Nights of Azure PC Review
It may have taken a long while, but more and more Japanese companies are gradually following the trend of releasing their console-exclusive games to PC, potentially finding a new market where previously-niche titles can gain a larger audience. After all, there’s nothing Steam users love more than discounted anime games, especially ones featuring buxom lesbian warriors.
Nights of Azure originally received some attention for being one of the first (and still few) games this generation to feature a blatantly yuri (“lesbian”) protagonist. Developer Gust is typically known for their Atelier series, spanning numerous sequels and spinoffs across most of the Playstation’s console history, which feature JRPG-centric but otherwise lighthearted storylines. Nights of Azure features a notably darker premise with more adult themes, including the romance between its two principle heroines. Players take on the role of Arnice, a holy knight who works for the Curia organization to hunt down demons, despite harboring demonic blood herself due to her half-breed heritage. Her primary mission is to oversee the safety of Lilysee, the newly appointed Saint who must seal away the Nightlord, ruler of the demons. Lilysee also happens to be an old friend of Arnice’s, which spurs an emotional conflict where she must decide between her duty or her own personal desires.
Let’s cut to the chase: Nights of Azure is not subtle about its romantic depiction between the two characters, nor is it handled as classily as it wants its audience to believe. Both girls, particularly Lilysee, possess heaving bosoms that jiggle at the slightest gesture, and both are often depicted in scantily-clad attire. Despite being an all-important Saint with an enormous duty to fulfill, Lilysee also doubles as Arnice’s maid (at her own insistence), which results in lots of trademark anime comedy, such as clumsily dropping plates, cooking unappealing dishes and, for some reason, learning to speak the language of cats.
There are also several romantically-spurred scenes, such as sharing a bed together, ballroom dancing, tearful embraces….about the only thing missing is a hot springs scene, as they apparently wanted to save that for the sequel. Inclusivity in videogames is always appreciated, but it seems rather obvious who the real target audience is here. In all fairness, Nights of Azure does handle the subject material far more tastefully than the more recent pandering releases like Valkyrie Drive (do not google that at work, or with an open door for that matter), and the soundtrack is especially worth praise for its variety: an equal mix of sweeping piano melodies and hard rock action, when appropriate.
Speaking of action, Nights of Azure’s main gameplay is real-time action mixed with semi-controllable AI party members, a trend more and more RPGs are following. In Azure’s case, players directly control Arnice, who has the basic repertoire of light and heavy attacks mixed with screen-clearing special moves, but is also accompanied by a party of demonic servants called…Servans. As unoriginal as their name might be, their usefulness in battle is invaluable: each Servan takes up one of four button slots associated with them, and while they attack enemies independently, they can also be commanded to unleash their trademark abilities with the assigned button press. Each Servan falls into a category that defines their role on the field, from close-range Servans that get right into the action to long-range creatures that attack comfortably from a distance. There are even support Servans that do not attack at all, but instead focus on healing allies. Should a Servan fall in battle, they’re out of commission until their cooldown timer resets.
In theory, the game would have players mix and match their Servans in order to create the most useful party arrangement. In truth, Nights of Azure’s heavy emphasis on hack-and-slashing means that just about any combination will do, so long as the characters are leveled up and geared appropriately. Just like the story itself, the combat pretends to be deep but is quite simplistic, not to mention grindy; Most missions require players to reach a certain part of the map, which means mowing down lots of enemies just to get from Point A to Point B. This is made significantly more frustrating with the lack of a mini-map to point out which exit leads to the right destination, not to mention that every time players enter a stage they are given a time limit that forces them to leave once it’s over.
Mercifully, there is a checkpoint system in the form of the Hotel, which acts as the main headquarters. Once inside the Hotel, numerous micromanagement options become available, from customizing Servan loadouts, accepting sidequests (which usually just involve turning in a specific item), interacting with the other NPCs, and even entering Arnice’s dreamscape where she and a ghost assuming the form of Lilysee wear scantily clad undergarments to level up. No, that last part was not made up, and yes, it is essential to learn new abilities.
Despite its anime-heavy plotlines and aesthetics (and B-tier anime, at that), there is a certain charm to Nights of Azure’s presentation, and the main romance is developed nicely throughout the story despite its pandering elements. It’s just a shame that for all its variety in collecting and strengthening Servans, acquiring new weapons and skills for Arnice and numerous quests and bonus material (including unlockable short stories told entirely through text), the main crux of the game is repetitive and dull button-mashing just short of a Musou title. The PC version also follows the trend of other Japanese-ported games by not making full use of the platform, requiring some inner tinkering just to get a resolution higher than 720p (though in fairness the configuration is easy and painless).
In the end, Nights of Azure tries to prioritize style over substance, which should be enough to gain the attention of its target audience, but a bit more tightening up of the latter would have been preferable. Whether the grinding gameplay is enough to enjoy a saccharine sweet girl/girl romance plot will depend on the player’s tolerance, not to mention their own priorities for a game like this.