This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Ys IX: Monstrum Nox.
It's always the silver lining about big game releases being drier than a senior churchwarden's pantyliner that I can devote more time to the lower-profile titles. The viewers get to send in heartfelt recommendations for their personal favorite indie and retro games, I get to tell them all to piss off; everyone's having fun. So since it finally came out on PC last week, I had a chance to play Monstrum Nox, the ninth game in the Ys series. (Yuss series? Is? Yes? Yis? Well, that's one way to foil my usual "gradually corrupt the title" gag.)
Ys: Molesting Nonce is the latest in the courageously persistent and long-running Ys series of mid-budget Japanese action RPGs that's been about three steps behind the rest of the industry its whole life. But while the games have never exactly lit up gaming horizons like a napalm strike in nipple tassels, I tend to find them fucking adorable, like a little toddler coming downstairs at an adult party going, "I'm a gwown-up!", wearing Daddy's best jacket and waving Mummy's favorite clitoral stimulator. The Ys games are a sort of cozy, unthreatening place for me; sometimes, you just want to play a nice, straightforward game where you press the button, and the dude goes stab. Although, having said that, the first Ys game didn't even have an "Attack" button; you were supposed to aggressively chest-bump your way through the enemies like a middle manager trying to intimidate a nightclub bouncer. As I said, fucking adorbs.
Ys has gradually embraced the various innovations of the action RPG genre at its own leisurely pace, and has recently discovered that open-world sandboxes are a thing, with Monstrum Nox giving you full-on gliding, hookshotting, and wall-running super powers to let you leap gaily about a fantasy city like a flea on an extremely passive St. Bernard. A city of nondescript buildings, all decked out in repeating gray-brown brickwork like the default texture in the Duke Nukem 3D level editor, but bless 'em anyway; they're trying so hard.
Anyway, like most Ys games, Monstrous Knockwurst follows the adventures of Adol Christin, career adventurer and highly generic anime swordboy, who must be very grateful that his parents didn't give him a middle name that starts with "F". In this game, he arrives at a new city and is almost immediately thrown in jail basically for being an adventurer, which is fair enough; I mean, adventurers are handy when dragons are stealing the children, but absolutely cannot be trusted around pottery. During his escape from imprisonment for crimes against earthenware, Adol Fitzgerald Christin meets a mysterious woman named "I Drew My Girlfriend's D&D Character For My College Art Portfolio" who, in classic magical girl tradition, grants him the power to transform into himself, but with superpowers and poorer outfit coordination.
She then enlists him to help defend the city against strange interdimensional invaders alongside five other superpowered conscripts named "The Monstrums". Yes, I know it sounds wrong! I know it sounds like the plural should be "Monstra"; it's what the game fucking calls them, alright?! The Monstrums shape the overall plot in that each chapter, Adol gets to know one of them, add them to his adventuring party, and discover their civilian identity, and it never ceases to be hilarious that the game keeps presenting it like we're meant to be surprised, because the Monstrum disguise basically consists of a change of hairdo. Which might make some sense in Anime World, where there are ninety thousand hairdos and three faces for everyone to share, but come the fuck on! Oh, the sassy, matronly party member with big tits is secretly the only other sassy, matronly character with big tits? Next, you'll be telling me that Prince Adam knows more than he's saying about this "He-Man" fella.
Gameplay is structured rather like your standard D&D campaign: you start off exploring the hub city, start a quest, go through a few scenes of anime character drama before a reason is contrived to go clear out a dungeon full of monsters and traps and fight a boss, while hanging out with a group of friends that you're fine with now, but are faintly embarrassed to be seen with in public. At regular intervals, we have to progress the plot by doing these big tower-defense horde-fights against waves of baddies while Little Miss College Art Portfolio oversees and very emotionlessly jills off to it, and this is generally where the game's only meaty challenges can be found. (In the tower-defense, I mean, not the jilling off.)
Combat's generally not much to write home about, if you'd even be inclined to write to your parents about how much you like anime games with big tits. As I say, Ys is a fairly basic "press the button to stab" sort of experience, and while it has by now acquired many colorful varieties of stab, it all comes down to button-mashing in the end, especially in a horde fight; in which case, it's annoying that they bound "Switch Character" to one of the face buttons, 'cos I keep accidentally pressing it while button-mashing, and now the game thinks I'm very indecisive. You switch between party members because there's three different flavors of stab - plain stab, salt and vinegar stab, and mint chocolate stab - that monsters can be strong or weak against, and each party member specializes in one, which is about as nuanced as the combat gets.
From a button-mashing perspective, all the characters and their special flavors of stab feel interchangeable; they're all about as fast, with similar charge, clearing, and launch attacks, so having one of each flavor is all you need to cover the bases. But the game keeps unlocking new party members like it's piling more vegetables onto my plate; oh, a second character with mint chocolate damage? Great! I'll put it on the shelf next to the sandwich toaster and the ovulation testing kit, and everything else I never fucking use! You know, all you're doing is creating an awkward conversation at the next quarterly employment review. None of this is a dealbreaker, of course; it's just another thing that makes the game kind of adorable in my eyes. "Look, I've got six whole party members! I'm a big RPG now!" Oh, aren't you just, Monstrum Nox? But don't leave all those party members strewn about the living room floor; Auntie Secret of Mana might trip over them.
So just to reiterate, Ys: Mumpty Numpty isn't going to set any trousers alight with innovation; the setting is trite, the combat lacks nuance, the characters are all archetypes from the same bucket Scarlet Nexus was emptying from - Ensign Emotionless, Group Leader Girlnextdoor, Sergeant Sassyjugs, Major General Massivecunt, etc. - and even the sassy jugs wobble about in a rather token and predictable manner. And yet, isn't a deliberate refusal to innovate itself a form of innovation? Ys never asks much from me, and hell, I ain't got much to give these days; I find the games as pleasant and digestible as milk and cookies.
I enjoyed playing Monstrum Nox, and there were enough intrigues in the plot to make me want to see it through; the dull setting and last-last-gen graphics are offset by the fun of roaming about with your traversal superpowers. Makes me think of Gravity Rush, actually, another series I happen to think is totes adorbs. And there is some innovation if you look for it; there's this one NPC in your home base who aggregates all the stores you've found, so you can just send them to get the items and equipment you need instead of trying to remember what shops were where. Fucking hell, lady; where were you the last time I played World of Warcraft?
- And that NPC's name was Jeff Bezos: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Every time the lady says "Monstrums" in the game it sounds like some kind of lesser known brand of stomach medication
- Perhaps we should rename Drought Season to Anime Season