Nights of Azure 2 Review – A Tale of Potential
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4 (reviewed)
Publisher: Koei Tecmo
Release: 24th October 2017 (NA) / 27th October 2017 (EU)
2017 is truly a blessed year for fans of Koei Tecmo´s developer GUST, after the pretty good Blue Reflection now comes Nights of Azure 2, only ~2 months after its japanese release. Even though they couldn´t be more different with Nights of Azure being a real-time hack´n Slash series, the first one was a damn fine game lacking in the typical story departments. Unfortunately, the long-awaited sequel suffers from the same problems and even some more.
Set several dozens years after the events of the first game, Nights of Azure 2 tells the story of Aluche, a young knight of the Curia. In a world where the night means an everlasting flood of monsters, the Curia tries to protect the world from its end. Yet, every few years the almighty Moon Queen returns to the world to push it into an eternal sleep, forging a paradise for the demons. In order to save humanity and the world itself, the Curia sacrifices a young girl, the Bride of Time, to the Moon Queen, satisfying her for the next years. This time, the Bride of Time is Liliana, Aluche´s best friend. Naturally, she can´t allow that, forcing her to turn against The Curia and side with an organization called The Order, before even worse events start to unfold.
Honestly, Nights of Azure 2´s base story, told in the first 20 minutes or so, doesn´t sound too bad, offering a dark but interesting world, a nice villain set-up and even a plot-twist at the end of the prologue. Unfortunately, the plot wastes nearly everything of its initial potential, not because it´s a Yuri game at the core but simply because it lacks the most basic sense of storytelling and pacing.
On the one hand the plot itself loses so much speed during its first two hours, it´s unbelievable. Not only is the goal of killing the Moon Queen so simple, foreseeable and unoriginal, that I could play any other JRPG to experience it, the game makes no attempt to give its world an own spin. Organisations like the Curia or Order, demons, monsters, these entities are all shrouded in mysteries or seem so interesting on first glance but slowly disappear throughout the game. At the end I didn´t know much more about anything in this world except the female companions. However, the worst part is probably the evolution of Aluche, the main protagonist, and the awful plot twist handling.
Nearly the whole world spins around Aluche´s rise to strength and how she changes on her journey, in theory. In practice she gets one unique attribute at the beginning and that´s it, the rest is taken care of the evolution system, which offers nothing but number improvements. Honestly, there are no significant changes during her journey and the moments that could have an impact are thrown aside in seconds. Every idea or twist is either forgotten or revealed mere minutes after their establishment, as a result nothing feels like it had an impact. At the end, Nights of Azure 2 tried to let me think how strong Aluche had become but I, as a player, felt no change. The story simply can´t nail it´s one necessary point. Maybe it´s because the main plot only takes around ~12 hours to complete but everything feels so rushed.
On the other hand, the optional Yuri scenes and possible relations with the different female companions are actually pretty alright, especially compared to the main plot. It shouldn´t be a surprise, that GUST´s sequel relies exclusively on female characters, with nearly all having an affinity meter and certain events attached to it, allowing Aluche to choose her “true” love. From swimming pool scenes to quite adult ones, Nights of Azure 2 doesn´t fear naked skin at certain points, just look at their clothes. Some side missions even revolve around their past or even about a certain well-known character from the first game. The different girls may not be the most unusual ones but manage to stay on this thin line between cliché and originality. Just the right amount to make the affinity system and their feelings work. I actually enjoyed it way more to interact with them, than playing through the story.
Where GUST outdone themselves once again is the artstyle and presentation. Nights of Azure 1 was already a very beautiful game, same with Blue Reflection or especially the Atelier series, Nights of Azure 2 features their characteristic mix between absolutely gorgeous lighting design, character design and typical JRPG looks. The fact it´s a much darker game about death, demons and a desperate world makes it even more impressive how beautiful this game can be at certain areas. The gorgeous soundtrack offering everything from choir like tracks to captivating instrumentals. Mary Skelter was another prime example for a gorgeous portrayal of such themes.
Sadly, even this seemingly perfect aspect is flawed by a pretty bad technical implementation. In short, the game doesn´t run very well. During simple exploration it calmly sits at 30fps but as soon as a few enemies start to pop up, the fps take a heavy hit, going down into the 20-25fps zone, at least that´s how it felt, I have no way of actually proving it. The more enemies, the more it´s going towards the 20s. Considering it´s a fast paced action RPG, I would definitely recommend grabbing the PC version, even though Koei´s ports aren´t the best. Switch codes aren´t sent out yet but I will update it as soon as I have it in my hands.
Speaking of gameplay, yes, Nights of Azure 2 is, as its predecessor, a real-time action RPG. Featuring everything from a combo system to special skills, mixed with typical RPG elements like status effects or even dungeon crawling. The basic combat is easy enough to get with its easy to execute combos, occasional special attacks and AI controlled companions, of which the Servans can transform into weapons most of the time. Each weapon has its own combo set etc. There´s not much outstanding, except the time limitation of nearly every other weapon than the basic one, forcing the player to stick with one weapon most of the time, leading to some repetition later on.
The more interesting thing is the level design, being heavily influenced by dungeon crawlers. Every level is divided into different sections with occasional respawn points and limited by time. The game feels like a slight 3D dungeon crawler. Unfortunately, the mission design itself isn´t the best. While main missions are the typical “kill these enemies” or “go there”, side quests, even the ones required to trigger earlier mentioned Yuri elements, follow this pattern. Variation is nonexistent and since the whole game has a mission time limit and a general time limit, hence the motivation to pursue said side quests is awfully low, even for naked skin.
Last but not least, the upgrade system, nearly as generic as the missions. By gaining levels Aluche and her human companions gain the usual stat boost and Aluche can gain heavy buffs like 7% more attack power! Yes, most of the skills are such bland incomprehensible buffs, letting character development seem like a such an irrelevant thing.
Without a doubt, Nights of Azure 2 isn´t a perfect game, suffering from a heavily flawed story, weak development and a pretty mediocre performance. Surprisingly, I strangely enjoyed my 17 hours with it. Surely there were phases where I cried over its unused potential, had a strange feeling in my stomach when the fps dumped again but despite all that, the stunning visuals along the surprisingly fluid and well working combat offer an enjoyable but not particularly great dive into a fascinating world.
[A Review Code was provided by Koei Tecmo Europe]