Time for bed?
HIGH The art style and soundtrack are exceptional.
LOW The gameplay, storyline and translation aren’t.
WTF ‘Where’s the next turd?!‘
It should be noted that I’m a pretty big fan of Japanese developer Gust. The studio most famously behind the Atelier series has pumped out quite a few of my favorite JRPG titles from recent years, such as the… uh, Atelier series. Despite creating them at a ferocious rate, their charming characters, wonderful artistic style and generally upbeat storylines never fail to bring a smile to my face. So, when I first laid eyes on Nights of Azure, I was intrigued despite not even knowing what genre it was.
As it happens, it’s Gust’s attempt at a character action game. There are no turn-based battles this time, it’s all about controlling ass-kicking protagonist Arnice in realtime and slaying a ton of rampaging monsters before they start chewing on the local populace.
See, Arnice has an edge over most people in that she’s absorbed a fair amount of a demonic substance known as Blue Blood. However, instead of going stark raving mental like most of its other victims, she only has the occasional craving for human brains as a side effect. Sounds like a reasonable price to pay for her new strength, especially since she’ll need that power to protect her bestest friend in the whole wide world, Lilysse. Well, she’ll protect Lilysse until she sacrifices herself at an altar to fend off the coming of Eternal Night. Ruh roh!
While it may have potential, the story’s nowhere near as interesting as it could have been. Arnice wants to protect her friend at all costs, and Lilysse wants to offer herself as a sacrifice so that Arnice doesn’t wind up getting killed trying to protect her. Handled correctly, this could have been somewhat touching, but it’s got all the subtlety of a baseball bat to the skull. Watching them mindlessly state their motivations out loud, face to face, for what feels like the hundredth time gets old, fast. What’s worse is that the storyline barely budges from this core idea outside of a few key plot sequences, and everyone involved is completely one-dimensional.
I suspect that the original dialogue and writing weren’t anything special, but the inferior translation may be exacerbating the issue—there are plenty of typos, grammatical errors and weird sentence structure on display. The trophy list for the game even calls the main character ‘Anders’ for some demented reason. To be fair, it’s not so bad that it affects anyone’s ability to understand what’s going on, but it’s also incredibly lifeless and flat.
All this wouldn’t matter so much if the gameplay was honed to a razor edge, and… it’s not. It’s pretty standard combat in all respects, though the core conceit of summoning Servans (little demon familiars with a variety of skills from healing to skin-frying laser attacks) is a pretty good one. The biggest problem is that enemies don’t have decent AI; they just wander around and fluff out the occasional attack before being chopped into bits.
Arnice does acquire a number of new weapons and combos to play with, but they don’t have any unique quirks that make them worth swapping out the standard sword for until the very last one pops up. A massive hammer or quick darting knives should theoretically shake up the combat, but there’s very little reason to use any of the optional armaments.
This lack of variety coupled with brainless enemy AI means that most fights boil down to little more than summoning Servans, hammering the weak attack button over and over, and occasionally throwing out a special attack if need be. There’s just not enough nuance to it, with a lack of hit reaction making the bad guys feel more like mobile training dummies than terrifying demonic forces. Optional questlines and arena battles similarly fail to add the spice this game so badly needs.
Despite how easy Azure generally is, I will say that the last boss can go screw itself. After an entire game where it’s possible to progress doing little more than spamming a single button, it suddenly introduces a foe that’s capable of dismissing the player’s Servans at will, repeatedly throwing near-instakill attacks from off camera, and obscuring the screen with a mass of projectile-based garbage.
On the plus side, it has to be said that the music in the field is absolutely exquisite, with Toshinori Hiramatsu’s gothic-themed guitar shredding making the otherwise-routine action more palatable than it might be. It also looks nice with a typically gorgeous Gust art style, despite some minor technical deficiencies like framerate drops at unexpected moments.
Nights of Azure’s a disappointing game for sure, but it’s not exactly awful—the mindless combat is balanced by the tremendous art and sound design, and despite the negative tone of this review it’s not offensively bad at anything it does. It’s just aggressively bland and tough to recommend when the action’s too toothless to keep players engaged.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 25 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains animated blood, fantasy violence, mild language, partial nudity and suggestive themes. It’s pretty tame, though.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Should be no problems here—the whole game is subtitled from Japanese, and lack of audio won’t affect anyone’s ability to play.
Remappable controls: Not exactly. A number of control schemes are available, but controls cannot be remapped at will.
Colorblind modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
The chance discovery of a muddy, burnt out copy of '50 Shades of Grey' in a hunting pit gave him an appreciation for complex plots, characters and overarching narrative, and the unexpected gift of a Spectrum 48k allowed him to indulge in these newfound sensibilities with intelligent, highbrow games such as 'flee from the badly animated spinning turquoise dolphins' or 'avoid the deadly glowing bricks of doom'.
The fusion of both these interests finally culminated with Darren teaching himself how to write by basically guessing at what words might look like when jotted down on paper as opposed to being howled inarticulately at the skies.
Now others occasionally get to read his scribblings. Lucky them.