Nights of Azure is an action-RPG developed by Gust – the team behind the Atelier series – and is their first true attempt at a full action-based title. Unfortunately, while the core of the game is strong, the lack of polish and balancing really hurts the game overall, leaving it feeling incredibly mediocre.
The story for the game follows a Holy Knight named Arnice through her time on an uncharted island in the North Sea. The setting is reminiscent of an alternate history version of the 19th century, and as far as the style and design of the setting goes, the team really hit the mark.
800 years before the events of the game, the ‘Lord of Night’ was killed by the Saint and sealed away. However, his death caused his blue blood to rain down on the inhabitants of Earth, causing corruption to spread and turning just about anything touched by it into twisted monsters. These creatures prowled at night, limiting the remaining humans to live during the day, thus the Japanese title of the game; The Land Without Night.
Fast-forward to the start of the game, and you have the Church, which employs Holy Knights to kill the monsters and try to maintain some semblance of order. Arnice is deployed to the island and meets her childhood friend Lilysse, who had been sent as her partner for the mission. After their friendly reunion, it’s revealed that Lilysse has been selected as the next Saint – a sacrifice made so that the Lord of Night remains sealed. Arnice, in true main character fashion, resolves to find a way to save Lilysse from this fate.
Overall, the story in Nights of Azure is lackluster. The main storyline is pretty simple and straightforward – maybe even a bit stereotypical. It’s not all bad. Many of the sidequests and non-important events are far more interesting and endearing for the characters, which helps to push the story along. Nights of the Azure got attention for potentially being a game with lesbians as the leads, and while it may not be thrown in your face throughout, the relationship between Arnice and Lilysse was developed well.
The two leads felt natural together, and their relationship didn’t feel too contrived or forced, which was nice. Despite this, I would say that they certainly had the aura of very close friends moreso than lovers. But putting that aside, while the story was lacking overall, I think the characters helped it along. You’ll certainly get attached as you go along, which is the sign of good characters. Unfortunately, good characters in a ‘meh’ story aren’t enough to make it great.
As for the gameplay, it’s best described as flat. The game has you control Arnice throughout combat portions. She is able to employ ‘Servans’, which are basically lesser demons to help her in combat. These little guys are a big focus of the game, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Arnice herself begins the game with a longsword and the ability to transform.
As a half-blood, she was touched by the blue blood but was able to prevent herself from succumbing to it. This gives her extended capabilities in battle, as well as the ability to use her blue blood to transform into a demon form. The form that she turns into when activated is based upon your team of Servans, and can vary from an attack-oriented form, to a defense or even support-oriented one. As you progress, Arnice will also gain access to a few different weapons, including dual swords, a cannon, a hammer, and more, which can change her playstyle to fit your preference.
Coming from this, there are the Servans. Arnice will start with a small team of four Servans, and you’ll collect more as you go through the game. Finding cursed relics will allow Arnice to ‘Actualize’ new Servans, expanding your range of options for your team. The max number of Servans you can bring into the field with you is four, so you’ll want to choose which ones complement your style.
The game’s combat, unfortunately, is where things start to flop. The difficulty is just not there. The entire game is basically a stroll in the park, with very few moments of difficulty at all. Normal enemies pose basically no threat, and bosses are glorified punching bags. If you decide to use Servans at all during exploration, normal enemies tend to drop before you get to even attack them yourself. In comparison, bosses come down to mashing buttons until said boss is dead.
This is all the more frustrating due to the arena. Not long after the start of the game, you’ll be given access to the arena below the team’s base of operations (which is a really snazzy hotel). The arena was the one bastion of good gameplay in Nights of Azure, with some actual difficulty.
Arena battles had specific victory conditions, like winning without taking damage, avoiding a bullet-hell style arena for a minute without getting hit, or winning with only Servan-based damage. These battles were often fun and varied, showing what was capable, but not achieved, with the gameplay systems in the main part of the game.
Even switching weapon styles or Servans during the main game is unnecessary. It’ll help liven up the monotony a bit, but there will never be a fight which you’ll need to retry with a different strategy – you can simply power through almost every fight in the game with minimal effort and thought.
There were also a number of smaller annoyances that really hurt the game. While playing, even just in the first 20 minutes of the game, there were some slowdowns and frame rate drops during both cutscenes and gameplay. When lots of enemies were on screen, it was particularly noticeable.
Combat also had a few quirks in the way it was designed. Controls and fighting all felt very flighty and there was little response from enemies when you hit them. The reverse was true as well, especially against weaker enemies – Arnice could take a ton of hits without reacting, which would leave her low on HP without any notice at all. The same held true for your own Servans. If you weren’t keeping a close eye on HP bars, there was no indication you were even taking damage sometimes.
All in all, Nights of Azure is a middling game with some neat design choices that just didn’t do enough to stand out. Combat and gameplay had glimpses of a great game, especially in the arena, but the rest of it didn’t hold up. Characters were written well enough and side stories were enjoyable, but the main storyline felt flat and stereotypical. It just wasn’t enough to make it a great game, but it was far from genuinely bad.
Nights of Azure was reviewed on PS4 using a digital copy provided by Koei Tecmo. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict: 7
- Setting and overall art direction are well polished
- Good music in some portions of the game
- The characters were refreshing
- The arena battles
- Gameplay is way too easy
- Minor quirks and annoyances detracted from the overall gameplay experience
- Main storyline was weak overall