Game name: Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon
Release date: October 24, 2017
Price: US$ 59.99
Available on: Steam
Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Koei Tecmo Games
Nights of Azure debuted on PC earlier this year, and it’s already time for a sequel, featuring improved graphics, a more engaging battle system, and an all-new story set in the same universe.
Setting, characters and story
Nights of Azure 2 takes place in a world that dares not sleep, as night time signals the arrival of monstrous fiends, creatures tainted by the cursed blue blood of an ancient demon slain in battle eons ago. Our player character, Aluche, is a Knight who works for the Curia, a religious organization tasked with defeating the fiends and defending humanity. A routine escort mission will find us reunited with a childhood friend who ended up becoming a Priestess, and after a few twists and turns, we’ll end up becoming a half-demon, with the ability to talk to friendly fiends, and even command them in battle.
From that moment onwards, we’ll embark on a quest to find Liliana, our Priestess friend, before the fiends do. Of course, since this is a Japanese RPG, not all things are what they seem to be, and other parties also wish to have a word with our target, with their intentions largely clouded by uncertainty. I’m not a fan of spoilers in reviews, so I won’t go into more detail regarding Nights of Azure 2‘s story, but I was pleasantly surprised for the most part.
Gorgeous cutscenes signal important events, and every character has a clear goal (when it suits the story, of course). Special care has been put into making this sequel almost standalone, as there are many references to things that happened in the first game (and even some returning characters) but I never felt like I would be missing a big part of the story if I had skipped the original.
After a small introduction depicting the events I described above, we’ll start the game proper, journeying through dark city streets and dealing with bloodthirsty fiends on every corner. Our new half-demon body requires some special care, though, so we won’t be able to stay out for long at first. A countdown clock will signal the amount of time that we can spend battling the forces of darkness, and once it reaches zero, we’ll earn a game over. This means that excessive grinding isn’t the way to go, and that we’ll spend a lot of time resting at our base of operations, a beautiful hotel that houses a number of facilities, with an upgrade station, swimming pool and bedroom coming to mind as standouts.
Sleeping at the bedroom will advance another timer, an ominous doomsday clock that can only be turned back by slaying powerful fiends. I’m not a fan of timed quests, but it’s quite obvious that the development team is adept at dealing with this gameplay mechanic, as I can’t say that I ever felt constrained by the time restrictions. Leveling up our character will also increase the amount of time we can spend out on missions, so gamers who wish for a little more leeway on this regard won’t be disappointed.
The other hotel rooms serve as meeting places (as expected, the swimming pool with play host to a number of scenes that are obviously designed to please fans looking for romantic moments between members of the main cast) or as glorified menus, with a guest book acting as the save screen, and a whole room dedicated to different upgrade stations that can be used to increase our party’s power as we defeat fiends and advance through the main questline.
The first Nights of Azure tried its hand at an action-based combat system that relied on our character’s swordsmanship and her ability to command Servans, friendly fiends who weren’t corrupted by the cursed blood of the Lord of the Night. Nights of Azure 2 follows a similar pattern, but a few new additions spice up the gameplay, resulting on a combat system that feels a lot more fluid, with fast paced sequences stealing the show and powerful combo attacks filling the screen with particle effects and impressive animations.
Instead of commanding four Servans, this time around we’ll be able to direct two of them, plus a Lily, a companion that will join the fight in a support role, attacking targets on her own or following our commands. Servans can be used to open up previously closed pathways (though figuring out which Servan can be used to open each path can be tricky), and they will also provide valuable help in battle, granting access to new weapons or powerful elemental attacks.
As usual with most action RPG titles, our character can dodge, block, jump and unleash two main attack types upon her prey; heavy and light. Combinations of these two types of basic moves can be used to create powerful maneuvers that will deal with most mobs, but bigger enemies (or large hordes of fiends) will require a bit more finesse. The Lily system comes into play here, as we can command our companions to attack the same target as us, and succesful double strikes will gradually fill a power meter that once full will let us unleash devastating combos on our unsuspecting foes. Aside from the double attack system, a separate meter tracks a sort of ultimate move, which is powerful enough to cripple even the most tenacious fiends (but, on the downside, will take a long time to fill up).
Vanquished foes will grant us items that act as instant buffs (recovering our lost health, boosting our strength, etc) and Blue Blood that can be used to upgrade our main character, though as we said previously, the time limit will not let us grind endlessly, so it’s hard to go into a battle and find that the enemies are way underleveled. Servans will grow with Servan Points obtained as quest rewards, and Lilies will deepen their bonds with Aluche as we take them into battle with us, learning more about them and unlocking special requests. There’s a level cap for the Servans, but a reincarnation mechanic will let us reset their stats in exchange for an increase in said cap. I found out that focusing on a few minions at a time was a far better tactic than trying to improve all of them in one go, but your mileage may vary on this front.
Other characters will join our party from time to time, though we won’t be able to control them, and they can’t be upgraded as the Lilies and Servans can.
As much as I liked Nights of Azure 2′s improved combat system, there are two things that will probably leave many RPG fans disappointed: the game is far too easy, and most levels feel empty and repetitive. This might be an unfortunate byproduct of the restrictive nature of the timed missions, since more difficult encounters could result in far too many “game over” screens for RPG enthusiasts not used to fast paced encounters, but at the very least, GUST could have included extra difficulty settings that ramped up the challenge. Interestingly, the first Nights of Azure suffered from the same problem, so hopefully this will get fixed if we ever get a third entry in the series.
Graphics, sound and performance
If there’s something that GUST is adept at, it’s creating gorgeous worlds populated by beautiful characters and brought to life by celestial soundtracks, and Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon is no exception to this unwritten rule. I’m not necessarily a fan of the scantily clad designs of the main cast, but it’s hard to find fault in the exquisitely detailed character models and anime-style cutscenes. Most environments (with the exception of our hotel base) are not as pretty, however, with beautiful yet samey-looking locales punctuating most of our adventure, and a harrowing lack of non-hostile characters wandering the city’s streets (though this can be explained by the fiend infestation). Texture work is hit and miss, and once again, I often found myself wishing that the environment/basic mobs had received the same attention as the main characters.
Performance-wise, this is a pretty solid effort on Koei Tecmo’s part, and I had no trouble reaching sixty frames per second on both a mid-tier machine and our 4K test bench. However, the resolution options provided in the game’s launcher are severely limited and I had to implement a registry hack in order to achieve 3840*2160. Luckily, that didn’t seem to affect stability in any way, and I did not experience any crashes during my testing time.
Nights of Azure 2 is a very enjoyable action RPG that could have used a bit more work. The story is quite good and the combat is entertaining, but repetitive level design and uneven difficulty drag down the overall package, preventing it from reaching greatness.
7.5/10 – Very good.