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Ys IX: Monstrum Nox is the perfect place for newcomers to take a vampiric leap into the series

More like Batman Balduq City, am I right?

The games industry is a land where mad dreams thrive and die. Oftentimes, they thrive - and then they die. I've not yet met anyone whose job involves chronicling explosive fairy dust incidents at a Lisa Frank factory, but I can't imagine it'd be more wonderful and horrifying than writing about games. That's why it's so easy to appreciate Nihon Falcom. The long-lived studio are happy to stay in their corner and whittle new entries for their decades-old RPG franchises, while the chaos of the industry sloshes around them. Falcom is a purveyor of perfectly pleasant games — and yes, they deserve that bit of whimsical alliteration.

You generally know what you're getting into with a Falcom game (unless you're attempting to untangle the politics behind the Tales Of titles, in which case I'll send your next of kin a consolatory ham). If you pick up Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, for instance, you can expect to enjoy a rock-solid JRPG adventure game alongside the red-haired adventurer Adol Christin. In fact, if you're a fan of action RPGs, I'd say the Ys series is a must-play, and Ys IX is as good a place to start as any.

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If you're Ys-curious, the games' self-contained structure makes it easy to jump right into the series wherever you like. All you need to know is that Adol is an adventurer with a penchant for getting into shipwrecks, losing valuable artefacts, and washing up into the lap of his next gig. He's handy with a sword, and he takes on enemies with aplomb.

But whether you're a new fan or an old fan, you'll be pleased with how Ys IX's "Monstrum Gifts" turn regular on-foot travel into falcon-fast flights that never get old. Falcom even turn Adol into an anime vampire... thing to justify these new powers. You know, just in case you're shy about letting the red-haired traveler grab some sick air.

"Adol ecapes the enormous Balduq prison with the aid of a cool goth lady who recruits him into her after-school Anne Rice fanfiction club."

Fans of 2016's (excellent) Ys VIII: Lacrimosa Of Dana will notice that, whereas Adol keeps his feet on the ground in Ys VIII, Ys IX is a much more vertical game that encourages you to go all Batman Balduq, Balduq being the prison-city that serves as the adventure's central hub. Adol gains access to new Monstrum Gifts as he recruits similarly-cursed party members, including the adorable Krysha (who teaches Adol how to run up walls) and the ill-tempered Hawk (who teaches him how to glide). Adol’s innate power is the Crimson Line, a zip line that latches onto myriad surfaces and makes travelling along Balduq’s rooftops a breeze. The real fun comes from combining these powers. Shoot out a line, run up a steeple, then soar to your next destination. It beats walking. Better still, Monstrum powers play a big role in combat. It’s quite fulfilling to stick a Crimson Line in a boss’ face, zip over, and proceed to land critical hits on their ugly mug.

If this sounds a bit too complex, don't sweat it. You have lots of time and safe space to hone your Monstrom Gifts. Balduq is a big city with tons of nooks and crannies, and the secret of its prison plunges to deep depths, figuratively and literally. That said, you might feel a bit confined early in the game because Adol is kept inside Balduq’s walls for Story Reasons™. Thankfully, it doesn’t take too long before Balduq’s gates are thrown open, and Adol is allowed to explore the surrounding lands and its myriad enemy-packed dungeons. Overall, Ys IX easily has Ys VIII matched for its size and amount of content. In other words, there’s a lot to do, and a lot of side-stories to pursue.

A pink-haired girl swings an axe at a large monster in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox

Ys fans might even be a little surprised at how much story Ys IX contains, and how much of it takes on complex themes. There’s commentary about imperialism, capitalism, colonialism, and mass incarceration. Ys IX also has a lot to say on family ties, since most of Adol’s Monstrum friends are adopted. The interludes between the Monstrum and the family members who raised them are downright heartfelt, and it’s always nice when games reassure us that family is about way more than blood.

Don't worry; Ys IX can be serious, but it doesn't skimp on the series' wonderful anime cheesiness. Heck, Adol only manages to escape the enormous Balduq prison with the aid of a cool goth lady who uses some kind of magical device to recruit the adventurer into her after-school Anne Rice fanfiction club. The transformed Adol then takes on the moniker of “Crimson King” in an obvious shout out to fans of prog rock and/or Stephen King’s Dark Towerseries. It's JRPG tropes all the way down in Ys IX. All is right in the world

Ys IX: Monstrum Nox was initially a PlayStation 4 release, but it shoots a Crimson Line onto the PC and Switch on July 6. If you’re any kind of action RPG and you weren’t around for Adol’s first big prison breakout, make sure you catch up with the Crimson King this time around.

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