Platforms: PC (Steam)
Developer: Gust Co. Ltd.
Nights of Azure is an action-JRPG originally released on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 back in 2015, but it was recently released on Steam as publisher Koei Tecmo ported the game to the PC market. The game is pleasantly “Japanese”, complete with Japanese voice acting and a number of unique features that could potentially cause it to stand out from the crowd. The key word being: Potentially.
Nights of Azure isn’t a bad game at all. The premise is interesting. It’s set years after the defeat of Nightlord, a demon whose plan was to shroud the world in eternal night. When the demon was defeated, his blue blood spread across the world and brought evil creatures into existence. An organization called the Curia is in charge of repelling these creatures using knights to banish them. One such knight is the main character, Arnice, a half demon.
Arnice, accompanied by her friend, the priestess Lilysse, sets out to rid the world of these dangers. The game even breaks a bit of social ground with implied affection between the two female main characters in a way that seems rather sweet. There are even some choices to be made to test the player’s heart strings later in the game. As far as the story they wanted to tell, Nights of Azure is actually a pretty good premise.
It does have its drawbacks however
Gust, the development team, is much more accustomed to their main series, Atelier, which is much more light hearted and full of comic relief. All stories need their comic relief, but timing is 90% of the equation, and sometimes Nights of Azure doesn’t time their laughs very well. If this can be looked past, the overarching story of Arnice and her fight against the demon spawn exists in a quite well-developed world and the relationship between her and Lilysse is definitely something worth venturing.
The drawbacks from the game continue, unfortunately. The gameplay quickly becomes very repetitive. It plays like a dungeon crawler where the player reveals more of the map, finding secrets and battling enemies along the way. There’s swordplay and special moves and what really sets this game apart from others is the Selvans.
The Selvans are familiars that Arnice can summon to aid her. Most of them resemble enemies fought in-game. Up to four can be brought into the field to be summoned. They have their own strengths and weaknesses and act independently from the player, who can give them general commands between attacks. There are quite a number of these characters and they all level independently of the player and each other, making the choice of who to bring a strategic one. Unfortunately, the strategy pretty much stops there.
The game has some interesting ideas in its gameplay, but they all feel like they didn’t go far enough.
The general dungeon crawling feels a bit like a very bare bones version of Dark Cloud from PlayStation 2, but with less treasure to collect, less strategy involved in fighting, and honestly a bit too easy, even for someone that wants to enjoy it just for the story. The Selvan mechanics initially felt very fresh and exciting, and the creatures themselves are interesting, reminiscent of the Persona series in a way, but it doesn’t get the least bit more complex than the initial tutorial shows.
The battle mechanics being lackluster doesn’t help the game's pace at all either. When the motivation to turn the game on is simply to progress through the slightly interesting story and not to actually have fun, the train runs out of steam. Subquests aren’t much fun either, they amount to a bunch of fetch quests with subpar rewards. Some of them provide some more character development, but they’re even more boring than the main quests that progress the overall story, so there's even less incentive to do them.
The game has an artistic look to it, keeping to a polygonal anime look. Arnice’s outfit looks a little crazy but again seems pretty normal for an anime outfit. Both she and Lilysse are… let’s just say, nice to look at, but also the physics on their hair and clothes are a nice touch. The Selvans are also interesting and when summoned, there was some anticipation of what was going to come out next, as they have some creative designs and powers.
Nights of Azure could have been better than it was. The story and basic concepts of the battle mechanics had something special about them, but they fell flat when they weren’t expanded upon and were expected to be repeated over and over.
The tone could also use some tuning, figuring out when jokes should be made and when serious tones should take over. The game is saved with its characters, namely Arnice and Lilysse, character designs, and the world itself. But it is flawed deeply by its repetitive and shallow ideas.
Perhaps the announcement of a sequel will help the series fair better. To bring back the earlier comparison to Dark Cloud, the original was flawed itself (although, more fun than Nights of Azure) but Dark Cloud 2 was arguably a masterpiece of the PS2 era. Perhaps Nights of Azure 2 will fly better than its predecessor and we can further explore this world that Gust has given us.