While playing Nights of Azure, I often got the impression that if this were a game that had been backed by a bigger budget, it would have turned out great. There’s a lot of good ideas here, and Nights of Azure is generally a decent, enjoyable experience, but ultimately, it is one that is let down by some dodgy writing and unimaginative gameplay beats.
The game makes a pretty strong first impression, because in terms of how its story is set up, it does a lot of things right. Conceptually, the story here is very intriguing. Eight hundred years prior to the beginning of the game, corrupted beings attacked regular people during the night, and the Knights worked to counteract their threat.
It’s an interesting setup, if not an entirely imaginative one, and coupled with what is a consistently well composed soundtrack and a bold visual style, it all makes for a strong first impression.What’s even better is the way the game handles its two main characters- Arnice, the knight and Lilysse. The two were friends during their childhood, and now they have to work together, knowing that the latter will probably have to sacrifice herself in the end in their fight against these corrupted creatures known as the jayou. Nights of Azure deserves a lot of credit for how it handles and develops the story between these two women, and for how it makes it so incredibly easy to get invested in their stories and start rooting for them in everything that they do, together or apart.
"It’s an interesting setup, if not an entirely imaginative one, and coupled with what is a consistently well composed soundtrack and a bold visual style, it all makes for a strong first impression."
It’s unfortunate, then, that outside of this, the game is in fact marred by a lot of annoying JRPG tropes, because Nights of Azure’s two main characters and its story setup could have really shined had they been backed by some good writing. It also doesn’t help that the side characters- basically, every single character other than Arnice and Lilysse- are usually static, generic anime constructs who add nothing to the story and are as forgettable as they are bland.
The story itself never quite develops beyond the initial concept, which, while interesting, ultimately becomes a source of frustration for the player, as all of its potential ends up being very obviously wasted. This feeling of missed potential is compounded by the fact that, unlike so many Japanese games, Nights of Azure actually has the potential to be good at telling its story. Make no mistake about it, Nights of Azure is very obviously a game made on a budget, but unlike other similar games which end up showing the strains at the seams, Nights of Azure never quite feels cheap. Whatever budget it did have, it used well, at least on the presentation front, boasting, as mentioned above, good visuals and a strong soundtrack.
And that is a necessary qualifier to add, because when it comes to how it plays, Nights of Azure is, yet again, a tale of missed potential. Borrowing a lot from other popular JRPG franchises, such as Pokémon and Shin Megami Tensei, the game’s battles see you controlling Arnice, as well as three subordinate monsters. Unlike those franchises, however, Nights of Azure never quite fleshes out its system into anything deeper than its initial setup- yes, Arnice gets more weapons by the end that progressively become more powerful, and yes, you can recruit more demons to fight by your side too; there is also Arnice’s meter that slowly fills up over time, which can unleash one of five different powers (which is dependent on her party composition).
"Nights of Azure never quite fleshes out its system into anything deeper than its initial setup."
However, none of these add to the complexity or nuance of the battle system. In fact, it has the opposite effect of making everything too easy as time passes. With stronger weapons and stronger demons by your side, as well as stronger powers periodically available to use thanks to your special gauge, you have way too much firepower at your disposal. Enough so, in fact, that after a while, each battle becomes almost an assured win, and it’s pretty annoying having to sit through actually fighting your way through it when the result is already a given. It turns the game into a slog, causing the player to lose interest in it.
It doesn’t help that actual battles and strategy are done in by the game’s horrific menus and user interface. This is an issue that cannot be overstated. For a lot of JRPGs, the most that one sees in way of gameplay is menu selections. UI, therefore, is the one thing that these games cannot afford to mess up, no matter what. Unfortunately, Nights of Azure didn’t get the memo, because its menus are clunky, and frankly, tedious and unpleasant to get through. It gets bad enough that after a while, you don’t feel like doing anything- you don’t want to battle, you don’t want to go into the menu to manage inventory, equipment, or party management, and really, what is the point of continuing to play the game at that point? You’re not interested in participating in the actual ‘game’ parts.
"For a lot of JRPGs, the most that one sees in way of gameplay is menu selections. UI, therefore, is the one thing that these games cannot afford to mess up, no matter what. Unfortunately, Nights of Azure didn’t get the memo, because its menus are clunky, and frankly, tedious and unpleasant to get through."
Combine this with the sadly lackluster story, and you get a game where the player is very clearly given no reason to actually go on and play the game. There is a challenge area at the bottom of the hotel that serves as your base of operations in the game, which can be pretty fun for a while, but since ultimately, any and all gameplay necessitates sifting through the menus, the idea of playing the game becomes continually more unappealing.
Which is, as I said before, a shame, because Nights of Azure really gives you the feeling that it could have been something so much more than what it ultimately has turned out to be. Instead, it turns out to be a tale of missed potential- a game which I really wanted to like, but can’t quite. Instead, hints of what it could have been appear briefly to me, tantalizingly, and more than anything else, that is what frustrates me, in the end.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Interesting setup for the narrative; Story between Arnice and Lilysse is developed very well; Great soundtrack; Decent visuals
Writing lets the setup down; Story devolves into being a generic JRPG affair; Side characters are static and bland; Too easy, almost frustratingly so; Not enough replay value
Nights of Azure is a game that has the potential to be a legitimately enjoyable experience, but unfortunately, most of that potential goes to waste.