The night is long and blue.
In recent years, Tecmo Koei has taken new approaches to the content they publish. Well known for their knack of epic hack-and-slash adventures – namely the Dynasty Warriors franchise – Koei began branching out from its safe sagas and released anime influenced titles like One Piece, Dynasty Warriors: Gundam, and Arslan: Warriors of Legend. Nights of Azure, developed by Gust Co. Ltd. – developers behind the Atelier and Ar Tonelico series – finds itself following an anime inspired trend but offering a unique approach to Koei’s tried and true style.
Nights of Azure is a tale following the buxom half-demon, Arnice. She, on a mission from the Curia – a shady church organization – to solve the mysteries on Rusewell Island, teams up with saint and college buddy Lilysse. After humans defeated the Ruler of Night, spilling his blue blood over the world, his legacy remains, transforming those touched by the blood into various demons. Arnice, however, has a certain immunity to the blue blood and can, in fact, utilize it to strengthen herself.
Gameplay in Nights of Azure is very much your typical hack-and-slash set up with a few unique but not quite so additions. The first addition to the standard format is the ability to summon your own demons. To begin, Arnice is given three demons (known as Servan) – an offensive (meant ambiguously) imp, a treant creature, and a fairy healer. As you progress through the title, Arnice can find special items to actualize (or create) new Servan. In game, you can summon up to four Servan (which you must set prior to a stage) at once, and each comes equipped with a unique ‘special’ ability. Additionally, you can equip your Servan with gear and accessories to strengthen their time, health, abilities, and attributes in combat.
Secondly, Nights of Azure allows you to lock on and roll-dodge your way through battles. While this is not particularly new to hack-and-slash games, dodging is a welcome addition to the genre. Unfortunately, roll-dodging comes at the cost of a jump. And let me tell you, not having a jump devastated me for too long. Instead of utilizing the X button to perform a leap, Nights of Azure instead replaced jump with a powerful attack that uses up your SP. I don’t think I would have been as devastated if it didn’t waste my SP, but I often found myself accidentally wasting my power with no enemies in sight.
Those familiar with Koei and the Warriors series know about the musou attack. A musou attack, for those late to the show, is an extremely powerful ability unique to each character that causes massive damage. Nights of Azure doesn’t ditch this idea, but instead of unleashing one powerful attack, Arnice transforms into a demonic beast (with a time limit, of course) that provides a significant increase in attack damage. This was perhaps the freshest idea in Nights of Azure, as it was the only feature I wasn’t exactly expecting.
The setup in Nights of Azure is also unique to the genre. After a brief introduction, Arnice arrives at a hotel, which becomes a hub for her adventures. Numerous locations lie scattered about the map that Arnice can unlock and travel to. Between chapters, Arnice is presented with a series of side quests, events, and free roaming maps to explore (all within or from the hotel). Accomplishing marked events unlocks the next playable chapter. Finally, an arena is available after chapter two that provides the player with a decent number of challenges to overcome.
Now, I do have my gripes with Nights of Azure. The premier complaint I have is that I am given no option for an English dub. If you’ve ever read any of my prior reviews or issues with Japanese dubbing, just know that I loathe it. I do not knock points off because a developer/publisher chose not to dub their product in English, but it does frustrate me (and it does find its way in my negatives). I do not own Nights of Azure, nor will I because of this (I use Gamefly). But Nights of Azure has more than just a language barrier (my Imp shouted, “WHERE’S THE NEXT TURD” in all caps every two minutes). Even for a hack-and-slash game, the content quickly dulls. I did enjoy finding and creating Servan, and the combat isn’t bad but feels clunky. Where Dynasty Warriors combat is smooth, Nights of Azure feels like your attacks get caught up in enemies.
My biggest issue with Nights of Azure, however, is the over sexualization of its female characters. Not only are the women disproportional and unreal, but the game often puts them in clothing or situations that are nearly exploitation. For example, when Arnice levels up, she enters a dream world. In order to gain power, she must reveal as much flesh as possible. In other words, Arnice is simply draped with enough cloth to cover her lady parts – barely. Included in this mess is how often Arnice walks in on Lilysse wearing only her very revealing night gown. In these repetitious scenes, Lilysse is super embarrassed, and Arnice says something along the lines of: “We’re both women and roomed in college. Take off your clothes, this shouldn’t be embarrassing. We’re both ladies.” And you can clearly see that this was written by a group of men.
In retrospect, Nights of Azure is both a wonderful attempt at freshness in a genre that lapses into redundancy and a lapse into said redundancy itself. The ideas in Nights of Azure are worthy of a nod of respect, but the execution falls short. Clunky gameplay, boring levels, and sexploitation weigh down the attempts at uniqueness. Even the various boss battles fall short of exciting, though they do give players a needed segment of freshness in every chapter. And while Nights of Azure doesn’t fail, it certainly doesn’t stand apart of its competition.