Gust are most well-known for their predominantly turn-based RPG’s Atelier and Ar Tonelico series. They very rarely step away from these stories or the turn-based formula, so it’s a pleasant surprise to see their latest title does both.
The world of Nights of Azure takes place in an alternative reality, where a battle between good and evil was fought. On the side of good, the Saint ultimately won but not before the Ruler of Night left their mark on the world. The demon kings blue blood rained down on the world turning anyone it touched into a shadowy monster. Jump forward to the 19th century these monsters still roam the streets at night, resulting in a worldwide curfew for humanity. Our protagonist Arnice however has some resistance to blue bloods effects becoming half-human half-demon. Recruited by some mysterious organisation known as Curia, Arnice fights back against the monsters of the night, retrieving all remnant of blue blood while seeking a way to end Lord of Nights effects. The story, for the most part, is very good and there are a lot of interesting elements but initially it’s all given to you so quickly it hard to take it all in.
There’s a lot of other stuff that goes on to fill out the story including Simon and his Servan friendly hotel, and a mystery surrounding two travellers one of which is hinted to be an imposter. The other major story element though revolves around Arnices good friend Lilysse. Designated as the next Saint Lilysses life is to be sacrificed to seal the Night. The Curia have tasked Arnice with the job of protecting Lilysse until the time is right, however she’s not too keen to see her best friend give up her life, and so seeks out another way to defeat the Night. This character focused narrative is one of Nights of Azure’s most interesting elements as we see a romance unfold between the leading two ladies. By the end there’s an actual want to see things all work out between them. There is some fan service to go with it like the two having jiggling, ballooned proportions, at times wearing very skimpy outfits, but it’s very much toned down then in other titles I could mention.
As the demons only come out at night that’s when you get to explore the secretive Rusewall Island. Once you leave the safe confines of the Ende Hotel a 15 minute time window opens up for you to explore, after which you’ll be forced back to prepare for your next night. Enemies spawn at regular intervals to hinder your progress, but all of the fights happen in world making the switch between fighting and exploration seamless. From the world map you can select where to fast travel to, but discovering those checkpoints can only be done by exploring the city streets first.
Combat takes the form of a simple hack n’ slasher. Arnice can wield a range of different weaponry using gathered blood, including a standard sword, dual daggers and twin pistols all of which can be switched between on the move using the directional-pad. It’s fun to experiment with the different styles but the benefits of using one setup over another are never clear. As for the brawls themselves there is no real challenge to be found. Enemy attacks are simple enough to dodge, and even if a fireball or club swing does sneak through, they never tend to do that much damage. As for formulating strategies, everything can just be taken care of by wailing on it with everything you’ve got. It’s pretty simple stuff but enjoyable all the same.
Arnice is assisted in combat by Servans, demons that she can enlist the help of by Actualising Fetishes. Servans each have their own strengths and weaknesses, some are made for combat, others prefer healing duty, and then there are the ones who just want to go on a treasure hunt. They do have their uses like acting as diversions, and as long as you have some recovery Servan you can take on just about anything without fear of dying. However they seem like just an extra feature to bulk up the hack n’ slash combat. As previously mentioned fights are never really that hard, so enlisting the help of Servans just makes the combat even easier. It’s a shame too as there are multiple Fetishes to locate but there’s no real incentive to actualising them and bringing them along. The only time the Servan mechanic really stands out is when you take on more specific challenges in the games arena mode.
The Ende Hotel is the main hub between levels. There are a couple of little distractions from the main story but not a great deal. There’s a trading minigame where you pay merchants to visit certain world locations for new loot. Speaking to the hotels owner Simon allows you to take on different types of quests. Night quests are completed while you explore Rusewalls monster filled streets, and typically involve slaying a certain number of foes or locating lost property. The Day requests are what our half-demon heroine gets up to when she’s not fighting. You gain rewards and stats for learning new skills but you don’t really do anything for them, simply getting notes saying she spent the day grocery shopping. The basement houses an arena were Arnice can take on a number unique challenges for a variety of different rewards. The arena stands out as the most interesting diversion as there’s an actual challenge from achieving the maximum number of stars per mission.
Levelling up is one of Nights of Azure’s more unusual touches. Servans level up in a very typical fashion gaining experience from defeated foes which is doled out at the end of each hunt. Every level nets your monster higher fighting stats, passive abilities for them and the team plus a fancy new colour scheme. Arnice on the other hand can only increase her level by offering up blue blood she gathers from the battlefield. Using the hotels elevator she can access a dream world called the Altar of Jorth. Here you meet a mysterious version of Lilysse, find a sacrificial alter and Arnice dons a very revealing ‘sacred garment’, where the only reason for wearing it is “it’s just us girls here!” This realm can be accessed anytime but things only occur once you reach certain points in the story. Arnices level is also capped at 11 which you can easily manage by the end of this mid-length story. But as blood can also be used to actualise Servans and purchase equipment from Demon shop it does add some extra strategic thought.
What we have here is a simple free flowing hack n’ slasher with a couple of good stories and a number of interesting mechanics that sadly fall a bit flat. You can spend some considerable time playing with Servan decks but ultimately they don’t seem to make much of an impact for the main bulk of fights. A neat weapon switching mechanic is introduced to add some variety but none offer anything really unique. Despite this Nights of Azure is still an enjoyable enough experience, the character focused narrative is certainly worthwhile and there are plenty of talking points from both story elements
This review is based off a review code of Nights of Azure provided by Koei Tecmo Europe.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.