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April 2020

Nights of Azure

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Developer: Gust
Release Date: March 29, 2016 (US), April 1, 2016 (EU)


PS4 Review - 'Nights of Azure'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 6, 2016 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Nights of Azure is a tragic tale of two friends faced with impossible decisions that will test their loyalty to their quest and to each other.

Buy Nights of Azure

Nights of Azure opens in an alternate version of the world. Years ago, a heroine known as the Saint defeated the evil Nightlord by sacrificing her life, but his defeat spread his tainted blue blood across the land of Ruswall. Any touched by this foul substance transformed into terrifying fiends who hunt by night, forcing humanity to cower in fear during the dark.

One of the only bastions against this evil is a girl named Arnice, who has demonic powers of her own. Upon arriving in Ruswall, she encounters her childhood best friend, Lilysse, who's immediately kidnapped. After rescuing her, Arnice learns that Lilysse is the newest Saint, who has the power to seal away the Nightlord forever. If she doesn't sacrifice herself, the Nightlord will return and doom the world to eternal darkness. Arnice must find a way to prevent Lilysse's sacrifice without dooming the world.

Nights of Azure isn't entirely sure what its story wants to be. It's framed as a tragic romance between a priestess preparing to sacrifice herself for the greater good and a monster hunter becoming increasingly corrupted by her tainted blood. What you get is a mix of angst, comedy, melodrama and sexualization. The romantic story is undercut by the fact that both females are dressed in increasingly implausible and oversexualized outfits for no reason, so there's an uncomfortable voyeuristic component to the title. It's difficult to feel the story is trying to focus on the characters and not pandering to the audience when the ceremonial cleansing robe consists of a piece of cloth and skimpy underthings.

The characters are sometimes goofy and comedic and sometimes angst-ridden about their tragic fate, and the game frequently jumps between the two. There are some genuinely enjoyable and strong moments, but the game would've done much better if it decided to be tragic melodrama or lighthearted fanservice instead of trying for both and achieving neither.

The core combat system in Nights of Azure is extremely by the book. Arnice starts with a sword and a basic set of attack combos. She can perform quick attacks or swap in a strong attack for a combo finisher. She can also use a special move that drains her SP but does tons of damage. As you progress, you gradually unlock new attacks and features, such as transforming your weapon into different forms. The default sword is great for area-of-effect attacks, but daggers are more useful in other ways.

You'll eventually unlock counterattacks and dodges and various other features that add a nice layer to the combat. Early in the game, you unlock the ability to transform into a powerful demon form, which requires you to charge a meter and can cause insane amounts of damage. The combat mechanics improve as you go, but they're never particularly deep. After some time, you'll see everything the game has to offer.

A big part of Nights of Azure is the collection of Blue Blood. Fiends drop the stuff when they're slain, and it is frequently a reward for combat. You'll primarily spend blood to level up to gain access to new skills. Some skills are granted just by leveling up, including access to new weapons, but others must be purchased. Leveling up unlocks points in social stats, such as Charm, and you can then invest the stats to buy new skills. It may sound like an unnecessary bit of abstraction, but it adds a layer in choosing how your character powers up.

Arnice hunts during the night and, in an odd reversal of expectations, more hunting means she can be more active during the day. Kill a lot of monsters at night, and during the day, Arnice can participate in activities that raise her social stats (e.g., going for a walk, writing in her diary, etc.). You cannot game the system because you're required to spend a certain amount of time hunting before you can do things during the day.

Blood is also spent to acquire Servans, which are a combination of AI partner and bonus attacks. By spending SP, Arnice can summon up to four demons and keep multiple decks of demons to swap between on the fly. Each Servan performs an attack when summoned and can perform a powerful Servan Burst when reactivated. They have their own SP meters, so you can use various skills that include attacks, debuffs and healing to add some twists to combat. As you progress, you can unlock and level up Servans even more, giving them interesting new abilities or special passive bonuses.

The issue is that this isn't needed very often. Nights of Azure is exceedingly easy, and button-mashing your way through combat is often enough for most fights. In addition, getting new Servans is an expensive process that usually involves a heavy investment of Blue Blood and the time to level them up. As a result, I stuck with the same Servans because they were already ahead of the curve and could do almost everything I needed. It's an unfortunate design flaw that Servans aren't useful enough to invest in but are fun enough that you'd want to. There are some powerful Servans who are worth using, but it never felt worth it to keep a heavy stable of powered-up partners.

Nights of Azure's main plot is straightforward in that it hops through story missions until you reach the endgame. There's a fair bit of content in side-quests that you can complete for items and equipment. Most of them boil down to "kill a certain number of foes" or "go to a spot on the map." The latter can particularly annoying, since the map is rather convoluted. There's a clear marker where you have to go, but it can be unclear when you're close to the target.

There's also an arena, where you're given predefined challenges and have to master them, and the score is based on how well you do. Gaining the three stars rank in the Arena challenges is the hardest part of the game, and it's where the intricacies and hidden depth of the combat system really shine. To get the highest score, you can't simply win the challenge; you must show that you perfectly understand the mechanics to do what the game asks.

Nights of Azure doesn't really do anything that stands out. The combat is serviceable and occasionally fun, but the plot is predictable. The mechanics have some interesting ideas but are minimally executed. It's about as safe of a first attempt at an action game as you can get, and in doing so, it fails to stand out. With Koei-Tecmo pumping out Warriors titles at an astonishing pace, it's pretty tough to see the distant sibling as anything but a lesser effort. There's potential for a more polished sequel or spinoff, but as a first attempt, it feels distinctly average.

Visually, Nights of Azure is a mixed bag. The core character models are nicely done — if implausibly jiggly — but everything else is poor. The environments are bland and unmemorable, the monsters largely basic, and the attack animations lack punch. There's a lot of similarity to the Atelier games in the design, but shortcuts that work for an RPG feel a little "off" in an action game. There are also some very noticeable frame rate issues, which is bewildering for a game with so little going on.

On the other hand, the soundtrack is excellent, with a lot of fast-paced and atmospheric songs that help you overlook the visual flaws. The voice acting is entirely in Japanese, and some of the actors hit their marks while others sound bored. The core two do their job well enough, which helps sell some of the moments that would otherwise fall flat.

Nights of the Azure is an acceptable but unexceptional action game. It doesn't do much wrong, but it doesn't do much right, either. The mechanics are just interesting enough to keep your attention, the graphics just appealing enough to make you overlook their flaws, and the story hits its beats with enough regularity to not lose you. Yet the entire experience feels hollow. It's a decent first effort, but you'd be better served by renting or buying the title at a discount.

Score: 7.0/10

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