Nights Of Azure(PS4): Review and Developer Interview

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Nights of Azure is the latest action Role Playing Game from Gust and Koei Tecmo to be localised to English. The game follows the story of two girls, Arnice and Lilysse on a mission to, you guessed it, save the world. In the world of Nights of Azure, a great battle between the King of Demons and the Saint hundreds of years ago ended in the defeat of the Ruler of the Night, but not before its blue blood sprayed over the entire land, creating fiends that come out at night to terrorise. The blue blood also ended up creating many half-demons, of which Arnice is one. Perpetually denying her bloodlust and her demon side, she works for the Vox Curia, a mysterious organisation working towards keeping the fiends under control and preventing the return of the Ruler of the Night, which would set the world into perpetual darkness where demons run wild. Just a few minutes into the game you find out that the only way the Vox Curia have been keeping the Ruler of the Night sealed is by periodically sacrificing a Saint Candidate, and Lilysse, Arnice’s best friend, is the latest one. This sets off the main plot of the game, where Arnice must decide whether to sacrifice Lilysse for the sake of the world, or try to find a way to save her and risk the apocalypse.

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Boss fights against massive and interesting monsters are numerous in Nights of Azure

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The Servans add a welcome change to the usual action RPG formula.

Before we get into the meat of the review, here’s a brief interview I conducted with the developers of the game.

PPN> Japanese Role Playing Games like ‘Nights of Azure’, as a genre, traditionally seem to have main stream appeal in Japan and other Asian markets but tend to have more of a cult following in western markets. What do you think is responsible for this apparent difference in taste between the two markets? Do you think JRPGs can evolve to have a more main stream appeal for the western audience without losing what defines the genre traditionally?

GUST> The major difference between the Japanese market and the US/Western market depends on the usage of imagination. I think there are some different tastes in the deformation of the real world, such as animations and novels. Some people can enjoy the main character and play an active role just by pressing buttons and simply reading texts. On the other hand, other people have fun actually seeing the moving and animation. I believe that the world is fair in regards to the fun of games aside from the actually expression. Overseas games are now widely played in Japan, while their character designs were not accepted by the Japanese market before. From this point of view, JRPG will continue to be accepted if we continue to release good game titles.

PPN> A lot of JRPGs, and even some of Gust’s past works, never saw an English language release. Did you know Nights of Azure was going to be eventually localised while you were developing it? If so, did that inform any of your design decisions during the development process? If not, is there anything you would have done differently if you knew it was going to be localised?

GUST> During the development process we were not particularly aware of the possibility of localisation. We at first put emphasis on developing a new RPG with GUST featuring as well as various action elements. After we received evaluations of the title from our marketing team, we decided to localise the title for Western release. Listening to the feedback from each market on the first release of the title, we like to plan out for the next release.

PPN> It’s a trend in modern JRPGs to move slowly away from the traditional turn based systems to more action oriented systems. Nights of Azure seems to have a system that’s a lot more action oriented. Was there a conscious decision to make it that way instead of a turn based one? What kind of design philosophies informed the final version of the battle system we see in the game?

GUST> The main feature of this title is the demons that the main character fights with, these are called Servans. In game, players can enjoy a battle system with various action elements, collecting and raising and combining the Servans. Initially we assumed players would control the Servans in a form of Tower-Defense games. Through exploring the possibilities for balancing between battle actions and strengthening of main characters, we have reached the final specifications.

PPN> Part of the features of Nights of Azure is the numerous demons called ‘Servans’ that you can tame to fight at your side. How big of a challenge is it to design and balance the large amount of monsters for the players to collect? What are some of the inspirations behind the design and abilities of these Servans? Did any of the Servans come to stand out as the development team’s favourite or do you want to predict any to become fan favourites?

GUST> We started the development process on the basis that both parties, the enemy and ally, would consist of Servans with the same performance. At first we considered role allocations to some Servans, and then designed them so that different roles can be applied to their performance. Because we took the time until the end to fix the performance of some Servans, their designs were predetermined. Blade Soul, the attacker – who becomes an ally from the early stages is very popular among players due to its performance. Basically, I wanted every player to find his/her favourite Servan during their gameplay experience.

PPN> Since JRPGs tend to have massive scope and length, they are usually accompanied by epic and grand stories. What are the challenges that come with crafting that kind of massive story that is original and unique but also has the traditional JRPG flavour? What would you say is the main appeal behind the story and characters in Nights of Azure?

GUST> At first we set up a tragic story that goes into the intertwined fate between the main character Arnice and heroine, Lilysse. They are close friends and cherish each other. However, Arnice’s mission is to sacrifice Lilysse at a ritual that will save the world. Lilysse is the Saint who is destined to give her life to seal the Night Lord. This is a tragic tale of two friends who face impossible decisions and people who live in uncharted land known as Rusewall Island, where no one sleeps at night.

The plot of Nights of Azure largely revolves around Arnice and Lilysse’s friendship, and herein lies my main issue with the story of Nights of Azure. They play Arnice and Lilysse’s friendship suggestively, always hinting of a desire for more than friendship by both parties. Now, those familiar with anime and JRPGs are familiar with this kind of fan-service trope and it is particularly detracting in this case. In this day and age, games like Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age Inquisition, and Life is Strange have played homosexual relationships seriously, and mostly to great effect. The way this game plays coy with its sapphic undertones just comes off as a an attempt to be titillating and therefore exploitative. What could have come off as a sweet romance, they play it for laughs with jokes about maid costumes and changing in front of each other and it’s a shame.

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Oh, come on! Now, you are just doing half the work for fan fiction writers.

Whether or not you will enjoy the story will largely be determined by whether you buy into their relationship. They are both likable enough characters but you end up running into the same problem every fiction has when they make that choice of ‘save the girl or save the world’ quite a literal one. That problem is that how is it logical to save the girl and damn the world, when the girl cannot exists without the world. So when they claim that the return of the Demon King will likely result in death to all humans, it seems a forgone conclusion that Lilysse is doomed either way. So what the game tries to present as a tough choice to the player becomes quite an easy one.

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Apparently Arnice has to wear this “costume” to perform the blood ritual to level up.

The bulk of the plot is good enough but never excels beyond the genre’s tropes. There’s a couple of comic relief characters that mostly fall flat due to either poor localisation or simple cultural difference in humor.  The central mystery does get interesting after a first few chapters and it propels the story forward for the most part. However, the vagueness of the exposition and the inconsistencies in the localisations make the story hard to decipher at times. So basically what I am saying is the story is serviceable, but definitely is not it’s strong point.

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Yeah, localisation in this game is not the best.

The game play is definitely what will hook most players. Nights of Azure features a pretty complex action battle system with multiple weapons to unlock and forms to transform into. It does take a while to unlock the multiple weapons though, and the combo system is a bit simple until you do so. Another main element of the battle system is the fiends called Servans that you can summon to fight at your side. Most enemies in game can be summoned as a Servan and you gain them from random drops obtained from monsters. This means that if you are hoping for a more complex monster collecting system like Pokemon or the Shin Megami series, you are out of luck. You can set 4 Servans to summon at a time and all 4 can be summoned to fight at your side. Servans also determine which demon form Arnice can turn into so it will take a while before you settle into your favourite ‘deck’ of servans. This combo system is deep and hectic, but lacks refined nuance. It would appeal more to gamers that are into titles like Dynasty Warriors than someone like me who was hoping for something closer to Devil May Cry or Bayonetta.

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Arnice’s Demon forms tend to be powerful but temporary.

Another issue is that while the battle system has depth, the game gives you little reason to engage with it deeper than the surface level. This is because the game is way too easy. You can definitely beat the game on minimum effort, using the first weapon, sticking to a few early Servans and the default demon form. The game only gets difficult if you fall a few levels behind the enemies. So if you want to get the full experience out of the battle system, you should definitely engage with the deeper aspect of the systems even if the game doesn’t require you to.

The look of Nights of Azure is striking with rich art direction and design, even despite the not particularly ground breaking graphics. Characters pop and the level designs have a nice variety ranging from sewers and opera houses to circuits. The enemy designs are fascinating and unique, especially those of the various bosses. The animations can sometimes feel simple, as it also had to be ported to the vita, and the frame rate tends to experience some slowdowns, especially when you get a lot of enemies on the screen.

The game takes around 40 hours to finish even without doing all the side quests or engaging with the extra activities, like the Arena. While the story offers some branching paths, it would be hard to find a lot of replay value in this. Nights of Azure is a decent way for any JRPG fan to while away 40+ hours, however, it’s little quirks and faults prevent it from being unequivocally recommendable to everyone.

Reviewed On: PS4
My Playtime: ~45 Hours

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