Sometimes all you want to do at the end of a long day is to sit down and murder a couple hundred (thousand?) demons. Nights of Azure 2 gives you the chance to do just that while fighting alongside allies and a couple pets as well, but is this an enjoyable demon-slaying adventure or just a fight to be avoided?
Nights of Azure 2 begins shortly after the first game but features entirely new characters (which means you don't necessarily need to play the first game, but it can undoubtedly be helpful story-wise). You'll take the role of a young knight named Aluche, who is tasked with guarding her childhood friend Liliana. The land is still stuck in eternal night, however, as the world is plagued by "The Moon Queen", an immensely powerful demon. When Aluche's superiors decide that Liliana is the next "Bride of Time" and will be sacrificed to seal the Moon Queen's power, Aluche is suddenly torn between her feelings and her duty.
As you can probably tell, character feelings and motivations play a large part in the story of Nights of Azure 2. You'll eventually encounter numerous allies, some of whom work for different organizations (which muddies things), but the group will still explore new areas and learn more about the Moon Queen in their effort to avoid sacrificing one of their friends.
The story is fairly generic overall, being mostly a cliche "good vs. bad" affair throughout with sprinkles of feelings, motivations, and love spread throughout (like the first title, these girls definitely have a thing for each other, which is rather cute). The character interactions are by far the main draw. I enjoyed how they were tied to the gameplay, as you eventually have so many allies to play with that who you choose to spend time with really does matter.
Story aside, Nights of Azure 2 is really a hack-and-slash game at heart. It honestly reminded me of a scaled-down Musou title as there were plenty of enemies on the screen at any given time. What really sets this game apart from other similar titles is the amount of help you have. Aluche is joined on every mission by one of her allies (who you get to choose before you start the mission) as well as up to two "Sevran" pets. All three of these allies automatically attack enemies with you. You can also have your ally to do a special skill and "Lily Burst" attacks, which are extremely powerful. Pets can be commanded too to use their special attacks at any time (as long as they still have MP).
To shake things up even more, some of your pets can transform into different weapons, giving Aluche an entirely new move set. You'll get a few different spears, greatswords and shields to play with throughout the course of the game. Different pets can also unlock new areas, which gives you a good reason to re-explore previously visited areas for further treasure. As you fight, you and your allies will all gain levels and stat increases, which lets Aluche learn new abilities (all of which are passive bonuses). One of the things I liked most about the game was leveling up my pets, which you do with bonus points you get from completing side quests. With these points you can increase their stats and eventually evolve them, which changes their look (when did this become Pokemon?!). You can also re-incarnate them if they reach max level, putting them back at level one with further room for improvement.
While Nights of Azure 2 is genuinely easy to pick up and play (and who doesn't like some fairly mindless hack-and-slash fun), not everything is roses. For example, the game is just awfully repetitive. Not just in its gameplay, but also in its environments. In fact, there's only SEVEN areas to explore in the entire game which is just underwhelming to say the least.
However, the BIGGEST criticism that will undoubtedly be levied against Nights of Azure 2 is its time limit. The gameplay is chock full of time limits. The first is the game as a whole, as the azure moon will wane over time, giving you a limited amount of days to complete your main objective (which will frankly make you not want to do any side quests). The second is that you are timed in each individual level you visit. You can increase this time by leveling up and even picking certain abilities, but early in the game at least this time limit is just a nuisance. It kicks you out of levels before you've fully explored them (further stressing that first time limit). I had enough of that nonsense EARLY on, and focused on extending my time limit which was a smart decision. Once you approach mid to late game you have so much time in a level that any notion of a time limit is just ridiculous (I seriously had 18+ minutes, of which for many missions I would maybe spend 7 minutes and then just go back to the base early).
Nights of Azure 2 almost looks like a painting come to life in some ways. The backgrounds, enemy designs and environments all have this air-brushed watercolor look, which makes things look good. It's just a shame the environments themselves are so lifeless. Not only are they repetitive (the game just makes you go back to each area SO much), but the areas themselves are nothing but a room after room of enemy encounters. Sure, there's the occasional puzzle, but it rarely requires more than just flipping a switch or aligning a beam of light to shoot from one mirror to another (very simple).
But we can't talk about the graphics without talking about the character models, can we? They are, um... significantly jiggly. Aluche and all of her allies are definitely well-endowed and the game does its best to make sure you know it (bras don't exist in this universe, and what the heck is this "Female Armor" thing you keep talking about?!). They even have a POOL at their headquarters, which serves no other purpose except to show off each character in a skimpy swimsuit. If only they put as much work in the variety of areas you visit as they did in the jiggle physics!
One thing that did surprise me was how much I enjoyed the music throughout the game. Not every track is a hit, but I liked the majority of the soundtrack here. There's a lot of calm, easy-listening music whenever you're not in the battle (relaxing string tracks you could honestly fall asleep to), but when you are fighting the tempo picks up accordingly. There's also a re-occurring choir piece that plays at certain key moments throughout the game (a nice touch). It should also be noted that all the voices throughout the game are in Japanese, with English subtitles on top of them.
The game's length is directly tied to how many of its side-quests you want to do. Overcoming the bosses though is going to be extremely difficult if you don't at least do your allies' side-quests when they pop up (mainly due to you being under-leveled). Still, you're looking at about 16+ hours of game time at least (if you can stand the repetitiveness, of course). To be fair, continuously finding new pets to use and going out with new allies does help relieve the repetitiveness. Once you do beat the game, you will unlock a "New Game +", which completionists will definitely appreciate if the game's timer bothered them at all.
In the end, Nights of Azure 2 has a lot of things going for it. The game is easy to pick up and play and, for the most part, it's mindless fun accentuated by allies and pets helping you out on every step of the way. Graphics can be quite picturesque at times and the soundtrack is quite good on top of that. On the other hand, this game is just... so very repetitive, forcing you to revisit the same half-dozen areas over and over again without anything new to look forward to. This makes the game a mixed bag overall, but if you're looking for a solid hack-and-slash with plenty of T&A thrown in (and you don't mind the repetition), this may be just the game for you.
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