Gamers largely know what to expect from a Gust developed RPG at this point. After all, the Japanese developer has released quality titles for over 20 years now. Their latest game, Nights of Azure, mostly continues this trend, although it does produce a number of surprises.
Playing more like a character action game rather than a traditional RPG, Nights of Azure has you hacking and slashing your way through dozens of different types of demons. The crux of the combat is relatively simple, as the protagonist, a half-demon named Arnice, can string together combos of regular and powerful attacks. Some additional depth is added later on, as Arnice eventually gains access to weapons other than the sword she starts off with.
Arnice won’t be battling enemies alone, though, as she’ll also be accompanied by four demons of her own called Servans. These companions will follow the player around and attack enemies automatically. Servans also have their own special abilities, which range from powerful attacks to healing spells, that can be triggered manually. This adds some additional depth to the combat, as a well timed heal can keep the player from succumbing to a powerful foe.
The Servans also add a nice layer of customization to the gameplay. Over the course of the game, players will eventually have access to 20 of these creatures which can be levelled up and equipped with items to become more powerful. Making sure your team is diverse in skills is important, as you don’t want to rely on just one type. While the extra firepower can be nice, you’ll also want to have healers and support Servans on your team.
Players will take these demons with them as they explore Rusewall Island, a city that is peaceful during the day, yet filled with supernatural phenomenon at night. While the mission objectives are often trite (such as battling through areas of enemies until you get to a boss encounter), the stages themselves are often a joy to look at. You’ll get to battle in a bunch of different locales ranging from carnivals to museums, and there’s a lot of variety to be seen.
Each level culminates in a boss fight, and these are definitely the highlights here, at least from a gameplay perspective. While regular encounters can feel dull and repetitive, these battles require a lot more strategy. Players will have to dodge out of the way of damaging attacks, and memorize patterns to take down these bosses. It’s highly satisfying, and one of the few times when the combat really shines.
Sadly, though, there is a gigantic difficulty jump about 80% of the way through Nights of Azure. Rather than ramp up in difficulty, Gust’s latest offering goes from relatively easy to very difficult with no warning. This will require players to grind for blood (the currency which you use to level up), and it brings the whole experience to a halt right before it ends.
That said, you’ll want to finish Nights of Azure, as its story is by far its biggest strength. Gust manages to tell a surprisingly mature tale about friendship, losing those close to you, love and responsibility. The ability to juggle these serious topics is impressive, as lesser developers could easily fumble while attempting to use these themes. Ultimately, the story ends up being captivating to the point where you’ll want to see it to completion, even if the gameplay gets overly frustrating by the end.
Nights of Azure isn’t overly long for a role-playing game, as you can see the end credits after about 20 hours or so, but there is plenty of replayability. There’s an arena where you can attempt various missions that will test your battle acumen, and dozens of side-missions that you can take on to earn gold and blood. Plus, there’s over 20 Servans to find and unlock, which will give completionists another reason to keep on playing.
While it does falter along the way, Nights of Azure still manages to be a very pleasant surprise. Most impressive is how Gust manages to tackle touchy subjects with grace and class, which isn’t often the case with video games. The combat is repetitive, and the difficulty spike near the end is ridiculous, but there’s a lot of heart shown off during the journey that will make it well worth your time.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which we were provided with.
Nights of Azure has an impressive story that is brought down by disappointing gameplay. Those looking for a simple action title will be rewarded with a surprisingly mature story, but the combat is too repetitive to really impress.