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Nights of Azure (PlayStation 4) artwork

Nights of Azure (PlayStation 4) review

"The land without night doesn't see the light"

Nights of Azure, which translates as "The Land Without Night," is one of Gust's first forays into action-focused fare. It arrives on Western shores five long months after its debut in Japan. Originally titled Yoru no Nai Kuni, this new PlayStation 4 RPG should not be confused with Ninokuni: Shiroki Seihai no Joou, the Studio Ghibli and Bandai Namco joint you might recall from 2010.

The story follows a young woman named Arnice on her journey to the North Sea, where she hopes to rescue an old friend by the name of Lilysse while simultaneously ridding the land of the demonic Nightlord.

Taking notes from the oft-forgotten Playstation 2 classic, Chaos Legion, combat revolves around not just the playable character Arnice, but also a deck of four summoned beasts that can fight at her side. Knowing when to summon these creatures helps dictate the tide of battle, since they are capable of unleashing attacks upon first appearing that consume a fair bit of Arnice’s MP pool. I found myself summoning them at the start of a quest, foregoing the initial attack but leaving myself time to recover MP that would allow Arnice to instead unleash special attacks.

Up to four creatures can be kept in a ‘deck,’ and the ability to hold onto more of these sets of monsters is unlocked through normal play. Decks must adhere to certain restrictions, such as limitations to the tribes or families that familiars come hail from, as well as a requirement that each one be unique. Arnice is unable to utilize four of the same monster on a given team, but there are enough diverse forms that fine-tuning a deck to the player’s style isn’t difficult.

Summoning a familiar to the material world is known as "actualizing." A modest chunk of Arnice’s accumulated Blood is required, as well as a fetish commonly discovered by defeating enemy beasts or by looting treasure chests that are scattered around the town. Two familiars summoned from the same style of fetish typically share the same base stats, but might possess different growth paths or special abilities through random generation. If you’re looking for a particular ability on a familiar, the use of consumable goods known as Marks can overwrite their innate abilities and change their stat growth rates.

Since Nights of Azure is published by Koei Tecmo and features a lot of action, players might look at screenshots and assume the title was developed by Dynasty Warriors veterans Omega Force, rather than Gust (which is elsewhere best known for its laid back Atelier series). And there definitely are similarities here to the tried-and-true Warriors gameplay, such as normal and special attacks tied to each of the four unlockable weapons, as well as ultimate attacks that consume a large amount of MP (comparable to the Musou attacks in that other franchise).

Later in the campaign, special transformations can be performed by filling up a separate gauge, allowing the player to unleash a near-invincible form that makes quick work of enemy groups, though I tended to reserve its use for bosses. Nights of Azure has an interesting way of tying this mechanic into the familiar system: each familiar is assigned a particular element and an accompanying stat. Collecting 10+ of a given element in your deck modifies Arnice's transformation, so that she might appear as a rabbit or some other creature. Neglecting this mechanic and not focusing on one element, however, reverts Arnice to her standard demon form.

When not enjoying a night on the town spent slaying demons for fun and profit, Arnice whiles away her time at the only hotel in the city, which serves as a hub for character interactions. You'll also find optional quests and a challenge arena that unlocks valuable new gear and currency. To keep the heroine from developing cabin fever, you can have her take part in optional training regiments, or day quests that could increase non-vital stats such as fitness and charm (which can later be invested into permanent skill upgrades).

Nights of Azure doesn't test the Playstation 4 hardware's boundaries, perhaps held back because it was also developed for release on Vita and PlayStation 3. Whatever the reason, there is very little here that comes close to matching the current generation’s potential, save for a consistent and solid 60 frames per second. Environments consist largely of purple and gray color palettes, with very few objects and interactive points of interest beyond the occasional obstruction that your familiars must clear in order to progress. Exploration quickly grows monotonous, and the lack of a jump button makes little sense given the number of knee-high platforms and traps that need to be traversed over the course of the adventure.

The game's menu system is also cumbersome and unwieldy, which comes as a bit of a surprise considering Gust’s experience within the genre. For example, to equip new accessories to either Arnice or her companions, you'll have to work through an awkward interface that doesn’t even provide the chance to compare stats without jumping back and forth between menus. You'll spend far too much time swapping out decks of familiars, equipping accessories, or outlining Arnice's daily routine as you tackle a mission. I haven't had this much hassle just performing basic tasks since the PS2 era of RPGs.

Don't expect Nights of Azure to provide an in-depth RPG experience. The emphasis here is on fast-paced hack 'n slash action, aided by your familiars. A modest level cap forces you to focus on how you make use of familiars and daily training in order to proceed, and the overall experience more closely resembles the Warriors games from Omega Force than it does nearly anything you might have played from Gust in the past.


Gregarious's avatar
Freelance review by Kai Powell (April 05, 2016)

As an aspiring FGC contributor, Kai has earned enough tournament accolades to earn the title 'Eternally Second'. When not pouring his heart out over covering the games industry and running a corporate games store, he also spends his mornings at a ramen-ya

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