REVIEW / Nights of Azure (PS4)

 

If it seems like I have been reviewing a lot of Koei Tecmo America games as of late, your perception would be correct as the studio has been on somewhat of a tare lately releasing eight games during March and April alone.  Their latest release out of GUST studios, Nights of Azure, is a cool RPG set is a world that is infested with fiends.  You take on the role of Arnice, a knight of great skill and power, who is assisted by her friend and priestess Lilysse in a quest to rid the land of roving bands of fiends. What you will discover early on is that the solution to their fiend problem doesn’t just involve defeating them but may hinge on one of them giving up their own life.  This is a tragic tale of two friends faced with an impossible decision that will test their loyalty to each other and their vow to protect the people of the kingdom of Ruswal.

 

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Lilysse (left) has agreed to become the Saint, much to Arnice’s dismay for reasons I don’t want to spoil. They have been friends for a long time and this plays largely into how the two will proceed in the game.

 

The story in Nights of Azure is typical and nothing terribly original.  There once was a demon called the Nightlord who threatened the land and a warrior known as the Saint was sent to destroy it.  In doing so, the Saint spilled the blood of the demon which fell to earth and turned the people and animals alike into the fiends that now roam the land.  While Arnice was indeed one of those touched and cursed by the demons blood, she miraculously has the ability to use the blood of the demon to collect the blood of the fiends in order to use it as a weapon.  In addition to getting help from the priestess and friend Lilysse, Arnice has the ability to contract lesser demons called Servans to assist her in combat in order to rid the land of the demons taint.

 

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Servans can be swapped in and out at the push of a button. In addition, you can create decks that can also be swapped out depending on how you want to attack or the transformation that Arnice can use.

 

All of the typical RPG tropes can be found in Nights of Azure such as weapons, items to buff your stats, a store where you can buy and sell those items as well as a central hub where you can store your items, rest and recuperate and interact with the other characters that will assist you with your quests.  While engaging in combat with Arnice is typical hack-and-slash, where the fun comes in is when you enlist the services of the many different Servans that you will come in contact with on your quests.  You can have up to four Servans accompany you during your outings and it is up to you to choose those that will complement your style of play from melee fighters and ranged attackers to healers and magic users.  How you compose your team is completely up to you.

 

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In addition to giving Servans items to buff their stats, they will level up and gain new abilities.

 

Many of the items that you find on your quests need to be used to buff your Servans so that they are able to dole out the maximum amount of punishment to the fiends that you will encounter or provide the greatest amount of support to enable you to make it from one area of the game to the next.  This feature in and of itself isn’t anything new in the RPG genre, but there is a secondary ability that opens up for Arnice that is dependent on the types of Servans that you have in your party and their current abilities.  Depending on the Servans in your group, Arnice can transform into several different, more power forms that she will need in order to defeat the game’s more powerful enemies.  With the right combinations of Servans in your group, Arnice can transform into a Demon, a Rabbit, a Phantom, an Armor or a Nightmare form.  You must decide which form will be the most effective against the enemy you are currently facing and place the Servans into your group that will make that transformation possible.

 

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In order to transform, you must fill up the Transformation Gauge in the lower left of the screen by defeating smaller enemies.

 

The visuals in Nights of Azure is one aspect that sets it apart from the many other games that Koei Tecmo has released as of late.  It sports a really cool hand-drawn, anime inspired look that is simple in style yet adds a lot of atmosphere to the dreary setting.  The colors of the environments and of the characters themselves are represented in a water-color painting style that gives the game a fun feeling while making the world a little more believable.  The designs of the characters costumes are very detailed and the hand-drawn style helps to accentuate the differences from one character to another.  The demon forms that Arnice can transform into are some of the best designs I have seen in a game in a long time and are definitely a highlight of this game.  In addition, the soundtrack is typically superb and an aspect of Koei Tecmo games that I am always confident will be spectacular.

 

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Many of the areas in the game are in tightly designed corridors that don’t leave a lot of room for exploration.

 

While I loved the hack-and-slash action that Nights of Azure provides as well as the cool Servans party system, the level design leaves a lot to be desired.  This isn’t an open world game and many of the quests were simple “follow the path here, do this and return back here” types of missions.  Levels are very linear and don’t offer the player very many options in the way getting to a particular place on the map the way that the player sees fit.  You travel down simple corridors for most of the areas in the game which I found got to be a little boring at times and took me out of the story.  The jewels in this RPG crown, however, is the Servans system and the incredibly sad story, so if you can put up with a few tedious romps getting from point A to point B, the story is definitely worth sticking around for.

 

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