You probably haven’t heard of Nights of Azure unless you follow the JRPG scene very closely. Released in Japan last year, it tells the tale of two girls as they fight an evil seeking to destroy the planet. Developers Gust aren’t really known for much beyond the Atelier series in Western shores, but despite Nights of Azure marking a bit of a deputure in the gameplay, it’s riddled with similar design faux pas.
Now, it would be too easy to say that the hyper-sexualised pandering in some of the character designs detract from the experience, thanks to the lecherous stereotypes. However, in the case of Nights of Azure’s main female character design, it simply doesn’t fit with the game’s setting, as well as the amount of boob movement likely giving them severe breathing difficulty.
If this was a game that blatantly was about the skimpiness of the girl’s clothing, then it wouldn’t be a big deal. After all, there is an audience for those games, just as there is in games entirely made of pixel art. In Nights of Azure, it’s simply there with no real context. At one point, even the main protagonist Arnice questions the obnoxiously skimpy outfit she’s made to wear, only to then go along with it regardless.
While not pushing the PS4 too hard graphically, Nights of Azure is by no means horrible to look at. Environments are varied if a little bland and while the enemy designs do suffer from palette swaps, they are built from a solid basis. Performance however does drop to a stutter when there are a lot of enemies on screen, which is disappointing.
If I were to make one massive recommendation, it would be to turn off the voices as soon as possible. Even by my lack of understanding the Japanese language, there’s more ham in the delivery of the dialogue than in a pig farm. It doesn’t help that the dialogue itself is a mixture of shouting at each other and length exposition that lasts far longer than required.
Just make sure the music is on however as, while repetitive, it is my personal highlight. It manages to combine Dynasty Warriors and Castlevania style guitar riffs with thematic tunes for some more elaborate locales.
One of the key things about Nights of Azure is that the protagonist is in a somewhat doomed lesbian relationship. What I’m about to say may seem controversial, but it is an odd negative conclusion to my feelings surrounding the plot: Nights of Azure’s lesbian relationship was not written in an interesting, realistic, non-exploitative way.
Let me explain. Much like other examples of the “Yuri” genre, the source of the drama is that the two of them care about each other deeply, but are at odds as to how to resolve their dilemma in a way that doesn’t hinder the other person. They fall out, they make up, and they even share a tender moment or two.
Where it falls flat is in the dialogue, where one of them tells the other one exactly how they feel or that they’ll protect them no matter what. After about the fiftieth time one claims to be protecting the other, their “love” feels less and less sincere. The supporting cast are somehow even worse though, with single-minded goals that generally add nothing to the plot.
So the story is a dud and the character designs of our two damsels don’t fit with the game’s setting or their character traits. Why has this bothered me so much? That’s because the gameplay itself is actually rather entertaining. I enjoyed running through the admittedly bland looking levels purely because the combat felt like I was playing a cross between Dynasty Warriors and the monster raising tropes of Pokémon.
Arnice’s weapon arsenal is limited at first, but as she upgrades she soon obtains new weapons and skills to use in combat, making her surprisingly versatile with light and heavy attacks, as well as a special attack that costs SP. She also eventually gains the power to transform into a new form that can dish out lots of damage. Which transformation depends on what monsters are in your current selected deck that you can switch between on the fly. Some of these forms are rather gauche in their design, but they’re a lot of fun to use when battering a tough foe or fighting through a massive wave of enemies.
But really the gameplay is all about summoning the monsters, namely Servans, to do your bidding. These creatures can be summoned at any point when they’re alive and stay out until they are killed. Attacks are sadly limited to a basic skill and a command skill that uses the creature’s SP, with no real way to customise your monsters besides minor perks as they level up.
Other than following the main story, there are a few other scenarios and side quests you can undertake that are excuses to revisit the older areas. There’s a lot going on in the hotel that acts as a hub, such as an arena for combat challenges, a room to upgrade Arnice’s abilities, and a charter merchant you can send to parts of the world to gather items. You can also undertake day quests to gain stats to upgrade your active and passive skills, as well as manage your monster decks.
Nights of Azure feels like a guilty pleasure, but it’s the gameplay that’s the star here. The boring story is filled with forgettable, two dimensional characters, and while there is passion between the main characters, it feels forced rather than natural. The gameplay isn’t ground-breaking either, but it is at least competent at delivering a mindless hack ‘n’ slash that is fun to play and worth a look.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4