While eternal night might be a favorable concept for party-goers and people trying to avoid shopping crowds, in Nights of Azure it means monsters and the end of humanity. A hack & slash title with RPG elements, this title from Koei Tecmo and Gust places you in the shoes of Arnice, a demon hunting knight granted powers from her half-demon heritage. At the beginning of the game, Arnice catches up with Lilysse, an old friend and priestess who has been chosen to seal a demonic being called the Nightlord, a creature who seeks to bring eternal night to the world. Upon his defeat 800 years prior to the start of the game, his blood rained on the world. Those who were exposed to this “Blue Blood” became creatures of death and destruction, who thrived on the darkness of knight.
Arnice, with her demonic powers, is able to collect the blue blood from the enemies she defeats and use it to enhance her abilities. She is also able to summon creatures called “Servans,” who aid her in various ways throughout the game. These Servans are Pokemon-like creatures of various types, who can aid in battle, heal the party, or assist in numerous other ways. By collecting Fetishes, doll-like items collected by opening treasure chests, defeating enemies, or simply purchasing them, Arnice can collect and summon new creatures throughout the game. She can equip and summon up to four at once, leaving room to create new strategies as the need arise for harder fights.
The Servan collection was one of my favorite parts of the game. While much of the collecting happens by chance, I found myself revisiting areas in the hopes that I might pick up additional characters to aid my party. They also functioned extremely smoothly during combat. You are able to choose a primary Servan character, who is automatically summoned when you leave the safety of your hotel. By utilizing your SP, you are able to summon additional Servans one by one. Each of these Servans attack or take action automatically, so there is no need to micromanage them; however, you are able to command them to complete what is called a “Burst” move. These burst moves can be anything from a more powerful attack to a healing skill that heals the entire party. Characters can use these skills a limited number of times prior to needing to recharge SP, so planning your attacks is necessary.
Additionally, combat from Arnice herself was quite satisfying. Her basic fight controls were very straightforward, meaning that I could build up combo chains with relative ease. Factored in with the ability to transform into a demon mode after filling a transformation gauge, and I was left with combat that, while simple to control, was surprisingly deep. However, the lock-on and camera could be frustrating from time to time, especially when surrounded by large waves of enemies. Additionally, use of the triggers for either transformation or controlling Servans meant that there was a bit of a learning curve; I would occasionally transform when I meant to use a burst move. Overall, these were things I overcame with a bit of practice, but it was a source of frustration early in the game.
The story of the game was equally as engaging, with much of the plot centered on the relationship between Arnice and Lilysse. Friends prior to the start of the game, they reunite on a mission to an uncharted island that is plagued by monsters under the cover of night. After being reunited, orders come in for Lilysse to seal the Nightlord, a process which requires the sacrifice of her life. Arnice is ordered to protect Lilysse in the meantime, and ensure her sacrifice. This leaves Arnice conflicted, as this means sacrificing an old friend. A plot point you would expect to be a twist later in the game, this all comes to fruition at the beginning of the game, leaving players to experience a tale of friendship and bonding, as well as a heartfelt struggle for Arnice to find a means to save her friend.
The visual style of the game was a bit hit-or-miss. The character design was absolutely fantastic, with detailed 3D anime style creating unique looking characters that are distinctive and fresh. However, since the game was originally released in Japan on the PS3, the US localization could have used a fresh coat of paint when upgraded to the Playstation 4. While the dark tone of the game was a unique contrast to the bright, vibrant characters, it was marred by dull backgrounds without much detail.
My biggest frustration with the game had to be the pacing. Your starting point for your missions is the hotel you call home. By leaving the hotel, you have access to the town map, which starts with very few areas unlocked. By completing additional story events, you gain the ability to access other areas of town, which are locked to you otherwise. When leaving the hotel, you have a fifteen minute time limit to complete whatever objective you were attempting, or finding another gate to the hotel, which allows you to quick jump between the areas after finding them. Failure to do so results in you being immediately returned to the hotel, only to try again. Items that you pick up while outside, including blue blood, fetishes, and gear, can not be used or equipped until returning to the hotel. This means that you can not level up or add new Servans to your party without going back. This made an otherwise fast paced game feel slow and boring at times, which is frustrating as I enjoyed the game as a whole.
While not perfect, Nights of Azure was a solid game. Extremely satisfying combat along with a deep party system kept me entertained, even through the abysmal slowdowns I had to go through by constantly returning to the hotel. The graphics weren’t spectacular, but the character models were surprisingly well done in contrast. Above all, however, was a story that kept me entertained, engaged, and rooting for the friendship between the two primary characters.