The ninth installment in the Ys franchise was released yesterday for the PlayStation 4 and I thought I’d share my thoughts on what I’ve played of the game so far (just started the third chapter). Now, I’ve played a bit of each entry in the Ys series, with Oath in Felghana being my favorite of the older titles, but I didn’t really fall in love with the franchise till I played Ys VIII in 2017. Despite that game’s rough initial translation, I really enjoyed Ys VIII’s likeable cast, fun tropical setting and snappy combat. So I’ve been eagerly anticipating the franchise’s next entry.
The first thing that stood out to me was the change in tone. Ys VIII is set on a very colorful island and the game begins with Adol fighting monsters on the shores of a beach set to the sounds of a rocking soundtrack. Ys IX instead takes place in a gothic prison city called Balduq and begins with Adol escaping from said prison. On the surface it seems like the game is going to be much gloomier compared to VIII. However, it actually feels more like a superhero story. While Adol is escaping the prison, he is cursed by a mysterious woman named Aprilis, who transforms him into an alter echo named the Crimson King. As the Crimson King, Adol gains new superhuman abilities and is forced to do whatever Aprilis asks of him which includes fighting monsters that are bleeding in from another realm. Additionally Adol is no longer able to leave the city due to his curse and he now has to work together with several other people that have been cursed like him and who’s real identities are all hidden from each other. Together they are called Monstrum and, in between doing missions for Aprilis, they use their newfound abilities to help the citizens of Balduq city.
Characters with superhuman powers. Secret identities. Vigilante justice. Ys IX feels like a story straight out of a superhero comic combined with a bit of gothic anime edginess.
This superhero feeling even extends to the gameplay. Ys VIII was originally made for the PlayStation Vita and it shows in the game’s structure, with the island being split up into a series of small maps. Ys IX is the franchise’s first game to be made from the ground up for an HD console and thus the team at Falcom went for a much more open design. I’m hesitant to call the game an “open-world” RPG but it is clear that Falcom is trying to take elements from open-world games and incorporate them into the traditional linear structure of the series. The game mostly takes place in one large map that is the city of Balduq and Adol can use his newfound Monstrum abilities to grapple hook to ledges, double jump onto roofs and wall run up towers. It feels similar to open-world superhero games like Infamous and Adol can even collect orbs, fight pockets of enemies and find hidden treasure chests while exploring the city, just like you would expect. It is a lot of fun and I actually found myself jumping around roof tops just because it was so satisfying to just zip around the city. However, you can tell that this is Falcom’s first time making maps this large since the framerate often takes a big hit on the base-model PS4. The framerate drops often while exploring Balduq but combat often takes place in smaller dungeon areas where the framerate is almost always a solid 60, so I haven’t found it to impede gameplay too much. It’s distracting for sure but again it hasn’t hampered my enjoyment of the game so far.
Additionally, the story seems pretty interesting so far. Like I said before, I find the gothic setting mixed with a superhero narrative to be pretty entertaining but the characters also seem to be just as charming as the cast from Ys VIII. Also there are a lot of fun mysteries to chew on. All of the Monstrums look very different from their real-world identities, so there are some fun moments where the game reveals what the characters really look like. There are also a lot of mysteries surrounding Aprilis and what her goals are. But, so far, the game hasn’t really revealed too much about what her deal is. There are even some twists that are hinted at a bit further into the game that actually surprised me. There is a moment at the end of the 2nd chapter that actually made me go: “Wait, what is really going on here?” It’s fun stuff and I look forward to digging deeper into the game.
So, all in all, I’m having a real good time with Ys IX so far. Framerate problems aside, the game is really fun to play and the story has got my attention. There is a certain something about IX in particular that exudes a "B-Game Charm." The game feels scrappy in a way that VIII did not. It almost feels like the open-world design is a bit too much for the game to handle at times while still being really enjoyable. While the environments can often appear grey and empty, there is also a certain je ne sais quoi about the world of IX. Again, it feels like a B-game in the best possible way. Ys IX is punching above its weight and I’m having a fun time with it.