By Leif Conti-Groome / March 29th, 2016
|Title||Nights of Azure|
|Release Date||March 29, 2016|
I often wonder if picking games to localize is a lot like stumbling around in the dark; some titles shine through the blackness like glittering gems while others grow seasonally off a plentiful tree. But some choices seem to be flukes like someone tripping over a rock while searching for the light. These to me are the most interesting games to get localized since you rarely know what to expect. Nights of Azure fits into this mold as I knew very little about it before playing. It didn’t have the stable history of an RPG series like Star Ocean or the outright wackiness of something like Deadly Premonition. It’s more akin to Senran Kagura with insane hack-n-slash mixed with a deep story and exaggerated breast physics. Allow me to shed some light onto Gust’s latest game to make it to the West.
In Nights of Azure the world is in danger of being swallowed up by an eternal night. The return of the once banished demon leader Nightlord means that all of humanity will fall into a deadly sleep. The holy order known as the Curia employ a roster of agents to fight the hordes of fiends born from the Nightlord’s blood. Accompanying these ordained knights are priests for support; they heal injured agents and are able to purify the demon’s blood. It’s not surprising that the relationship between a knight and a priest is a very intimate one.
Arnice is an agent of the Curia that has been granted the opportunity to kill fiends even though she is half-demon. Her closest friend and appointed priest is Lilysse, a timid girl who slowly comes to accept her destiny in stopping the Nightlord. Arnice, however, is fiercely protective of her priest and stubbornly refuses to make the ultimate sacrifice that the shadowy Curia insist upon to stop the Eternal Night. It’s your job to cut through the legions of fiends and reach the Nightlord yourself in order to stop him and the darkness once and for all.
It’s not surprising that a half-demon knight has a ton of tools for taking on the creatures of the night. Arnice is equipped with the sword of Jorth, a blade imbued with demonic powers. She can chain light, heavy and special attacks for stylish combos. And later in the game her sword gains the ability to transform into other weapons on the fly; I had a lot of fun chaining together huge blade swipes into a fury of dagger slashes and closing it off with a powerful blast from my ‘blitz shooter’.
Luckily for Arnice she has support for taking on the wave after wave of fiends. Nights of Azure allows you to collect demons and turn them into Servans. You can have up to 4 of these critters helping you at a time and they cover functions like healing, boosting your stats, digging for treasure, and providing additional attack support. You don’t control the Servans directly but you do have the option of triggering their burst attacks at any point for a certain amount of MP. Battles slowly get incredibly complex as you can switch between 4 different decks of helpers on the fly. Summoning new Servans costs MP which means there’s a delicate balance of unleashing all your spells while holding back to replace any helpers who have been knocked unconscious. And while certain combinations of these 4 creatures are important for strategic purposes, they also have an affect on what Arnice will turn into when her transformation gauge fills up. It unfortunately took me a while to figure out how all of it worked but it was worth it when I finally got access to her incredibly useful and cute Rabbit form.
There is a hub for Nights of Azure located at the Ende Hotel. Here you can buy equipment for Arnice and Servans, save, talk to the few characters that inhabit this world, and take on side quests. Your time is split into night and day; night is when you fight fiends and advance the main plot and day is when you select from a number of pedestrian tasks to build up four different stats (spirit, finesse, stamina, charm). While it sounds like the daytime quests are the boring ones, it’s actually the night ones that are uninteresting. They’re either kill x number of creature or go to x on a certain stage. While they skip over Arnice’s daytime activities, you’re given entertaining text descriptions of her going horseback riding or helping someone train their dog. I found the subtle strategy of trying to maximize my stamina stat while going off to fight fiends quite enjoyable. Nothing like coming home to your hotel and having enough points to level up the time you can stay transformed as a bunny.
Whether dressed as a magician, knight, rabbit, or a dream maiden wearing very little, Arnice’s character model looks great. This is equally true for Lilysse and all of the female characters. Many of the costumes have that detailed fanservice that are common for Japanese games like this. The characters are also quite expressive with nice facial animations and body language. Unfortunately the designers got a little too ambitious with their hair and costumes; both female leads have long hair that moves really stiffly and clip into their arms and shoulders. Arnice also has this strange skeletal, half-petticoat that also clips with a number of different things. She even takes it off when she’s lying down; it just would’ve been nicer to just ditch the obtrusive addition.
Compared to the great character models, the environment designs pale are drab. Most of the time you’re running through similar looking deserted streets. It’s a shame since sometimes you can see a hint of creativity such as the art museum with the oversized exhibits. And while the Servan/fiend designs are full of personality, there aren’t that many of them and they get used over and over with different color swaps. Some of them are also quite derivative; the nightstalker Servan looked exactly like the black beasts from my recently playthrough of Return to PopoloCrois: A Story of Seasons Fairytale.
The music in Nights of Azure fits the European Gothic design of the fictional land of Ruswal found in the game. But unlike the timeless tracks done in the same vain from Castlevania, these pieces rarely leave a lasting impression. The voice work is all in Japanese and most of the cast is quite talented. Mao Ichimini captures Arnice’s stubborn devotion quite well and Hiromi Igarashi compliments that with Lilysse’s soft-spoken demeanor. Masaki Terasoma portrays the perfect blend of diplomacy and unintentional tutor in the hotel manager Simon. Unfortunately the other two male characters, Professor Pervert Alucard and Merchant Thief Lloyd, are quite hammy and are usually annoying when they pop up. Although the many voices of the Servans almost steal the show. Each of them have a unique personality and reacted accordingly to events taking place during the story. I loved going through the hotel and talking to each of them to hear their Japanese (gibberish?) and see how they greeted each new day.
For a hack-n-slash with RPG elements and a convoluted story, the game isn’t that long or difficult. I will warn any that have looked to Japanese guides and message boards for the length of this game, it takes longer than 25 hours to get to the true ending. There’s a post game epilogue that introduces new missions and incredibly difficult bosses (it took me 4 hours to get through one of them) and this will add another 7-10 hours to your game time. There’s a ton of stuff in Nights of Azure for completionists such as collecting all the items, going through your standard arena challenges and beating the insanely difficult Hall of Infinite Darkness post game that will probably double your playing time.
While the story can be difficult to follow at times there’s a handy glossary of terms available from the menu. The themes of friendship, love and what people are capable of through devotion are crystal clear throughout. And while the leads can be both melodramatic and repetitive at times (‘I will protect you!’ ‘Will you protect me?’), the bond between Arnice and Lilysse is fascinating and refreshing. It’s never stated whether their connection is romantic, sisterly or just that of two people that are the closest of friends. They hold hands and sleep in the same bed and fight. The point is that it doesn’t matter since the connection they have is powerful and is the main element driving the plot forward.
Whether or not the localizers at Koei Temco tripped over this game while grasping in the Eternal Night or saw it glimmering in the sky like a fateful moon waiting to appear from beyond the clouds, I’m glad that they picked Nights of Azure. It’s by no means a perfect game, with a tedious night quest system, dull looking environments and a story that definitely needs an in game guide to help you navigate. But the gameplay is fun and tight, the Servans are a really cool addition, the main characters are a captivating pair, and the small amount of grinding required does not feel like a chore. I’m not sure if the darkness of the Nightlord will return for a sequel, but if it does I hope that ominous night reaches Western shores.
This review was based on the English PS4 copy that was provided as a reviewer copy.
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