Nights of Azure


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Complete Review & Description

Nights of Azure is a something of an unusual venture for Gust, a studio best known for the relatively lighthearted, whimsical Atelier series. This is a much darker tale about the end of the world, about hope and despair in the face of that, and the kind of unconditional love that drives one to the ends of the Earth for the person they care about.

On paper, that sounds captivating, and sure enough, there are seeds here for something great. But this is all let down by poor pacing, bizarre thematic inconsistencies, and a shoddy localisation job, leaving nought but a lifeless, generic action game in its wake.

Nights of Azure tells the story of Arnice and Lilysse, friends and lovers who are bound by fate to stop the pending return of the Nightlord, who would condemn the Earth to a state of perpetual, demon-infested night. The only way to prevent this is to seal the Nightlord away through the sacrifice of a chosen “Saint” – Lilysse – and as the Holy Knight charged with protecting her, it’s up to Arnice to fight through the hordes of fiends out to stop them.

It’s a familiar tale, but the relationship between Arnice and Lilysse gives it what should be an interesting spin. Lilysse is committed to her role, not out of duty or desire to save the world, but out of love for Arnice; by going ahead with her task, she’ll save the one person she cherishes. Arnice, meanwhile, will do everything she can to stop the one person she loves from sacrificing herself, even if it means confronting the Nightlord himself. On two different sides of the same coin, the affection these women hold for one another is the driver for their competing aims.

This could be a remarkable, even groundbreaking story, only it’s told so poorly that any sense of depth is lost. A relatively straightforward plot manages to become convoluted and confusing through disjointed pacing, made worse by a translation job that feels stilted and is rife with spelling and grammatical errors. Worse still is how inconsistent the game is in its tone; it can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a moving character drama or an offbeat comedy. It’s certainly possible to for a story to be both of these things, and indeed, the best tales are the ones that carefully tread that line, but Nights of Azure just seems to jump haphazardly between the two.

On top of this, there’s a weird effort to force sexuality onto the characters where it makes no sense. The lesbian subtext seems purely aimed at titillation; a chance to have two busty women regularly squish their boobs together. Meanwhile, the text itself makes every effort to avoid addressing lesbianism as a theme, to the point that Lilysse and Arnice are only ever described by the game as “friends” despite their quite clearly being more to their relationship. Throw in strange physics that mean the characters’ breasts are in a constant state of jiggle, even when their persons are motionless, and the boudoir-esque “robes” Arnice has to wear regularly for the levelling-up ceremony (against her own protests, which makes this particularly creepy), and the recipe for weird, out-of-place sexualisation is complete.

What disappoints me most about this is how much potential there is here. Nights of Azure has some of the most amazing concept art I’ve seen, which is brought vividly to life in the game’s character models. Arnice herself looks fantastic, as do the various demon familiars you’ll collect along the way (more on that in a moment), but the true standouts are the bosses. Ranging from a dragon made of flowers to a possessed carousel horse, each of the game’s nine bosses is a sight to behold.

Which is convenient, because the actual encounters themselves have little to offer. Each boss fight comes down to wailing away on a giant health bar and occasionally dodging an obviously telegraphed attack that won’t really hurt much even if you somehow manage to get hit by it. It’s not until the post-game Epilogue missions that the encounters start to show anything resembling interesting mechanics.

This seems a fitting extension of the core combat, which consists of mindlessly pressing lots of buttons and mowing down fairly uninteresting foes; think Dynasty Warriors, but while that at least has the appeal of one-versus-thousands grandiosity, here you’ll rarely face a group numbering in double digits. Kill one small group of fiends, move on to the next, then rinse and repeat until you get to the end of the level. It can get pretty dull.

There are a few other systems at work, though their impact is very superficial. For reasons that aren’t really explained, Arnice can command friendly demon familiars called Servans, and can bring up to four along to help with her demon hunting. Sadly, there’s not a whole lot of depth here, as all they really do is increase your damage output. In theory, you could work some vaguely interesting team tactics – a couple of the Servans have a taunt move, for example – but in practice, you the game almost never demands anything other than raw damage output.

Nothing about this is bad, per se. In some ways, I actually found the simplistic gameplay loop quite soothing – run through the city, kill some demons with minimal effort, maybe check off a sidequest or two along the way, get to the quest marker, rinse and repeat. But at the same time, no part of this is particularly riveting, and it gets very repetitive very quickly.

The great soundtrack will certainly help ease the grind, at least; this might actually be the game’s strongest point. The sheer range of styles on display is impressive, spanning everything from metal to orchestral, to a particularly lovely “elevator music” piece that plays in the game’s base of operations (a hotel lobby, fittingly). There’s a strong hint of Michiru Yamane’s work on Castlevania throughout much of Nights of Azure, and this is definitely a game you’ll want to play with good headphones so that you can truly appreciate the layers to each recording.
This, coupled with the aforementioned excellent concept art and character designs, puts Nights of Azure in a bit of an awkward spot: the included soundtrack and artbook are probably more reason to purchase the Limited Edition than the game itself.

Nights of Azure isn’t a terrible game by any means, but with its fairly bland action RPG gameplay and a poorly-told story that falls far short of its potential, it’s also not really a great one. There’s a silver lining in the impressive artwork and delightful soundtrack, but I don’t know that’s enough to recommend picking this up.



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