Nights of Azure in one hand is a very competent and approachable Japanese Hack ‘n’ Slash action game with some clever RPG elements. On the other hand, it is an attempt to tell a contemporary love story between two female leads and is at times actually handled with some grace. That said, any hope of a grown-up, engaging story vanishes in a flurry of gratuitous bikini shots, giggling and wobbly boobs.
The island of Rusewell has fallen into despair since a mighty evil was slain, causing the night to be overrun by demons. A demonic hunter is called for and the main protagonist, Arnice, arrives to deal with the crisis. On her arrival she meets her long lost friend Lilysse, a priestess who’s destiny is to stop the demons through self-sacrifice. (To say anymore would be spoiler territory) It’s made clear early on the pair care for each other. Even with the often awkward Anime story clichés aside, a subtext of love between the pair is always being eluded too.
However, instead of acknowledging the relationship developed during the game, and having a mature approach to the connection between the two women. The interactions in cut-scenes and couples obvious progression into love, is always at odds with the cringworthy, campy titillation. Suffice to say, if your better-half walks in while you are playing Nights of Azure, be prepared for the questions about the sheer amount of breast jiggle in EVERY scene.
The gameplay is a Devil May Cry-esque flurry of swords and juggling, but without the depth. The vast majority of the combo based combat is pretty easy, I don’t think I even used the ‘Block’ button for the first few hours. Nights of Azure “feels” like a fast game, always pushing the player forward to the next fun encounter. It all starts in a typical RPG hub, a huge Hotel at the centre of Rusewell Island. Missions are obtained and Arnice has to venture out to clear demons and complete tasks.
Earning demon blood (essentially XP) used to level up, buy skills or unlock ‘Servens’. The Servens are a sort of “combat-buddie” and are a highlight, harkening back to some great RPGs from the PS2 era. Servens take the form of wee monsters or characters who help Arnice in battle with skills including healing, attacking or taunting. Each of the 20 or so which are available through the game, can be levelled and perked to complement each other. For such a simple game, Nights of Azure has a heap of subsystems going on, with choices at every turn about how best to spend you precious demon blood (XP) causing a constant push/pull on players.
Slashing through basic demon hordes does become repetitive, but always driving the player on, is the highlight at the end of each mission, the boss fight. These are far more impressive than the run of the mill missions. More difficult and requiring smart use of the Servens, to defeat some massive enemies. The bosses and character models are suitably over the top for an Anime title, but the rest of the game world itself feels a bit sparse. Suffice to say, the graphics processors of my PS4 where not being pushed playing Nights of Azure.
This is not a game for Non-Anime fans. It’s at times out right uncomfortable due to the design decision of creating an unabashedly voyeuristic experience. Sure cultural differences have to be considered, as Japanese Anime has a long history of clever narratives mixed with hyper-sexualisation. But for a western gamer like me in my 30s, it’s off-putting to say the least. Sex may sell, but in this case it limits the audience for this great wee action RPG. However, it’s important these niche titles keep getting made and Nights of Azure does have brilliant core mechanics, that any fan of Anime and …….subtitles, will enjoy.