Japanese role playing games have come a hell of a long way since the very first games debuted on Playstation One. The traditional turn-based combat has also evolved with the years, turning into all sorts of battles. Such is the main focus of Nights of Azure, which with its quite unique combat, coupled with a very intriguing story, provides an experience which makes its localisation all the more appreciated.
When the game was still known as Yoru No Nai Kuni, which from what I have understood from the game comes to translate as The Land with No Night, my interest in the title was already quite high, so news of a localisation pretty much made my day. Basically, the game tells the tale of two characters, both females, being Arnice and Lilysse, one is a half human half demon killing machine while the other is a priestess on her mission to become a Saint. The girls, who already knew each other before the adventures of the game, are reunited at the beginning of the game, but this reunion only lasts for a few moments before they are separated again. Although both girls are central to the story, the player only gets to control Arnice, and to be honest we should be grateful. I mean, playing with Lilysse would only involve going to mass, praying and staring while we are given endless speech after endless speech about what it means to be a saint.
Playing with Arnice means you get to tear stuff up. And boy do we like to tear stuff up! Combat is presented as the main focus of the game, featuring not only player-controlled combat but also companion-AI buddies. These buddies are called Servans, and are summoned by Arnice whenever needed. There are a multitude of Servans, each with their own special abilities, and you can have up to three active at the same time. You can summon these Servans by pressing the R1 button and one of three face buttons, and then you can press the same button to unleash the special attacks that each Servan bears. These Servans move on their own but still follow you, so they do not form their own path and become useless. Furthermore, they have their own abilities which are activated autonomously, such as healing, adding another layer of usefulness to these little creatures.
Combat is not based only on these Servans though, since Arnice does a pretty badass job with the blade herself. Apart from being quite skilled in swinging the blade around, creating a series of combos with the light and heavy attacks pressed in particular sequences, Arnice can transform into a more powerful demon to unleash her rage on the enemy creatures who dare stand in your way. This demonic form is affected a lot by the formation of Servans one chooses to field, since the configuration of these will determine what Arnice will transform into, so choosing the Servans does not depend on the individual abilities of these creatures. One has to consider the larger picture as well, being what Arnice will turn in once she has had enough. Apart from having Servans from the get-go, Arnice can also do rituals to transform acquired fetishes, which are items found throughout the game, to create new Servans. This adds another layer to the depth of the game, since these rituals consume blood points, which is the same currency used to level up Arnice, so careful usage of these points is vital for the sake of our heroine.
Another take on battles implemented by Gust is the timer which slowly begins to tick on top of the screen. This timer will start counting down while you are facing lesser enemies, only to vanish when facing a boss. This timer continues the lore of the game, which states that any human who stays out at night will turn into a monster, and thus these minor battles cannot last much or else you will meet your doom as well. Micro management should not prove to be a very big issue since as mentioned before, the units move on their own, and your input is only required for bigger attacks, so clearing these smaller fish while making your way towards the big one rarely means trouble.
Graphically, the game does quite well, but does not reach the levels of visual fidelity one would expect from a top of the line studio. That is not in Gust’s interests though, so the presentation of the game is satisfying while at the same time managing to design an atmosphere worthy of the lore of the game. The different hues of the lighting effects, and the use of dark colours to emphasize the night time is on point. Character design is top notch, so much so that even a glance at Arnice and Lilysse can convey their personality traits within seconds. The visuals of the environment and surrounding areas are also aesthetically pleasing, so while shredding enemies, one should also take his time in taking a look around. From an audio standpoint, music is also another element which the game gets right. Aggressive music for battles contrasts sweet melodies in the hotel lobby, but in both situations one could not ask for better accompaniment due to the synchronisation between on-screen action and background music.
Nights of Azure is one hell of a game. Artistically, it resembles what one would imagine a similar tale to be, meaning an anime. Perhaps one of its biggest feats is that it almost plays like one as well, with the Japanese audio and English subtitles all the more reminiscing of these animations. Fans of anime like myself will definitely have quite a good time with this title, while others who are not either into anime or JRPGs should also try for the sake of the game, which has an interesting and charming story and very solid gameplay, making it quite a contender for localisation of the year. Rating: 9/10.