Review: Ys IX: Monstrum Nox (Switch)

Only five months ago Ys IX: Monstrum Nox made its North American debut on PlayStation 4. Like many games, including its predecessor Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, Monstrum Nox enjoyed a period of exclusivity on Sony’s console before being ported over to Switch. As is to be expected, porting any game designed for Sony or Microsoft consoles over to Switch is going to make concessions. It’s basically a foregone conclusion that the Switch port of any game designed for more powerful hardware is going to be the worst version of it, but there are many games that in spite of the necessary concessions to make a port possible were still worth playing. This will serve as a simplified review that gives an overview of the game and discusses Switch performance. For a more in-depth and detailed review of Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, check out our review of the PlayStation 4 version.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is a new adventure for series mainstays Adol Christin and Dogi. Their travels bring them to the prison town of Balduq. As with prior Ys games most of the area is restricted until the story progression gradually unlocks parts of it. As the story progresses Adol meets new NPCs who end up coming to Dandelion, the tavern Adol and Dogi take over as their base of operations. Adol also is joined by new playable characters as the game progresses, but unlike past Ys games these characters have the Monstrum curse, where they are granted Monstrum gifts that are essentially super powers, such as the ability to run up vertical walls or sprout wings to safely glide to far away platforms.

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is so far one of my personal favorite releases of 2021, though there are some criticisms that prevent it from being declared the best Ys game. Unlocking new areas of Balduq to explore and bringing new people to Dandelion was nice, but didn’t have the same sense of exploration and settlement building of Castaway Village on the Isle of Seiren. The chapter progression felt almost too formulaic; do enough stuff around town to close the gates and then go explore the newly opened up area to defeat a boss and playthrough a prison scene. On the other hand, while the scope of exploration felt more limited, actually exploring the areas was some of the most fun to be had in Ys games thanks the Monstrums’ gifts.

Compared to its predecessor, Ys IX is a shorter game than Ys VIII. Ys IX could probably be completed in about 30 hours, maybe 40-45 if the player is completionist who wants to do all the side quests and explore every nook and cranny. The difficulty of Ys IX is significantly lower, where normal difficulty setting on Ys IX is easier than the easy difficulty setting on Ys VIII, but thanks to adjustable difficulty players seeking a challenge can always increase it. The graphics look great with the classic Ys anime style artwork and there’s great music to be heard in the soundtrack. The game mechanics are tight when the performance is not suffering (more on that later) and the Monstrum gifts are a breath of fresh air in a game that otherwise sticks to the formula of its previous games in addition to making Ys IX fun to play.

Now we talk about the biggest negative, which is the hardware limitations of the Switch. A few months ago when playing through it on a PlayStation 4 Pro, technical hiccups happened with the graphics but they were rare didn’t interfere with the enjoyment. Switch is a different story. Most of the time Ys IX runs just fine, but during some the more frantic battles with a lot of particle effects and chaos, the framerate drops tremendously, bringing everything to stutter. These don’t happen all that often but they did occur a few times during the playthrough and they were more than mildly irritating when they did. Sometimes objects pop in later than they should or some of the lightning seems weird in cutscenes. The Switch is obviously lower res than PS4 so the graphics look a little muddier. The text size didn’t seem like an issue on PS4, but on handheld mode in Switch, which is one of the main selling points to playing it on this platform, it may be too small for some to comfortably read.

Closing Comments:

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox¬†is a great game that maintains enough elements of previous Ys games so that longtime fans will feel at home while the Monstrum gifts breathe new life into the gameplay. This is a must-play for fans of the series or action JRPGs in general, but while the hardware limitations of the Switch do not ruin the game or make it unplayable, they have been sources of frustration that take some of the fun away from the experience. Handheld mode suffers from muddier graphics, tiny text and the occasional massive framerate plummet during a boss battle. If playing Ys IX: Monstrum Nox on the go is essential, the Switch version is serviceable enough where the headaches from the performance issues don’t outweigh the positive aspects, but if it’s an option, the PlayStation 4 version is the superior way to experience Ys IX.