By: Brian Gunn
Nights of Azure is the latest title from the developer Gust, which is largely known for the Atelier series. Most of their titles are turn-based RPGs, but here they’ve delved into the action RPG arena, and to mostly mixed results.
Nights of Azure is a fairly basic action RPG, and the controls are standard and easy to grasp. There’s a normal and strong attack you can string together with combos as well a special meter to fill to allow a wide area cinematic special attack.
You might think the addition of four different monsters to summon to your party might make things complicated or unique, but summoning only requires holding a modifier button and hitting the correct icon, and their attacks are all automated save one you can trigger by inputting the same combination used for the summon.
There are some advanced techniques like dodging and juggling, but the actual encounters are simple enough that players won’t get much use out of them.
Given that Nights of Azure is a cross-generational title, available on the PS3, PS4 and Vita, it’s a fairly average looking game. Areas are often bland and lifeless, and there are many enemy reskins. Not all is woeful though, as the game manages to maintain a fairly effective atmosphere when out slaying monsters.
Nearly all of your time is spent at night on a foggy island where everyone’s afraid to venture out, and it manages to evoke a Victorian London style mood. Character designs do leave a lot to be desired though, with seemingly every stereotypical pandering anime trait accounted for.
The audio of the title fares far better than the visuals. The soundtrack is simply gorgeous, also helping to evoke the atmosphere with its operatic tunes and roaring guitars. Many tracks feel like they would be right at home in a Castlevania game.
Nights of Azure is a subtitled game, and the voice acting acquits itself well. Sound effects leave little impression and could have been improved to give combat a little more impact.
A long time ago, good and evil fought, and well, you probably know where this is going. The ancient evil was not killed, but merely sealed away, and to this day various factions are working to make sure that seal stays in place. Enter our heroines, Arnice and Lilysse, who belong to one such order.
Arnice is the player character, a stoic knight that does the monster slaying, while Lilysse is a dutiful priestess that does the more magical stuff like purifying the area. Early on they find out that Lilysse is to be sacrificed in order to keep the ancient evil sealed away.
Like most stories involving this sort of sacrifice (see Final Fantasy X), not everyone is on board with giving their friend up, and so Arnice sets down a path to figure out a way to solve everything and not lose someone they love. The story ended up being a surprising highlight for me, even if it does get melodramatic at times.
Unfortunately, the action doesn’t fare nearly as well. Nights of Azure might be the easiest game I’ve played this generation. Despite equipping you with a dodge mechanic and monster allies that are meant be cast in specific roles like tanks and healers, most players will get by just using the basic combos over and over again.
There are no difficulty options to speak of, either, so you can’t even seek an additional challenge that way. Most enemies have a specific gimmick you’ll learn quickly, and even bosses barely require paying much attention, with going hog wild on the attack buttons being more effective than attempting to dodge attacks.
In truth, Nights of Azure plays more like a Dynasty Warriors game than an action RPG, with far fewer enemies to deal with so the spectacle associated with those games is lost. Even the locations often feel like Warriors fare, with large sparse areas that you just need to get through, and mostly useless power-ups littering the battlefield.
Arnice can bring in some demons to assist her, making the game into a smaller-scale monster collector. While you can tailor your party to include a variety of roles, the basic combat makes needing to consider your monster party setup fairly infrequent.
There’s a central hub for the game that eventually develops more features and allows downtime events between big story missions that works out well, even if it does feature eye-roll-worthy moments like making one of the characters into a maid for no apparent reason.
There are leveling systems for Arnice and her demon friends, as well as tons of gear to collect and grind out, though I can’t imagine many players will feel compelled to given the game’s nonexistent difficulty.
Early on an Arena mode opens up, first to help teach some advanced mechanics, but then as optional challenges for unique loot. These can often be more fun than normal progress as they feature tougher encounters, but there’s not much to them.
Nights of Azure feels a bit half baked. It has a fantastic soundtrack, decent atmosphere and, at times, a surprisingly compelling storyline. It’s just a shame it’s supported by a combat system that’s so dull that getting to the good parts can feel like a chore.