Nights of Azure Review0 Comments
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also available on: PlayStation 3, PS Vita (Japan only)
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Trying something new is never a bad thing, especially in video games. It allows developers to think outside the box and come up with new concepts and gameplay mechanics that they would’ve never considered otherwise. This couldn’t be truer for development studio Gust, which has been known for their cheery Atelier franchise since 1997. Almost two decades later, they finally stepped outside their alchemic origins and created Nights of Azure, a melancholic ARPG that’s more action oriented than any of their previous titles. Nights of Azure is a solid title, but not for the asking price of $60.
There’s one thing I need to get out of the way before I go further with this review. You will not get the full story on the first playthrough. There’s an epilogue, and it’s crucial, since it explains Rusewall Island’s raison d'être. In addition, there are two endings, and it ultimately depends on your relationship status with Lilysse. I highly recommend achieving both endings to get the full experience. There’s also a visual novel tucked away under Reminisce, which provides a nice backstory to Arnice and Lilysse’s friendship origins.
To avoid spoilers, I’ll just say this: The game follows the tragic journey of two heroines in a cursed, uncharted land known as Rusewall Island, where no one sleeps at night. Tragedy takes place when Arnice, the main protagonist, discovers that her best friend (and possible lover), Lilysse, is chosen to be the next sacrificial Saint. If the Saint isn’t sacrificed, Eternal Night will commence, and everyone will die. It’s up to Arnice to find a way to prevent the Night from returning while saving Lilysse in the process.
It’s great premise with lots of potential; however, it’s marred by spotty storytelling and seldom goofy conversations that don’t contribute to the grim atmosphere. Speaking of which, the game does a great job at visually portraying that for the most part. However, some of the level designs are yawn-inducing and could’ve used more vibrant colors in certain areas. The character models are very detailed and gorgeous, but their animations are very mechanical and stiff. Because this is on a PlayStation 4, they could’ve done a much better job at animating the characters’ motions. In a way, the entire game feels like a remake of the PlayStation 3 / PS Vita versions, which may hamper some players’ overall experience.
Because Nights of Azure is narratively driven, it’s imperative that the characters are well written. Thankfully, Arnice and Lilysse are decently fleshed out characters. Hell, the entire game could’ve just focused on them without their supporting cast, which was average at best. Arnice is a half-demon holy knight serving the Vox Curia, a holy organization tasked with eliminating demons. She’s a strong willed character who struggles with her identity as an impure being, but she loves Lilysse more than anything in the world; because of that, she’ll stop at nothing to protect her from harm.
As for Lilysse, she’s the ditzy sweetheart of the cast, and has a bad tendency to trip over herself. However, don’t be fooled by her affable nature and maid outfit, because there is more to her than meets the eye. She’s just as determined as Arnice, but she knows she’s not combat-oriented, so she decides to support her best friend any way she can. Whenever the game focuses on these star-crossed lovers friends, you can feel that there is a powerful connection between them, and you’ll actually want to see their tale to its bittersweet end. That’s where the gameplay comes in, and it’s deep.
Nights blends Dynasty Warriors-esque combat mechanics with an RPG battle system that utilizes familiars (known as Servans) to fight alongside Arnice. Servans are a huge part of the game’s meta, and they are the deciding factor in beating its challenging bosses, especially late-game. By using up some of your SP (mana), you can summon up to four Servans, and they’re categorized into attack and support types. This is where the game truly shines, because these two concepts actually compliment each other, which makes the gameplay deceptively deep.
As your Servans fight alongside you, they level up, gain new abilities, become stronger, and even change in appearance à la Pokémon. To acquire more, you must collect special items known as fetishes. By spending some of your blood (secondary currency), you can actualize these items into Servans, and there are plenty to choose from. You can also customize your critters with special equipment and Marks that can alter their passive abilities. I highly recommend having a healer Servan on deck at all times; it will make your life much easier. If you play your cards right, your Servans can be strong enough to take on bosses without you lifting a finger (if the party is varied).
As for Arnice, she can use up to five different weapons (her fifth weapon unlocked after certain conditions are met): her trademark sword, daggers, a crossbow, and a hammer. The mechanics are very simple. The square button is for light attacks and the triangle button is for charge attacks. Eventually, you can earn a special skill which allows Arnice to switch between weapons mid-attack, which can create some insanely long combo strings.
This is important, because the longer your chain is, the more blood you acquire, which is crucial for building Arnice’s stats and granting her new weapons. However, there are limits to her power, because as the game progresses, there will be more enemies that take less damage unless you attack in tandem with your Servans. This is Nights of Azure’s shining accomplishment from a developmental perspective, because they successfully made both Arnice and her Servans dependent on each other to where you have to use them simultaneously. If you want a prayer of beating the final boss and the epilogue’s two super bosses, your life will literally depend on them.
It gets even deeper when her demonic transformations are applied. When her blood gauge fills up, she can transform into five different beings, and each fulfill disparate roles. The Demon Form is her basic transformation, which uses fire attacks. The Rabbit Form is her speed form, and it’s perfect for building crazy long combo chains. The Phantom Form is her support transformation, which lets her regenerate SP and applies buffs to the whole party. The Armor Form is basically a tank which grants her high attack and defense. Finally, her Nightmare Form (also unlocked after certain conditions are met) is her ultimate transformation, which consists of extremely powerful attacks at any range. There is one glaring issue, however, and its Nights’ bad conveyance. Even when you read your mission’s assignment and go to the correct area, the specific locations aren’t clearly labeled in game. I got lost on several occasions because of this, and it may turn off players who lack patience.
There are three ways to power up Arnice: equipment, skills, and stat building. By spending Libra (primary currency), you can purchase equipment to temporarily boost her stats and add combat perks. As for skills, she can expend her Charm, Finesse, Spirit, and Stamina points to earn new abilities that can expand her combat prowess. Besides combat, there are other skills for acquiring more money, accepting more side-quests, increasing equipment inventory, and even increasing the level timer. Finally, you can upgrade her stats by making a blood offering. By using the blood you’ve collected, you can increase your raw stats, receive new weapons, and acquire new combat skills. This is the best method by far, but upgrading is very expensive. I highly recommend saving your blood for this instead, because the demon shops’ items aren’t worth your hard-earned hemoglobin.
Gust dared to do something different, and it ultimately did a subpar job at it. Nights of Azure isn’t a bad title, it’s misguided. If anything, it doesn’t feel like a true PlayStation 4 title, but more like an up-scaled remake of the PlayStation 3 / PS Vita versions. Its narrative premise has loads of potential, but it’s ultimately marred by mechanical character animations, spotty storytelling, goofy conversations that don’t contribute to the morbid atmosphere, and a relatively dull supporting cast. The gameplay is surprisingly satisfying, but it can be repetitive, and knowing where to go can be very confusing. Nights of Azure is a decent title, but not for $60; wait for the price drop instead, and go from there.
This game's review copy was a digital download code provided by the publisher.
The Night is still young.