This Week in Games - Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moonby Dustin Bailey,
First Impressions — Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon
You're in the role of Aluche, tasked with ensuring the sacrifice of the titular Bride of the New Moon to ensure a long-dormant demon is sealed away in accordance with prophecy and divine law and all that. There are two problems with your mission. First, the powers that be may be wrong and the sacrifice might actually be what said demon needs to awaken from its slumber, and second, the Bride is actually your beloved childhood friend. What's a loyal pal to do but slay a bunch of monsters while seeking out a way to escape from destiny? That escape from destiny means Aluche's death, but she's quickly resurrected through the power of demon blood, which despite the whole “dark curse” thing imbues her with the powers necessary to fight back against the creatures of the night.
That means hacking and slashing through throngs of monsters, an activity that just barely feels competent here. Attacks come in light and heavy flavors that chain together into scripted combos, but everything has a stiff, sluggish feel that's difficult to stay engaged with. It doesn't help that normal enemies scarcely react to your strikes, never mind the bigger baddies explicitly built to never flinch. It all serves to make fighting feel swampy, like you're simply wading into pools of baddies and then sloshing your way back out again. You might even compare it to a Musou game, but at least the Warriors derivatives are able to make cutting through fields of foes satisfying.
But the action is only half of the action-RPG, and Nights of Azure 2 spices things up with a variety of extra characters to back you up in battles. Servans are still around, and these adorable little monsters will wander around attacking the field, or you can command them directly to make use of their MP for more powerful effects, ranging from flame attacks to time-limited special weapons. You'll also have a human companion with more effective general attacks and a special move that charges when you coordinate your strikes. This stuff adds a little more variety to combat—just enough to distract from the fact that the core of the action isn't that satisfying.
This is all especially dragged down by the fact that you'll be running across the same handful of areas over and over again in order to progress. Even in the first few hours, I've been up and down the same city streets fighting the same array of monsters so many times over, and it hardly appears that this is going to ease up anytime soon. The repetitive nature of the combat might be more easily forgiven if it weren't compounded by the equally repetitious environments.
One mechanic that I did appreciate is also one that'll likely prove the game's most controversial—time limits. Each time you head out from your hotel home base, you're going out for a single night lasting a little over ten minutes to start. Every night that passes brings you a little bit closer to a new moon signalling the return of the demon you're fighting against, but clearing chapters and beating bosses pushes the doomsday clock a little bit further back each time. These mechanics bring a little bit of that Majora's Mask time crunch into the adventure, and even if it doesn't have that whole Groundhog Day thing going on it does add some interest to an otherwise straightforward RPG.
But let's not beat around the bush any longer, because one of Nights of Azure's big draws is its buxom lesbian cast. The previous game was built around the relationship between its leading ladies, and the sequel ratchets up the sexual tension with an affinity system that build bonds between Aluche and her companions, opening up new abilities in combat and additional side stories as those relationships grow. This is by no means Valkyrie Drive, but the love stories between the girls skirt a very weird line between earnest and pandering that can alternately fall on either side—but the absurdity of their costuming choices certainly weights it toward “pandering.”
I'm also not here to do a full tech review, but the game's shaky visuals are distracting enough to warrant mention. It's got the simple cross-gen look you typically associate with PlayStation 4 games also available on Vita—as this one was in Japan—but even with that simplistic appearance it often struggles to keep up with the action. The problems are at their worst in the game's opening forest stage, but they never completely disappear, and that's just on the PS4. I shudder to think what the Switch version looks like, much less the Japan-only Vita edition.
It's tough to be too down on Nights of Azure 2, since every individual part is basically competent. It's just that so few of its pieces shine, and the repetitive grind of its combat and environments gets to be a drag even just a few hours in. I can't imagine it easing up in the hours to come.
TOM NOOK HAS BEEN GRANTED THE POWER OF MICROTRANSACTIONS IN ANIMAL CROSSING: POCKET CAMP
The long-awaited Animal Crossing mobile has finally been revealed, and it looks more or less like an Animal Crossing game. Here's the dark secret about I'm about to lay on you all: Animal Crossing was always a selection of daily login bonuses, real-time energy meters, and busywork collectables. That's not a dig at the series—it's an adorable, relaxing combination of all those things—but it shouldn't be surprising how easily they slot into a traditional mobile game.
Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp has you as a camp manager, building up a public park to attract new anthropomorphic pals to hang out and have a good time. You're still able to collect fish, bugs, and fruit, and the animals around will want specific critters to trade for crafting materials you'll use to build new camp amenities and furniture. You can probably already see the loop by which this game will steal your every spare moment. It seems that the avatars of other real players will occasionally hop in your camp, and you can visit the camps of your own friends for all that hot socialization.
It's free and supported by microtransactions. A ticket currency can either replace a construction resource, or speed up build times for amenities. (At least it's better than the traditional Tom Nook method of forcing you to buy a thing then making you pay back the loan in increments.) Pocket Camp is scheduled for a wide launch in late November, but for some reason it's already available in Australia. My understanding is that you can create an Aussie account on iOS or Android to get at it, but this won't link to your main Nintendo account unless that's also in the appropriate region. Proceed as you dare.
Atlus teased a new SMT title back at the Switch reveal event in January, and it turns out the game they were teasing is full-on Shin Megami Tensei V. But maybe I shouldn't imply that they've stopped “teasing,” because the trailer is a true teaser filled with vague depictions of death and destruction in present day.
The only real detail we've got is a Famitsu interview translated by Siliconera where producer Kazuyuki Yamai says the game is set to take on the characteristics of the times, addressing the uneasiness of the world in current days. An apocalyptic Tokyo overrun by demons wreaking havoc seems to pretty accurately capture the tone of life in 2017, so I'd say they're nailing it so far.
This is also Altus's first Unreal Engine game and their first Switch title, both of which are pretty interesting details. The reticence of many Japanese developers to hop in on third-party engines was a contributing factor to their perceived decline in the last generation, and it's terrific to see them increasingly embrace these development tools. And the last few SMTs have been DS and 3DS exclusives, so it might finally be time for the Switch to take up its destined position as the handheld successor we already knew it was meant to be.
A GAME YOU WANT AND A GAME YOU DON'T BOTH HAVE RELEASE DATES
There have been more great games this year than one person could ever possibly play—insert my lament over not finishing Persona 5 here—and now publishers are already stacking the first part of 2018 with even more big titles. There is good news, though, since at least one of those titles is something you're probably at least vaguely annoyed about.
The one the world is unequivocally excited about is, of course, Dragon Ball FighterZ, which will be out in the West on January 26, and I now realize that date is far closer than I'm comfortable with. Pre-orders get you early access to the impending open beta (oh yeah, there'll be an open beta), and it seems there'll be a season pass with eight extra characters because of course there will be.
But now let's talk about Metal Gear Survive, which will release February 20 for a (somewhat) budget price of $40. I still haven't worked through my feelings on Survive. On one hand, Konami is a shambling corpse of a company wracked by absolutely horrifying allegations of employee abuse. On the other hand, the core of playing MGS5 and the Fox Engine are so good I need more of it. I love Metal Gear, and I love Hideo Kojima's particular brand of insanity, but suggesting nobody else could make a compelling game in that universe is some hero-worshipping nonsense. But there's this icky stench around modern Konami that's impossible to escape.
SUMMON NIGHT 6: LOST BORDERS|
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: October 31
MSRP: $59.99 / $44.99
What can I say? What can I possibly say about the apparently impending release of Summon Night 6? I could say that, at last, a long dark chapter in our history is about to come to a close. But I dunno, they could delay it again.
SUPER MARIO ODYSSEY|
Release Date: October 27
Not only did we get a massive new mainline Zelda this year, we're also about to get our hands on the next big Mario—truly, an embarrassment of riches from Nintendo. And Super Mario Odyssey looks to be living up to its lineage, returning to the more exploratory platforming of 64 and Sunshine populated by giant open levels filled with secrets to uncover. Also: Mayor Pauline of New Donk City. That sentence alone is enough to sell me.
The 27th is also the date of a couple of huge Western releases, with Assassin's Creed Origins bringing back the murder-themed franchise after a two-year hiatus and Wolfenstein: The New Order continuing that series' three decade tradition of messing up some Nazis.
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