First Impressions: Nights of Azure (PC)by Dustin Bailey,
It's a world where demons have overrun the night, and you play as a half-demon fiend hunter named Arnice. Lilysse, who is your lady bestie/yuri love interest, is in position to take up the ancient role of Saint and sacrifice herself to—theoretically—seal away the dark Nightlord forever. Naturally, Arnice's totally-not-platonic love for Lilysse means she feels bound to seek an alternative end to the demon blight and must eventually run afoul of the powers sending her on this quest.
While that's some immediate, character-driven drama, there's a total lack of urgency in the early bits of the plot, and if I weren't taking notes for the purposes of writing up this very article, I couldn't articulate more than a handful of plot threads, none of which seem to be intertwining in a meaningful way. There are only a handful of humans in the game—which rids the apocalyptic plot of any weight—and they all fall into well-worn tropes. In addition to Lilysse, the ample-breasted, pure-hearted klutz, there's the no-nonsense hotel master, the professor who's not so great with people, and the charming but roguish rogue.
Neither the story nor the characters taking part in it have much life, and that would be a lot easier to forgive if not for the fact that so much time is taken up by lifeless, predictable dialog. Every story beat needs a lengthy setup with the core cast, every mission needs a long break before you can return to the action, and every side quest needs a minute-long piece of accompanying exposition. None of it's so terrible as to insult your intelligence, but it's all so unremarkable that it becomes tedious by sheer volume.
Once you've finally buttoned past all that dialog into the interactive portion of the package, the core concepts of Nights of Azure are pretty neat. Arnice controls much like any action-RPG protagonist. You've got a light combo attack that can chain into a finishing strike with a heavy attack, as well as blocking and dodging maneuvers. You can also use a bit of your slowly-regenerating SP meter to execute a flashy special move.
But you'll be using SP far more often to summon Servans, little AI-controlled party members that fight alongside you. You can have up to four Servans summoned at any time, built from a deck you put together between expeditions, and each creature has a specific role in battle. Your early party includes a tree guy who soaks up damage, a healing pixie, and high-damage sword-wielding dinosaur that occasionally inflicts bleed effects on enemies. You don't have direct control over any of these support creatures, aside from choosing when to spend their SP on a burst ability, which includes things like drawing enemies toward a tank or getting a full-party HP restore from a healer.
The Servans might draw some Pokémon comparisons—or any number of other monster-taming RPGs—but with only about 20 monsters to unlock those comparisons are limited. What the creatures lack in variety they make up for in party customizability. It's obviously important to ensure diverse roles on your team, and as you equip, level up, and feed your Servans various items their stats will grow and they'll unlock bonus abilities that benefit the party as a whole. Eventually, you'll unlock skills that allow you to have multiple parties equipped, which you can switch between in the field—at the admittedly significant SP cost of summoning them. Certain creatures have elemental strengths or other, different weaknesses, so having varied abilities on hand is important.
Managing those parties also offers another benefit, as certain combinations of Servans will allow Arnice to transform into various more powerful forms once a certain meter is filled. Each form falls into standard RPG archetypes—tank, damage, support—but any of them can change the course of a particularly pitched battle.
But while there's depth to be found in the core action, the level design keeps that depth from being evident. Your fiend hunting takes place at night, which in practical terms means that all excursions come with a fifteen minute time limit. In that time you'll be exploring a handful of levels, seeking out a quest item or a boss to fight, and fighting static collections of enemies along the way. You'll be revisiting stages again and again with minimal changes on each visit, the only real difference being the occasional bits of story progress that unlock new paths to new locations.
It's not bad, but it's very, very repetitive, and even in the relatively early hours of the game the grind is becoming a serious opponent to forward progress. The depth of party building gets lost as you execute the same handful of combos against the same handful of enemies in the same handful of levels, and the slow trickle of new abilities isn't enough to keep things fresh. It's not exactly as if the story's going to keep you coming back, either.
Nights of Azure came out back in March as a PS4 exclusive, at least in the West. A PC version has just hit Steam, and that's what I've been playing. It looks good, it plays smooth, and it hasn't crashed, which I thought is all that I could ask for from a PC port. Unfortunately, it turns out there's a bit more you might want. All the button prompts are marked for Xbox One controllers whether you're playing with a gamepad or keyboard, which will be a source of frustration if you're looking to play this in a traditionally PC kind of way. The interface is very much designed for a controller, buttons have to be remapped from the launcher, and even then there's a very important missing feature: an “exit to desktop” button. Yes, you have to alt-tab out of the game to quit. That's no good.
This is the most difficult of games to critique: no particularly damning criticism to make, nor any especially noteworthy praise to indulge in. The worst I can say is that Nights of Azure is kinda boring, but given the volume of truly excellent RPGs you could be playing instead, that might just be the worst critique I can offer.
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