Review: Nights of Azure

Imagine living in a world where everyone has a curfew that begins at sundown.  Now imagine that the reason this severe restriction on the potential for nocturnal mischief making is the result of some blue blood from a demon that causes people to turn into monsters at night.  This is the setting for Nights of Azure, an action RPG that centers around Arnice and Lilysse, two friends with an implied sapphic relationship.

Priestess Lilysse has been chosen by the Curia to become the next Saint, while the player-controlled protagonist Arnice is a half demon/half human.  Arnice is not a woman to be trifled with.  In addition to her combat prowess, certain perks come with her demonic lineage.  She is able to use her blood to change the shape of her weapon.  For example, if her initial sword is not to the player’s liking, the first unlockable form is a pair of twin knives.  Being able to change your weapon like a blood based T-1000 has its uses, but if that was the totality of her powers it would be something of a disappointment.

While not initially available, various demonic forms open up throughout the game and can be activated once a certain gauge is filled up by killing enough enemies.  These forms have different powers, and they can be very useful in turning the tide in your favor if a boss battle is going south.  Arnice is also skilled in blood rituals, so when she acquires certain items called fetishes she can spend blood to actualize them, making them become Servans which is this particular game’s term for NPC creatures that assist you in battle.  The Servans come in a variety of forms and serve different functions.  These include but are not limited to melee combat, healing, and laying spiderwebs to slow down enemy movement. The cost of a blood ritual is naturally paid in blood points, which is the most valuable resource that is collected in this game and like the American Red Cross it seems there is a perpetual critical blood shortage.  In addition to being the necessary consumable for creating Servans, it is also the currency used to purchase items at various demon run kiosks.  Lastly, blood serves the function of experience points whenever it is time to level up Arnice.

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Blood management is crucial, and there is never enough of it, especially for someone who suffers from a game completion based form of OCD like the writer of this review does.  Thankfully, there is no shortage of activities to feed that disorder.  There are numerous side quests that can be taken from Simon, the concierge at the hotel that serves as home base in the game.  These can range from finding lost items to killing X number of a certain creature.

The promotional artwork and character design for this game make it easy to dismiss it as simply being a breast fest with no appeal beyond fan service, but doing so would be a mistake.  Don’t get me wrong, this game does utilize sexualized imagery and skimpy outfits, and as far as boob physics are concerned can we say holy jiggling J-cups Batman?  Not just during actual running around and combat, but in cutscenes focusing on dialog to advance the plot; even if Lilysse is standing still her global endowments continue to move on their own in a hypnotic, rhythmic manner, like cascading waves of the ocean.  The result is actually more comedic than arousing.

Looking past sexploitative marketing and design, Nights of Azure can hold its own among action RPGs.  The combat is fast paced and a joy thanks to responsive and intuitive controls.  Control can be a concern when combat is real time action and there are four NPCs that can be given direction in addition to worrying about the actual character that has to be controlled, but the developers did a good job of making their system of control a breeze to work with.  Visually it looks like how a game with an anime style art direction should with varied enemy design and large, interesting boss creatures.  It should be taken into consideration that while this is a PS4 exclusive in the States, it is a port that is also on the Vita and PS3 in Japan.   This factors in to rating the visuals as being medium quality for PS4, but high for PS3 standards.

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The soundtrack is impressive.  The hotel scenes have soft music one would expect to hear in a lounge while enjoying cocktails, while there is more guitar rock infused, faster music when Arnice is out fiend hunting.  The story of how the demons brought about their curse to the world and the subsequent mission to put an end to it unfolds in a way that is able to maintain interest in continuing the game.  The complex friendship between Lilysee and Arnice adds an extra layer of gravity to the choices both women are faced with in the consequences their actions could have.  There is no audio English language track for this game.  The spoken dialog is Japanese with English subtitles.

Because of the curse, each venture to go fiend hunting has a time limit, though this is suspended during boss fights.  The hotel serves as a central hub, and as more areas are explored more travel destinations open up on the map.  There are doors that transport Arnice back to the hotel located throughout town, so once a new location is found it is easy to fast travel to wherever the player desires.

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Closing Comments:

Nights of Azure is a solid action RPG.  The large number and variety of Servans add a strategic element to the real-time combat.  The well-crafted story and soundtrack create an enjoyable backdrop for a fleshed-out gaming experience.  Optional activities, such as the battle arena in the hotel basement and side quests, provide additional content to power up your character as well as take a break from the main questline.  At the surface this appears as another sexualized Anime-styled game, but there is a worthwhile experience beneath that packaging.

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Nights of Azure
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