Nights of Azure Review (PS4)
A hero/heroine saving the world from certain destruction at the cost of their own life is nothing new in video games or storytelling in particular. So when a game comes along that tries to turn that on its head. I find myself intrigued. Would you save the world if it meant sacrificing the one you love? Gust attempt to answer that and more in their new action RPG: Nights of Azure.
Hundreds of years ago, when the evil Nightlord was defeated in a great battle in the sky. His blue blood rained down upon the world transforming anything that came into contact with it into evil fiends that roam at night making the night time inhabitable for humans. Arnice however, came into contact with blue blood and kept her humanity. Making her an ideal weapon to combat against the fiends. Upon being sent to Ruswal Island by the mysterious organization tasked with stopping the night called the Curia, she finds out that the newly appointed saint is her best friend Lilysse. Unfortunately, saints traditionally give their life to stop the Nightlord returning. Arnice is now stuck between carrying out her duties and witnessing the death of her best friend. Or going against her friends’ wishes and dooming the world.
Generally you will start in the ‘Hotel Ende’ where you can save, purchase items and level up. After getting an objective you exit the hotel to the map and select where to go. Unexplored areas in Nights of Azure are locked and upon arriving in a location you have a set time that you are allowed to explore before having to return to the hub area. To aid your traversal around the island, you’ll need to find doors that take you back to the hotel. Once a door is found you can warp straight there from the hotel. So the general gameplay has you fighting and exploring the island in a linear fashion. With areas, expanding and connecting as the story progresses.
When battling the hordes of the night, Arnice only has one sword and a few basic combos to begin with. During the course of her adventure, she will be able to unlock new weapons and attacks. Which eventually you can combo into increasing her personal repertoire. These include special moves which get a special animation and do much more damage, but use ‘SP’ (mana for skills). Like most other hack-and-slash style games, a special gauge builds as she attacks enemies, which she can use to transform into powerful modes that play quite differently. You start off with ’Demon Form’ which uses fiery combos and claw swipes to cause high damage output, but you unlock other forms such as the hulking ‘Armor form’ and high speed ‘Rabbit form’.
Luckily she has the ability to summon and command minions called ‘Servans’ to aid her in her fight. Split into different types such as attack based, defensive and support. Using different Servans can dramatically alter the way in which the battles are played. When levelling up, Servans will get bonus stats that you can choose from at random. Choices which could boost the Servan such as ‘Increase base HP’ or affect the party including Arnice such as ‘Party HP regeneration’, will help you shape a Servan party that will match your gameplay.
It’s also a bonus that Servans are quite strong, and for the most part fulfil their roles well. You do not have direct control over them, but you can order them to use special burst moves that are equivalent to Arnice’s which use their own ‘SP’. You can also issue commands mid-combat to tell them to follow you, use teamwork and drink enemies’ blood to recharge their SP.
While the Servan and combat varieties are quite varied, a few issues got in the way of me truly being adventurous with the underlying system. First and foremost, I found the combat in Nights of Azure to be very easy. Although there are different enemy types, with some of the usual ailments you get in RPGs such as poison, bleed and paralysis, Nights of Azure never really threw any challenge that made me feel that I needed to change my loadout or Servans in a way that actually matters. One of my main Servans, who I had since the beginning of the game, was a “defense” wood golem who is susceptible to fire. Once he had got strong enough and I understood how he played, there was no fear in him being wiped out by a fire demon. It is a shame because you are given so many different combat items and varieties that affect how the team plays, but very little incentive to actually give any other strategy a try.
Another issue lies with the actual levelling system in Nights of Azure. Arnice becomes stronger by going to a dream world called the ‘Alter of Jorth’ and making an offering of the blue blood that she collects from the enemies she slays. She gets set increased stat boosts. This same ‘blood’ is the currency used to ‘actualise’ (create) Servans. After amassing my A-team for battling, with a backup team in case things went awry. I had little reason to use it for anything else. While in game at various locations you will find vendors that use blood as currency. Where you can buy items to create and equip items. The drop rate of items were so high in game, I personally never needed to use any of these once.
The writing for the relationship between Arnice and Lilysse sometimes came across as melodramatic, but there were a few well written scenes which really conveyed the internal struggles that they were both going through. Even though Nights of Azure has even picked up notoriety as a game with two ‘lesbian’ main characters, it does so with a surprising amount of subtlety and restraint. Especially in a game that still has quite a lot of fanservice, where the voluptuous Lilysse is forced into maid outfits on a regular basis. I also felt that the soundtrack selection during these scenes really captured the melancholic feel of the main story. The supporting characters Alucard and Lloyd, who showed great promise with their introduction as a professor and a professional merchant who appear to have hidden motives. Sadly throughout the story they were reduced to nothing more than one note recurring gags that provided the bulk of the side quests.
Lloyd in particular, as a merchant, has a trading feature that allows you to pay money to send a merchant ship to a far off country for items. These trips are real time, and some of the higher end trips literally take weeks to complete. The longer the trip, the more exotic the items tend to be. Again, although it was nice that the feature was there, I never actively had to use it. I used a 2 day trip option, and received an item I had already picked up 5 times in various runs. Also with trips that can take up to 15 days, there were no mechanics for upgrading and building the fleet that I could see.
The arena in the basement of the Hotel is a challenge mode that give you rewards for completing battles and challenges and grades you out of 3. The challenges here are varied, such as ‘do not get hit’, or ‘win using Servans only’. Some of these were pretty fun, and it would have maybe been nice to have some of those intertwined through the boss fights in game.
Although it is quite a brief game at 10-15 hours for the main story, with not much variety in difficulty, there are additions such as the arena mode that could breathe life into the postgame for those that enjoy the battle system. It is a valiant attempt at an accessible action RPG that tries to subvert a lot of the familiar themes we are used to. In the end it ends up playing it very safe and falters for it. By the end of Nights of Azure most of the games main story points are answered conclusively. However, the few remaining questions it leaves hanging are actually more interesting.
5 blue nights out of 10