Nights of Azure - Review  

These White Lights Will Bend To Make Blue
by Sam Wachter

Less than 20 Hours
+ Beautiful relationship between the heroines
+ Unique setting and atmosphere
+ Combat is solid, if simplistic
- Bland localization
- Repetitive structure
- Time limit adds nothing to the overall game
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   Gust's latest IP, Nights of Azure, caught my attention for numerous reasons. It's a game that focuses on a same-sex relationship, uses a gothic backdrop to tell its tale, and it makes you decide whether it's more important to save the world or save the girl? Very seldom do games square their focus on a relationship that isn't heteronormative, and that alone had me wanting to play this game. While there's tons of fantastic ideas bottled into Nights of Azure, the experience on a whole is quite the mixed bag.

   Our tale begins on the pseudo-European island of Ruswal, a land completely engulfed by eternal night. The island has been overtaken by the Nightlord, and the only way to stop his eternal curse is to offer a sacrifice in the form of a Saint. Arnice, a half-demon agent of the organization Curia, has been asked to investigate the occurrences on Ruswal, and is reunited with her childhood love, Lilysse, a Saint destined to seal the Nightlord and martyr herself for the greater good of the world.

    This plotline sounds like something that has been done before, but Gust does a fantastic job of it, taking so many tropes and turning them on their heads, while crafting a narrative that endears the heroines to the player. The relationship between Arnice and Lilysse is beautifully depicted and well crafted, and it makes for a compelling story of love, friendship, and sacrifice. Both heroines are committed to their destinies, but also struggle to accept that their time together will be cut short. These women are strong and easy to root for, and their relationship is what makes the narrative great.

Arnice and her woodland friends know when to bring down the law. Arnice and her woodland friends know when to bring down the law.

   What also pulls the story in interesting directions is Nights of Azure's gothic setting. It's atmospheric and it does a compelling job of drawing the player into the world-building and its characters. From creepy amusement parks to larger-than-life carousel horses, Gust has really gone out of its way to make the setting come to life in majestic and picturesque ways. There's such a larger draw coming from the game's setting that even though the areas themselves are small and simplistic to navigate, the pull to investigate them is quite strong. The downside to all of this comes from the game's localization, which feels so bland and lackluster. It feels like more could have been done to provide some flavour to the overall writing, but the quality is subpar, as the game reads too much like a direct translation at times.

   At its core, Nights of Azure is an action RPG that is very simple in concept: strong, special, and weak attacks correspond to specific face buttons on the controller. As the game progresses Arnice is able to switch through four other weapons — a sword, a pair of daggers, a hammer, and bow — each with their own unique play style. The added element in the combat system comes from the Servans, Arnice's demon servants whom she can summon into combat to help her power through gluts of enemies. Each Servan comes equipped with its own strong and weak skills, as well as a Burst attack, an ability that can be used to overpower them for a limited amount of time, but in exchange it consumes Arnice's SP. Arnice can also carry up to four Servan decks which can be swapped out at any time. Since Arnice is half-demon, she also has the power to transform into one of four demon forms, each armed with its own arsenal of tricks.

   The battle system is intuitive and easy to pick up, but the game runs into the problem that many action RPGs have in that there isn't a ton of variety. While Arnice has four different weapon types, they all play familiarly similar to each other, as do the demon forms. This doesn't make the combat bad, in fact it works quiet well, but it does cause the game to fall into highly repetitive trappings. This is also due to the fact that there's a limited number of areas to explore, and a ton of backtracking that needs to be done to progress the story. Nights of Azure also features an exceptionally pointless time limit system, where Arnice has only fifteen minutes to complete each mission. However, fifteen minutes is pretty generous given that this time limit doesn't include boss battles, and every area is fairly easy to navigate through. There's no good reason for its inclusion, since the time limit feels pointless. Given how insignificant the areas are in size, it's definitely something that feels tacked on to trick players into thinking they're in a crunch, timewise.

Hand holding is a key element to all relationships. Hand holding is a key element to all relationships.

   Using the Ende Hotel as a hub, there's a lot to explore in Nights of Azure beyond just the linear level design. There are Arena battles to strengthen Arnice's skills, there are quests to embark on, and even a simple trade system that can provide rare items. Servans can also be strengthened in the hotel, and new ones can be crafted through items that are acquired during the main missions. There's a plethora of Servans to collect and experiment with, and mixing and matching them for different missions can definitely help with the moderate challenge that the game provides. Arnice also collects Blood during her missions through murdering her enemies, and unlike most RPGs, she can only level up after missions, inside the hotel. Core stats are raised through Blood that has been collected, which can also strengthen her demonic weapons. The Blood system is an interesting idea, but unless the player is purposely making sure that every enemy is slaughtered, it takes Arnice awhile to level up because of how much Blood is needed for each rank. This seems odd also given that the Servan level up just by being in combat. It's a weird trade off, but it does make later areas a touch more challenging since Arnice cannot level up as fast as her servants.

   In terms of presentation, while the game's atmosphere and setting are fantastic, the visuals don't necessarily do the greatest job of portraying this. A lot of the visuals in Nights of Azure, though vibrant in colour, are very stiff compared to other Gust titles. There's not a lot of visual movement, and while the character models are decent, the levels are very mild in design. In terms of the soundtrack, it seems like Gust was channeling a lot of European and Scandinavian power metal, while also mixing in flavours of jazz and ambient music. It's a crazy mixture that works surprisingly well, though it can be confusing at first listen.

   Nights of Azure is an odd ball of a game that offers so much, but does a lot of it on a very simplistic and basic level. As an action RPG it doesn't do enough to be memorable, as the simplicity of its gameplay is definitely going to be a turn off for some. However, there's a huge amount of promise in this game, and the world-building and characters really highlight the potential that Gust was aiming towards. Clocking in at just over fifteen hours, Nights of Azure is a game with a fantastic setting that just really needed stronger gameplay to back it up.

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