A tale of two women’s intertwined fates. The JRPG Developed by Gust and Published by Koei Tecmo Nights of Azure has been recently released on PC and Playstation 4 here in the west after being released 2 years earlier in Japan in 2015 on Playstation 3 and PS Vita. The company Gust has developed numerous games over the years and has been responsible for the creation of a series which is very popular in Japan called the atelier series and has been developers for the series since its initial release back in 2004. In 2011 Koei Tecmo bought out Gust in which Koei Tecmo became Gusts parent company but still allowed them to keep developing on their existing game series and any new series. Koei Tecmo itself is a big company formed in 2009 from a merger between the companies Koei and Tecmo. It has many subsidiary companies including Team Ninja who are the creators of the dead or alive series, Omega Force who own and create the Dynasty warriors series as well as other less known companies.
The Games Story takes Place on an island called Rusewal that has become a dangerous place at night due to a battle that took place ages before between the saint and the Nightlord the result of which caused the citizens of the island to become demons. With The Nightlord returning he must be stopped by any means necessary. The game begins by following 2 women travelling to the island via separate boats the main character Arnice who is a knight and her friend Lilysse who is a priest. From the very beginning of the game there is a certain chemistry between these two friends that suggests a love story and over the course of the game the player will get to explore this relationship. Once the women are united and after the characters exchange greetings they travel towards the hotel that will serve as the player’s hub throughout the game. On the way to the hotel the player will be thrown into various tutorials in order to acquaint them with the games Servan battle system. The games main system of battle involves some hack and slash combo based combat while adding in various creatures referred to as Servans these creatures will aid the player in battle by providing various forms of aid such as healing, taunting, trapping, attacking and more. The game includes many different Servans that can be added to the player’s party and later on multiple parties can be created and switched between on the fly. The downside to this combat is that while the player is also involved in combat it begs wonder if whether or not the player character is actually needed. At points it feels as though the player character does little to no damage and sometimes feels as though the enemies aren’t even being hit as any combos performed by mixing the X and Y buttons have no effect on enemies. This also works in reverse as at points the player will be hit by enemy attacks for which there will be no reaction from the main character apart from a health bar decrease. Using Special attacks are the only certain way to know damage is being done however there is only one special per weapon type and transformation form and using them gets very repetitive. After reaching the hub area a lot more options and customisation opens up to the player allowing them to equip themselves and the Servans with various items with different stat changes and effects. These items can be found throughout the game with varying stat boosts. The player can also level themselves up after a certain point in the story then continue to level themselves up as long as they have the right amount of blood which acts as a secondary form of currency. The main hub also allows the player access to the shop to buy items, the arena to take on challenges and access multiple side stories, quests and events.
The game graphics have an animated design to them not unlike that of the majority of other Koei Tecmos games. The game’s character models are very well designed and the Servans that feature in the game have a lot of variances in them. The main characters design is very unique and interesting and if it weren’t for the games hair and cloth physics I would leave it at that. However the physics of the hair and cloth ruin the design of the main character by being too intense and makes the main characters hair and clothes appear as though they are constantly being swept through a wind tunnel when running and giving the actual model a juddering effect even when only applying the slightest movement. There is room for improvement when it comes to animations for the main character as there is no variation between the animation for running and the animation for sprinting although there is a variation in speeds which makes the character feel as though they are constantly skating along the surfaces of the floors. The graphics of the surroundings in the streets feel lifeless and faded, while it makes sense that there would be no activity from any NPC’s with every exploration being set at night the enemy activity seems barren and unthreatening for a supposedly world ending event. The streets are completely empty in a town that’s supposedly filled with demons, hopefully if Gust decides to expand this universe more could be made to make this land of demons a more deadly and unnatural place by night. The draw distance on the main streets of the game could also do with some improving as scenery items will randomly appear and disappear in a very obvious way as the player moves towards and away from them. The Hub area has been designed better than the outside its use of bright colours and ambience feels inviting and safe and with the servans you own and other NPC’s moving around it feels like a livelier place even if the characters just spawn in different places. Another thing to note about the hub is that while the outside is plagued with a very noticeable draw distance problem the inside doesn’t suffer from this problem.
The games sound is easily the best part of the game it has been composed by three people who have worked on previous games in gusts Atelier series. The composers have given each area has its own unique feel through the different types of background music used. The hub area features some softer music that sets a relaxing mood before each battle. Outside of the main hub each other area includes a theme of music befitting that area which creates a sense of uniqueness to each area you visit. Even the main streets in the game that lead to the areas give a sense of impending battle which does add to the combat. The voice acting is all in Japanese with English subtitles this has been done well as each situation is acted with the right level of enthusiasm and tone that you would expect. A lot of the situations in the game have been acted out as though a part of an anime which includes some moments that have been clearly acted out more enthusiastically than others in order to put more emphasis into certain points of the dialogue like humour or exhaustion. These types of additions to the dialogue adds to the story telling by breaking up the serious parts and adding parts that are lighter which provides breaks from the main attraction of the story while also adding more depth to the establishment of the characters personalities. This adds to the story by allowing the players insight into how the characters think and how they react with one another.
In the end Nights of Azure does have a lot of potential to be a solid JRPG. However, if Gust decides to continue with this series some parts of the game need to be addressed. The first thing that needs improving is the combat mechanics either the main character should take the backseat and only provide support to its servans or they should work in tandem together more to build up some serious damage and combos that feel powerful and they could be changed so that using different servan combinations could create a chain attack that could keep building depending which servans were used when and where. Another thing that needs to be changed in order to make this game work as a series is the areas themselves the game should be explorable at both day and night this could then create some contrast between these areas and allow the player to see the transformation that makes the areas so dangerous at night. Nights of Azure has an average story completion time of 15 hours but completing and obtaining everything in the game will require around 40 hours of play time.
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