Warships, Waifus & Warfare
HIGH The high-quality illustrations are impressive.
LOW The gameplay and writing… aren’t.
WTF What, aside from being able to propose to hovering humanoid anime WWII-era battleships?
Based on a smash-hit mobile franchise out of China, the console and PC version of Azur Lane follow the exploits of faux-WWII-era hovering humanoid anime battleships in an international contest where they’ll collect mysterious unidentified cubes, form friendships, overcome challenges and blow everything around them to hell whenever they enter the battlefield.
Best summarized as a third-person action game, the “ships” (girls wearing pieces of shiplike armor) hover above the sea and move really, really fast, able to zip forward or turn on a dime.
Each girl has a variety of weapons but basic cannon fire is usually unlimited while more powerful attacks (such as torpedoes) are on cooldowns so they can’t simply be spammed over and over. The same goes for buffing effects such as defensive shields or temporary attack boosts, though in practice players will simply hammer everything they have as soon as it comes off of cooldown.
The structure seems fair enough, but combat is nothing to write home about with encounters often devolving into circle-strafing around enemies, popping off special attacks and continually blasting with primary fire the whole time. Battles rarely take more than a few minutes to complete (at least until later episodes where enemies become bullet sponges) and it’s a simple case of repeating cookie-cutter showdowns until the campaign is complete. An extremely generous auto-aim removes any need for precision, and the flow of combat barely changes from the first skirmish to the last.
What’s a little surprising is just how enclosed the battle arenas are. The scenery shows wide-open stretches of sea extending into the horizon, but it’s common to smack face-first into invisible, impenetrable barriers while dashing around.
When not fighting on the waves, there’s a heavy emphasis on story and characterization in Azur Lane: Crosswave. Large swaths of the campaign are spent watching the warship girls interacting with one another in visual novel-style skits which would be more enjoyable if the translation were up to snuff. It never gets to the point where it’s unreadable or filled with typos, but there’s little grace to the dialogue and it’s hard to tell what the hell they’re even jabbering on about at times, especially when scenes devolve into rapid-fire pun-based comedy.
Aside from the two main halves of Crosswave (anime girls yakking at one another and blowing stuff up) there are small interludes where players can zoom around a small 2D map to look for upgrades and talk to NPCs, but there’s nothing to it — it’s just a tiny zone with highlighted points of interest. Scoot over, interact, and head on to the next section.
If there’s one undeniable strength that propels Azur Lane: Crosswave, it’s the quality of its 2D artwork. While animation is kept to an absolute minimum with static character sprites bobbing up and down or swaying back and forth, the sprites themselves are beautifully drawn by skilled artists, and the same can be said of CG illustrations during the story. It’s just a shame that the rest of the experience pales in comparison.
My sense is that Azur Lane: Crosswave will appeal to established fans of the ‘moe’ subgenre of anime who will happily forgive the myriad problems, boredoms and irritations that will rise to the surface for everyone else. For those who aren’t ready to devote themselves to a seafaring waifu, Crosswave runs aground as soon as it sets sail.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Felistella and published by Compile Heart / Idea Factory. It is currently available on PS4 and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 8 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 is rated T and contains Fantasy Violence, Language and Suggestive Themes. Heads up, some of the characters look far too young — a result of ‘moe’ design rearing its ugly, despicable head — but apart from that there’s not much to be concerned about unless the player has a serious aversion to videogame female skin.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There’s not much to worry about here, there’s a lot of visual information on hand to help players out during combat and the game is fully subtitled. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
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.