Gust deserve some credit when it comes to Nights of Azure. This is the first time they have attempted an action RPG and the game is quite a solid effort. Released in 2015 in Japan for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 3, Koei Tecmo has brought the game to the West as a PlayStation 4 exclusive. What we get from Nights of Azure is a solid hac and slash action RPG with some interesting elements to add to the classic combo gameplay. With that said, it’s quite easy to power through the game and the story needed some more work. It does have a great soundtrack but the art style is a little bland.
The story centres around Lady Arnice, our demon slayer, and Lilysse, a close friend, investigating Ruswel Island, also known as “The Land Without Night”. Arnice discovers the return of Nightlord, the being behind the blue blood and its defeat the source of the inhabitants turning into fiends due to blue blood contamination, as the full moon rises. Usually, in order to prevent a return, a chosen one (this time Lilysse) is sacrificed, but this is a temporary measure and Arnice doesn’t want Lilysse to lose her life. So the quest is on to find an alternative measure to defeat Nightlord, one where it may end it permanently. Yes, the story is very cliche and how it plays out is quite dull. However, it’s the relationship between Arnice and Lilysee that bothers me.
Throughout the story, the two leading ladies develop a romantic relationship. It isn’t the fact it is a romantic relationship, but the way it was written made it sound insincere and forced. Their relationship didn’t feel like two lovers, more the ideal relationship between two lovers. All the dialogue focused on was how they’ll protect each other no matter what or telling one another how they feel. Outside of Arnice’s disapproval of Lilysse accepting her supposed fate, there isn’t conflict in the relationship, like a normal couple. While two people will love each other, there will be conflict. That isn’t present and it makes the relationship feel fake. It’s sweet, it deserves that description, but it’s also unrealistic.
Nights of Azure is, in short, an action RPG. Players take Arnice around what is essentially corridor like environments and slay every single monster that crosses her path. It’s all hack and slash as Arnice uses light, heavy and special attacks to put away her foes. Of course, the three type of attacks can be chained for as a combo, with around three light to heavy combos plus a four hit light combo attack. Of course, at first, she’s very limited, only wielding a sword. However, as the game progresses, Arnice will earn new weapons and abilities, changing up the style of play. With that said, it would have been nice to change efficiently mid-combo. Every time Arnice ventures out, she’ll have 15 minutes to perform what she needs to do, otherwise everything gained is lost.The gameplay can be monotonous and repetitive. The easy nature of the game (except when it comes to the final boss) doesn’t help either. The block ability was rarely used, making the game more a button mash-a-thon then it needed to be.
However, Nights of Azure does change up the classic hack and slash gameplay with the addition of Servans. Servans are creatures that fight alongside Arnice in battle. They’re divided into two types: attack and support. They’re summoned with SP and all have a special attack that can be used for a limited amount of times. Arnice can create four teams, or “decks”, of Servans, but can only use one during exploration. They also affect Arnice’s transformation process. If one type of Servan dominates the deck, for example the attack type, then Arnice will activate one of four transformations. Servans can also level up and upgrade their stats with items or even acquire new Servans by perfoming a ritual with an item (and sacrificing blood in the process). While it does add variety to Arnice’s arsenal of attacks, the Servans also make the game easier. They’ll get summoned, use their special attack and rarely disappear. They just make everything easier, including the boss battles. With that said, without the Servans, Nights of Azure would be another generic hack and slash RPG.
In between hunting monsters, Arnice stays at a hotel, which acts as a hub. From here, Arnice and access daytime activities, an arena and a shrine for her to level up, as well as customise herself and her Servans with items found during the hunt. In order for Arnice to level up, she needs to collect the blue blood from the creatures. Blood is a secondary currency alongside regular money and replaces the traditional experience points system usually found in RPGs. Once enough blood is obtained, she heads to a shrine and performs a ritual (in nothing more than cloth, by the way) to gain a level. She’ll also obtain skill points to learn different passive abilities, such as unlocking more Severan decks. Outside of battle, Arnice can partake in Day Activities. These activities will increase skill points for her to learn abilities. There’s also an arena below the hotel, where Arnice is provided combat challenges to compete. There are prizes, like money, to win by beating a certain score or time. Side quests also fills up Arnice’s time outside of battle. There is a variety of things to do outside of the main questline and it’s all enjoyable to do.
Nights of Azure’s art style isn’t going to blow anyone out of the water, but it’s not eye gouging bad either. There is a great mix of bright and dark environments, even during the night phrases of the game. But the design is a little bland, if not inspiring. However, the corridor design of the levels took a way a sense of freedom. It would have been preferred if the level design was more open for free exploration, but this is only a preference. Expect little animation during the cutscenes, some don’t have any at all. Even the character models could have used a bit more detail, but it also has it own charm. The soundtrack, however, is awesome. Epic guitars and choirs echo through the battle scenes while a smooth jazz piece fills the hotel, lulling the player into a state of relaxation.
If there is an action RPG where one can just pick up and play, then Nights of Azure is a game worth playing. It has an easy to understand battle system with the added element of the Servans to vary the gameplay style, in addition to changeable weapons. However, the story is weak, the characters are two dimensional and the relationship between the leading ladies is unrealistic and forced. While it provides the player with a great soundtrack, the art style and level design leave a lot to be desired. All in all, a solid effort from Gust. It does its job as an action RPG, but it could have offered a lot more.
Nights of Azure is available now, exclusively on PlayStation 4 in the West. AoG was provided with a review code for the purpose of this review. You can purchase Nights of Azure at major retail outlets and online stores.