Nights of Azure Review

Nights of Azure Review

Somewhere deep inside the JRPG Night of Azure, there's a decent story of friendship and sacrifice. But to get to it, you have to spend a lot of hours playing through a bare-bones PC port. The game is repetitive, simplistic, and tonally all over the map. It gets combat mostly right -- at least in small doses -- but there isn't much to it until way later in the game. Those first few hours are tough.

In summary, the island kingdom of Ruswall is under imminent threat from the omnipresent Nightlord, a supernatural force that is poised to break free from its shackles and turn the land into demon-cursed perpetual darkness. You play as Arnice, a human/demon hybrid who was borne out of an earlier conflict. She is tasked by the Curia to fight back the Nightlord and its demon minions. Her longtime friend and potential romantic partner is the young woman Lilysse, who may or may not be the sacrificial Saint that must either be saved or offered to the Nightlord.

The story is actually heavy. Its ongoing romantic, same-sex tensions and examination of destiny and self-sacrifice could have been interesting if it were treated with a little more gravitas and style. Unfortunately, Nights of Azure throws in weird slapstick comedy, a number of dead-end tasks, and a less-than-mature treatment of sexuality. Stylistically, the game can't decide if it wants to go for harmless and cute or hyper-sexual and sleazy. The two don't mix well.

Through the dozen hour-long main campaign, Arnice takes on missions and moves between a hotel hubworld and a small kingdom that is colorful, but has little detail, imagination, or character. Demonic enemies spawn from the ground to fight, and they drop lots of loot in standard action-RPG fashion. 

Along the way, Arnice has the opportunity to form a party of four Servans, various types of magical creatures that can be leveled up. They take on the usual roles of mage, healer, ranged-weapon-user -- you know the drill. While there is a very large number of unique Servans to find or buy, the path of least resistance is to stick with a single party and level them up. The various skills and weapons are simply not interesting enough to warrant the level grind. Arnice has a few strategic options when commanding her Servans but only in the most general way. 

Arnice's weapon and move set is simplistic, and her repertoire only expands relatively late in the game. By then, there will have been hours of fast-paced, chaotic, but ultimately repetitive combat. Nights of Azure is only challenging during a few of the boss fights.

I didn't play the PS4 version of Nights of Azure, but judging by the limited graphics options, not much has been done to make the game naturally at home on PC. Musically, the soundtrack is as inconsistent as the visual style -- a hodgepodge of metal guitar riffs during battles to Muzak lounge piano in the hotel. 

Despite its early leaden pacing, Nights of Azure's story concept isn't bad. The two main characters, with their shy, budding romance and mutual dependence, have potential for an interesting arc. What surrounds them -- bland visuals, inconsistent design, sloppy localization and fast-paced but ultimately repetitive action -- makes it challenging to appreciate their relationship and story.