In these last couple months, I feel I've gotten a lot better at staying with the games I start playing. Sans Dark Souls III pinning me into submission for the time being, I can't remember the last game I put down unless I felt very strongly about such a harsh conviction.
These games are expensive, both to make and buy! It might be best to humor them every now and again. I also love playing games not just for fun, but for critique. To think what all I could get out of a game that was less than impressive by planting my feet and butt in place and sticking through for some of the more interesting sections.
Nights of Azure, however, is another JRPG that has, yet again, reminded me that if I'm bored probably half the time and I see no signs of it getting better... I might as well just make peace and move on.
Nights of Azure is pinned, at it's core, as a present-day-I-guess-but-mixed-with-typical-JRPG-high-fantasy story between two ladies who must work together to stop the Nightlord from plunging the world into Eternal Night. Sure escalated quickly, didn't it? It's an epic tale, to be sure. One of ancient warriors, angsty moons, friendship, sacrifice, and gigantic breasts.
But, wait. I'd advise some caution before getting too excited.
To delve further into this game's, um... ambitious (I have to at least wait so long before saying it's total garbage) narrative, Arnice, our player character, is an agent for a sort of but not really secret group called Curia. Arnice is, initially, assigned by Curia to protect the "Saint", Lilysse, so that she can be used as an offering that would create a seal to keep the Nightlord from reawakening.
The catch is that Arnice and Lilysse are best friends, essentially lovers some time after the initial chapters. From what I played, the bulk of the story was Arnice trying desperately to find a way around the inevitable sacrifice, keeping both the world not over forever and her best friend not dead. Doesn't sound too bad, doesn't it?
Naturally, much of this story's emotional "oomph" relies heavily on the relationship between Arnice and Lilysse. Should that falter, there's not much else there. This isn't a narrative with many moving parts, this is very much a two-character plot. They are both at the very most center of everything, which is a much larger risk than having a main character interacting with various allies that, generally, have an equal part to play.
Disappointingly, though unsurprisingly (given my experience with JRPG's), the story is a thorough bore filled with uninteresting characters, pseudo-intellectual waxing, and unnecessary fluff.
From the get go, our characters begin reminiscing about their pasts to a rather insane degree, assuring the player that they are totes bff's. We aren't ever shown this or given a chance to connect with Lilysse in any meaningful sense, the game instead opts to say "Trust us." and proceeds to attempt to make you care somehow.
This is no The Last Of Us or Life Is Strange where our duos are presented with nuanced dialogue and believable affection. "Remember when...", "You know, we used to...", etc. doesn't quite grab me the same. All the while, the presentation is, quite frankly, the quality of a lower tier PlayStation 1 game. Plain text boxes, fade transitions in place of where about 85% of the actual animation should be, music that starts and stops on a dime, the works.
Not helping is that in every outfit she wears, Lilysse's enormous breasts are accentuated almost to a point of parody. This isn't another Bayonetta or Shantae where it's in fitting with the game's tone or it's characters, it's just "By the way, GET A LOAD OF THESE!".
It would hardly surprise me if the developers had considered that their audience would find it hard to care for this character if she weren't "cute and big breasted". For the longest time, her sole character trait was "boobs". It's not even sexy, it's just shallow and distracting. Titillation has it's place, but it's not here.
The side characters range from only somewhat better (also see: inoffensive) to far worse, with comic relief predictably dipping into sexual humiliation, characters reacting harshly to casual brushes, and about several dozen instances of "Haha, her food sucks and it makes everyone uncomfortable.". Towards the end of my time with it, I was also getting rather tired of how many times basic plot points were being reinforced, sometimes with their own additional scenes which added literally nothing. Nevermind the many loose elements that eventually always flew over my head after, many times, trying to pretend it was at all cohesive.
My enjoyment of the game's narrative didn't extend much beyond the personalities of each of the game's Servans and the rare chuckle I got from everyone else (such as Simon and Arnice picking out a painting for the hotel to display). While the base story should work on paper, it's completely broken in practice and after 5 chapters, I simply could not handle anymore.
However, the gameplay is this title's saving grace and was actually what kept me somewhat engrossed for roughly 20+ hours.
If you're a fan of stat-building, there's a lot to sink yourself into here. Instead of being your usual JRPG that has you leveling up constantly for little reward each time to a point that becomes almost exhausting, each level up Arnice acquires in Nights of Azure feels important. Each time, you'll have more skills added to a pool that you can then purchase using different brands of skill points you acquire through passive Daytime Activities and, naturally, leveling up.
You also have the aforementioned "Servans", who are basically this game's Pokémon or familiars. They level up as well, but not in the same way. Rather than choosing from a built up pool of skills, when they level up, you get to choose 1 of 2 skills which will then benefit either the Servan, Arnice, or even the entire party. Skills such as quicker stun recovery time, health sapping, 100% critical hit chances on initial strikes, and so on.
Doesn't sound super interesting, but I really enjoyed stacking those skills with the incredibly wide variety of equipment which can be given to either the Servans or Arnice. A short time before I decided to quit, I was beginning to get some really unique stuff such as a lute that made it to where I couldn't attack at all, but I gained 5SP every second which I could use to more frequently command my Servans like a snake charmer or pied piper!
Just thinking about it makes me wish the story wasn't so terrible. There's still quite a handful to be gotten out of the game otherwise.
To that, there's two currencies: Libra and Blood. Libra being used for general purchases, with Blood being, primarily, used to level up. The economy is thoroughly well-balanced, loot dropping on the battlefield at a consistent enough rate that I didn't feel as if I had to grind just to purchase something slightly better. You can even send merchants out to gather items from various parts around the world. It's expensive, but they may come back with something very rare!
There's a lot to keep track of in this game, but I enjoyed optimizing everything and seeing how both I and my Servans grew.
The combat itself is pretty standard, though very flashy. The enemies, the effects, the pacing, and especially the bosses made for a fun time. This is one vibrant game and unintuitive weapon switching mid-combo aside (plus a pretty awful lock-on system that's, thankfully, hardly ever useful), it's a suitable slash 'em up. Dancing around the place with my dual cleaves was probably the most fun, making sure I was timing my combos just right so that I was almost impossible to catch while my Servans kept enemies off my tail.
The music is also pretty good. An odd mix of jazz/lounge and heavy/power metal. I've found myself humming the hotel theme quite a few times, though the metal tracks are, for the most part, played a bit safer. Melodies and progressions that keep you appropriately pumped, but don't exactly inspire.
This gameplay, though, slowly began to make up less and less of my experience. Couple that with the inevitable repetition that comes with a lot of these games, I was soon not having a great deal of fun.
The above visual was my tipping point. Seeing so many potentially required story segments after what was already a long string of nonsense.
From now on, I think it'll be best to stay clear of any other JRPG's that only vaguely interest me. Even at a lower price. I've wanted to get into Atelier for quite some time, but considering it's a franchise from the same developer as this? ... I don't think so. I suppose I'll keep to ATLUS/Sega and olden Square until the day I die.