Co-developers Nihon Falcom, PH3 GmbH and Engine Software BV join with publisher NIS America, Inc. to present Ys XI – Monstrum Nox for review. Monstrum Nox looks to continue the community-building RPG action of previous Ys entry Lacrimosa of Dana, now located in the prison city of Balduq. Series regular Adol also returns to shepherd the action while investigating the mysterious dark forces surrounding his new powers.
Monstrum Nox is a single-player action-RPG which allows the player to switch between playable combatants on the fly. Each enemy has a different set of weaknesses which require the player to change between party members in order to swiftly dispatch them. As the player lands normal attacks, they build up a special attack meter which may be used for unique moves, which in turn builds up a third meter which allows a temporary transformation into stronger forms and a screen-shattering ultimate attack. There are non-combatants who will also join the player and provide passive buffs, shops and crafting stations, or useful information at a home base which is gradually built up throughout the game. Monstrum Nox also includes a series of movement powers which are primarily utilized outside of combat to investigate different parts of the map.
The Ys series has reinvented itself into different iterations throughout the years. The collision combat of the earliest games led to shaky experiments in direct combat, which developed into high combo-heavy installments, slower paced party-focused combat releases, and now this bloated mass of systems on top of systems where barely a single one is worth a damn.
Monstrum Nox is bloated set to burst in an array of distracting visual effects and humdrum combat. The camera is so often set too close to the action, neglecting the distance and angle that the camera had in the series’ superior Memories of Celceta, and reduces the once tight combat to a series of polygonal bursts. The busier visuals translate into a low need to focus on what you’re doing in combat. The previous Lacrimosa of Dana threatened to be too busy at times but at least kept the need to switch characters and tactics somewhat to keep Adol and friends from wiping out. Monstrum Nox requires no such strategy, and even on higher difficulty levels you’ll have about the same success sticking with a single character spamming the same move instead of needing to consider the opposition and planning accordingly.
Other systems are built from Lacrimosa of Dana without much reason outside repetition. In previous entries, Adol was lost in a strange land and needed to seek out familiar landmarks as a way to understand where he needed to go. The prison city of Balduq is so typical of RPG aesthetics that the mysterious landmarks of old are now rudimentary locales like the church, or a fountain, all betraying the lack of creativity which went into crafting the setting of Monstrum Nox. More damning is a sidequest which tasks Adol to give a fresh perspective on the Balduq landmarks, which simply results in “…” and no response from Adol about what makes these locations so interesting.
The use of “…” made some sense way back in Final Fantasy VII as the response of an aloof protagonist, and doesn’t suit the fiery adventurer that is Adol. Even then, Monstrum Nox replaces the shock of red hair and constantly-poised-for-action Adol with a disguised Adol who is barely distinguishable from background anime stock. There’s an in-plot reason for Adol to look like this, but even in combat becomes a sort of medieval RPG Power Ranger that I might have doodled in the fourth grade. The Adol I’ve come to enjoy journeying beside in previous games, an Adol who got through situations with determination and ingenuity, is now led by the nose through power granted to him and forced through the plot by elements beyond his control. This is rubbish writing for a character that has rarely needed crutches outside his own curiosity in the past.
It’s not like the Ys series has been known for intriguing writing and, hoo boy, does this installment reek of a shift to the reactionary. One of its worst story threads is at least dealt with up front to let the player know whether this is going to be worth their time or not. If I didn’t need to write this review, I would have given up when the Robin Hood character decides that helping the poor is second to her dream of opening a flower shop, all because she listened to two people talking about how they were going to use the money she gave them for gambling. This is some Reagan-era nonsense and doesn’t even have the spine to follow through on the idea that the Robin Hood character is only helping mooches, as the vanity project stands tall with no fallout and citizens around begin to complain about being hungry or lacking the funds to live. This is arguably the lowest point in Monstrum Nox but the rest of the water-thin mysteries stunk with this reactionary tripe.
Even the new movement mechanics exist as a distraction than an enhancement. Why bother wall-running, gliding, and slingshotting to the other side of town? I can open my mini-map and select the location I want to go to in about a tenth of the time. There are no secrets to find as they’re all blatantly marked on the map, and I must assure you that the one extra healing item you may find futzing across the city on foot will not be the thing which makes or breaks your next combat. The map opens up into non-castle territory eventually, and the landscapes that await are sadly as generic as the rest only in shades of green instead of grey.
Ys IX – Monstrum Nox was reviewed using a reviewer-gifted code on the PC.
Ys 9 - Monstrum Nox
If there's one positive about Monstrum Nox, it's that the game which kicked off this iteration of Ys - Memories of Celceta - was released about nine years ago. This means that, if the Ys franchise reinvention wheel continues, that they will take Adol in a new direction next time. As it stands, Monstrum Nox is warmed over material from a franchise which once had exciting gameplay that has now slowed to an interminable crawl. Here's hoping the next installment bumps Adol on the noggin' again and we can forget Monstrum Nox happened.
- Button mashers rejoice as the hack 'n slash barely requires more than mashing the same couple of buttons.
- Dreadfully dull setting in a milquetoast medieval town and lackluster landmarks.
- Timing and skill are dropped as necessities for combat to the point where higher difficulties are just harder-hitting enemies instead of necessitating new tactics.
- Reactionary streak in the writing with cluelessly selfish characters that don't even have the courage to follow-through on the implications.
Do Not Resuscitate