Two new games from two of my favourite Japanese role-playing game series have dropped at the same time, and I am driving myself up a wall trying to give them equal time. It feels like I’ve entered into a polyamorous relationship with Ys IX: Monstrum Nox and Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy, and I’m desperately trying to show them I love them both the same.
Were my circumstances different, this would be a good problem to have. Between the two games, I’ve got more than 100 hours of fighting, exploring, gathering, crafting, and generally squealing over attractive anime characters doing cool stuff ahead of me. If I weren’t in a profession where there are constantly new games on the horizon I feel obligated to play, I wouldn’t feel so anxious splitting my time between these two. If I didn’t have children to help raise and ongoing medical issues to attend to, I would be in Japanese cartoon hog (or boar) heaven.
Instead, I log into my PlayStation 5 and flip back and forth between these two game icons. I play the PS5 version of Atelier Ryza 2 for a couple of hours. Then I start to feel neglectful, so I switch to the PS4 version of Ys IX.
It would be helpful if one of these two games were bad, but no such luck. Atelier Ryza 2 might be the best Atelier game since the 24-year-old series transitioned from 2D to 3D. The utterly delightful alchemist Ryza and friends have never looked as good as they do in the PS5 version of the game. The dynamic combat system, a combination of turn-based and active time fighting, is even more exciting than it was when it was revamped in Atelier Ryza: Ever Darkness & the Secret Hideout in 2019. I love the streamlined alchemy system, which sees Ryza using skill points to unlock new recipes on a vast skill tree. And it’s nice to accompany the young alchemist as she travels from her backwater island home to a vast metropolitan city.
Meanwhile, in Ys IX: Monstrum Nox, we’re treated to a new version of Adol Christin, the incredibly unfortunate adventurer who’s been running into trouble in Nihon Falcom’s series since its 1987 debut. Upon arriving in the Prison City of Balduq, Adol finds himself “gifted” with the ability to transform into a Monstrum, supernatural warriors with strange powers tasked with protecting the city from encroaching evil spirits known as Lemures. Adol soon finds the city’s name has a double meaning, and that as a Monstrum he is unable to escape the sprawling town. Adol and his constant companion, Dogi, set up shop in the town, gathering allies to their cause as they attempt to unravel the mystery of the Monstrums.
What’s really cool about this latest Ys game — aside from finally acknowledging how much of a trouble magnet Adol has become over the years through its fun, cheeky dialogue — is the game’s new travel system. Instead of just running through streets, Adol and friends can use Monstrum powers to run up walls and warp to grapple points, adding a whole new dimension to the action RPG. Along with a combat system that allows you to swap between characters on the fly, it’s very exciting stuff.
I should just choose one game, see it through to the end, and move on to the next. That would make sense, but I cannot choose. Both Ys IX and Atelier Ryza 2 feed different JRPG cravings. Atelier Ryza 2 is all about digging through crafting menus and casually exploring ancient ruins with friends. Ys IX is more immediate and action-packed. Atelier Ryza 2 has me out in the fields jumping, diving, swimming, and swinging in the search for ancient secrets and alchemy ingredients. Ys IX has me fighting my way into a prison through a sewer called the Cloaca Maxima. Go ahead and Google “cloaca.” Maybe don’t image search.
That’s why instead of being halfway through one game or the other, I’m only five or six hours into both. I play Ryza for a bit, then I start to miss Ys. In the middle of playing Ys, I suddenly remember where to harvest materials for an alchemy recipe in Ryza, and I switch back. If the PlayStation 5 had the Xbox One S/X quick resume feature, the two games would be running consecutively for ease of switching.
Long story short, Ys IX: Monstrum Nox and Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy are two very good, very different JRPGs that are both worth your time. Just maybe not simultaneously.