoyable, but if you’re in any scenario where a lot of complex things pop up, the game will scream in agony. Seeing how the PS4 version didn’t like the town areas much either, I can’t blame this port too much for struggling in them as well, but I at least hope they’ll try to polish up things to make it a bit more consistent. Before my review went live, it appeared that they did just that, as I noticed a bit of an increase in how it felt on my TV, though handheld still hated the city areas quite a lot.
The good news is the audio here is still as great as it always is, with fine voice acting and a lot of great songs, though I didn’t find many of the OST to be as memorable as that of Celceta and prior, leading to the same sort of issue I had with 8’s OST, where the song quality is godly, but not too memorable outside of a few select tracks that you’ll want to purchase from iTunes ASAP.
Just as I previously noted, this game uses the same sort of party system that VIII did, and that means a lot of the controls and aspects from that game carry over here: multiple attack types, a weakness cycle to encourage playing as the multiple characters, the usage of skills and EX skills, and general combat are super familiar to those who played VIII, Seven, or Celceta, with IX once again adding onto and tweaking this system.
The biggest change by far comes from the Monstrums, where Adol along with his new party members all take up different forms given to them by Aprilis, a strange being with magical power that seems to know a lot about the Grimwald Nox. Each character has their own unique skill that helps them with traversal, whether it’s zipping to red points in sight, gliding around, running up walls, or other such gifts, this helps add a lot of fun to the exploration aspect, which is both expanded and restricted significantly from Ys VIII.
You may not be going through a huge island with different sectors anymore, but you are at least in a gargantuan town with tons of different districts, subdistricts, dungeons, side areas, and more to explore, so it’s not like there isn’t variety to be found here. Plus it still is immensely fun to go out to unmapped areas to see what you can find, whether it be treasure chests, graffiti scribbled on walls, or landmarks to report to a shopkeeper, or to head back to your Dandelion cafe to see what new sidequests you can take up, or what workers can help you on your quest.
Of course you can’t go and explore the entire town in one sitting, since the huge town has a barrier around most of it, requiring the dispelling of Miasma portals in order to open up new districts for Adol. This is done by filling up the Nox meter in the top-left of the screen, usually accomplished by filling out sidequests, (which work just as they have been for the past few games, missable quest potential and all) beating up monsters that appear through blips in space scattered around the town, and progressing the main story in general. Upon filling it up, a miasma portal will spawn next to a barrier, allowing Adol to summon his fellow Monstrums to enter the Grimwald Nox.
The Grimwald Nox is pretty much this game’s take on VIII’s village defense missions, and they honestly play so much better, going by at a faster pace and just being plenty more fun in general, not overstaying their welcome or getting outright boring. However, they still require you to defend something from the enemies, so if you aren’t quite a fan of tower defense stuff, then this won’t change your mind much even though it is still a lot of fun, and you can usually stop enemies without much trouble if you set it down to an easier difficulty.
Speaking of difficulties, this is one aspect I need to praise the port of IX for here, since in my VIII Switch review I noted how Inferno Mode wasn’t exactly the best idea in that port due to the fact said difficulty was made for the fast 60FPS action of the PS4 version in mind, and thus while it was still doable to pull off flash guards and moves, it wasn’t really fun to handle a hectic challenge at a lower framerate. Here in IX, you have not just Very Easy-Inferno, but a brand new difficulty surpassing all of those, and you can switch between them all on the fly: no inability to bump up to Inferno to test your skills on particular boss fights, you can just go ahead and do it!
This ended up helping me try out the higher options to see if I enjoyed them more with this port than I did with VIII’s, and I’m happy to say they’re significantly more fun here. Flash guards and moves are super easy to pull off with timing, and I can easily see the harder difficulties being just as doable in this port as they would be on base PS4, which isn’t a thing I can say for VIII’s inferno mode. Still, the game’s combat is generally just as fun as it has ever been, and it transitions well in this port, which makes me feel that Engine Software did a much better job at scaling the game down here than NIS themselves did for VIII. Outside of the aforementioned framerate annoyances when outside in the huge town, the game still targets 30FPS pretty well, and it manages to be surprisingly fun this way! The loop of reaching new areas, taking up sidequests to fill the nox gauge and progress the story, while all learning about the mysterious prison and the intriguing story behind it, (leading to a sense of mystery I feel gives this story an edge over VIII in that regard) all leads to a very fun action RPG worth your time, even with the aforementioned outdoor framerates.
In conclusion, Ys IX is a weird mess on switch, but shockingly not nearly as bad as I dreaded. Indoor areas play great and dungeon crawling is a legitimately good time, on the go or at home, but when it comes to exploring the gargantuan city or any sort of huge area, the game screams in agony and suffers immensely at points leading to a lot of moments that drag down the experience here on Switch, especially in handheld.
I am at least glad this port is made more with the system in mind compared to Ys 8, as the combat and gameplay feel much more at home in this switch port than the former’s, with flash guards and dodges being second nature to pull off even with the reduced framerate, a much better improvement compared to trying to tackle any higher difficulties or complex combat techniques on VIII’s port.
At the end of the day, the game is still immensely fun, and a great action RPG, though it’s still best played on the PS5 (and PC, depending on how that port turns out), of course. Still, for a downgraded version, this is one of the better weaker Switch ports I have seen lately, even if a lot more work should be done for improving the exterior areas (which seems to have been already done, thankfully!), and I say for those who enjoyed the VIII port on Switch, you’ll enjoy this port just as much, if not a bit more, even if the game itself doesn’t reach nearly the same highs as VIII, with weaker level design and the town getting too much focus for my liking and not being nearly as fun to explore as Celceta or Siren, though with a more engaging story overall.
I give Ys IX: Monstrom Nox an 8 out of 10.