KOEI TECMO and Gust gave us the chance to check out Gust’s new action role-playing game, Nights of Azure. The developer is known best for the light-hearted Atelier series, but has teamed up with Keisuke Kikuchi, who has worked on both the Fatal Frame and Deception series as they go for a darker story. Will they succeed with Nights of Azure, or will it fail to impress?
Nights of Azure takes place in “The Land Without Night,” Ruswal Island. On this island, the inhabitants have been turned into fiends after the wicked Nightlord was defeated. Once he was, his Blue Blood spilled down, contaminating the souls of the inhabitants, although the leading protagonist, Arnice, somehow managed to retain half of her humanity, thus turning her into a demon-slaying knight who can leave when dusk falls in order to purge the island of the cursed residents.
Soon, however, Arnice discovers that the Nightlord is set to return with the full moon’s arrival. Lilysse, a priestess and Arnice’s friend (and later, love interest) will be sacrificed to prevent this from happening unless Arnice can discover another way.
The story is pretty generic, however it does somehow retain one’s interest. The romance between Arnice and Lilysse is present, but also isn’t full of obnoxious tropes that one may expect from a same-gender relationship being portrayed in a game. You won’t see any pornographic titillation, internalized shame, or the mention of their relationship being abnormal at all. It’s just about their love.
In addition to being a new direction for a Gust game, this is also their first attempt at creating an action RPG. They have combined hack-and-slash mechanics with collecting various “Servan” demons that will fight alongside you. This helps the game start out quite simple, but evolve into a multi-layered affair as you advance in the game.
As you progress, you will gain access to new locations, equipment, and buckets of Blue Blood. The Blue Blood is utilized to upgrade Arnice and her Servans, but also utilized to purchase items and “Actualize” the various fetishes you find into new Servan.
Once you obtain some Skill points, you can unlock a large number of passive abilities that will allow you to turn the tide in and out of battle.
On the note of battle, the fights are fairly straightforward. You have light and heavy attacks, a guard button, a dodge, and special attacks. You can also transform into four different forms (once you get to a certain point in the game) to mix up some things even more, as well as command your Servans to utilize special skills.
It sounds like a lot at first, but you should be able to learn and utilize each of the systems to their fullest quite quickly. Some will say that this makes the systems rather shallow, however others will appreciate that they don’t have to spend hours upon hours to master the systems.
Those craving more of a challenge can even equip optional items to make things harder. One example is the powerful Glass Blade. This weapon grants you a great degree of power, but you will need to be extremely careful, as you can be knocked out in a single hit while using it.
Honestly, the simple to learn systems and optional challenge balance each other out quite nicely, in this reviewer’s opinion. The various transformations, changeable weapons, and Servan all do their part to prevent the game from devolving into a simple, “Press button to win” affair that many hack-and-slash games fall into.
Art and Sound
Nights of Azure is a bit of a mixed bag, in terms of presentation. Before we delve too deeply into this subject, however, it is important to note that this is a port that is also on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita in Japan. As such, don’t expect the graphics to be top of the line PlayStation 4 graphics.
That said, the art style is great, as is typical with Gust’s games. The characters have been designed and models detailed lovingly, and it shows. Cut-scenes, however, still feel a bit dated. There tends to be a lack of animation, and when it is present, it looks somewhat cheap. That said, remember that this is on PlayStation 3 and Vita, so the lack here can be explained quite easily. Not to mention that the fast pace and sheer number of moving objects make up for it, and, though the framerate can become somewhat choppy, it is quite rare (in my experience) for it to do so. Even when it does, it’s not anything disastrous.
In terms of music, the soundtrack blends soaring, epic choirs and roaring guitars during battle, which can really help to pump the player up. The hotel is more of a smooth jazz, which combines to make a really nice soundtrack.
Overall, Nights of Azure is a fun little game that you can either pick up and play in bite sized portions (something quite rare for RPGs) or marathon the title. It’s quite short when compared to the average JRPG, featuring 20-25 hours of story, but players hunting the platinum can spend quite a bit longer to collect everything afterward and further sink their teeth into the game’s systems. Add to the fact that the relationship between the two heroines is handled with respect and you can tailor the challenge level to your play style, Nights of Azure will likely appeal to JRPG fans of all skill levels.
Final Score: 4/5