Nights of Azure 2 arrived out of the blue (no pun intended) and lingered a time before I offered, “I can pick up Diva May Cry”—a jest more prescient than I’d anticipated. A conventional hack-and-slasher buttressed by token gimmicks, solid artwork, catchy riffs, and demons? Check, check, check, aaand check!
Yes, this is a sequel—no, playing the former is not essential to partaking in the latter. Not only does this installment take place long after its forebear, but important plot points are summed up within minutes. At most, you’ll miss a few winks and nudges amongst the cameos, but you’ll have no problem keeping up if you jump in here.
Femme Fatales & Fiends (Oh, My!)
Long after the defeat of the Nightlord, the Moon Queen has ascended into the power vacuum. The Curia—a holy order tasked with the preservation of the world—has decreed that a priestess will be sacrificed to seal away her power, a directive that tears apart three childhood friends who’d promised to always be together. Aluche, an agent of the Curia, vows to save Liliana from her fate in spite of her own willingness to go to her death, but Ruenheid turns on the Curia in favor of an opposing order. Yet when the Moon Queen herself upends all plans in motion, unlikely alliances are the only hope to prevent a night without end.
The artistic direction and character design are by far the game’s strongest assets, nailing the “gothic fairy tale” theme and laying on a thick layer of fan service to boot. The core narrative is simple and direct, but covers a large area for how shallow it is, especially if you keep an eye on the data log as it fleshes out with character and world trivia. Yet this quaint approach to video game storytelling isn’t the only old school charm in this title.
More than conjuring a sense of nostalgia, Nights of Azure 2 feels summoned from the past itself; more like an HD re-release from the heyday of Devil May Cry and Dynasty Warriors than the latest installment of a contemporary IP. That in itself is not a complaint, merely a sensation that arose time and time again as I played—from the crisp-but-dated graphics, from the obvious walled map paths, from the all-or-nothing hitboxes as an entire pack of enemies performed an identical animation in tandem as attacks connected.
Even the BGM’s tendency to hook me immediately but grate on my sanity around the two-hundredth lap of the 90-second loop felt like I’d stumbled upon an homage to a breed of game gone by. While not innovative or profound, the tracks do pull you into the mission and remain palatable until the package as a whole goes stale (and go stale it will, but we’ll get to that in a moment).
While we’re on the subject of sound, note that the voice acting is exclusively in Japanese!
You Know Which Button to Mash
Normal Attack, Strong Attack, Dodge, Dash, Jump, and Guard. You know what this is—slam that square button like ass kickings are delivered via telegraph! Thankfully, there are more than combos to blunt the monotony. By selecting one Lily (a companion from amongst the party) and up to two Servans (fiends with free will who have pledged themselves to Aluche) to accompany you on each mission, you can mix and match their advantages and thus add a modicum of depth to combat.
Each Lily has discrete skills which either provide temporary benefits, deliver area-of-effect attacks, or unleash powerful barrages that momentarily freeze the mission timer. A little attentiveness to your Lily’s behavior goes a long way towards optimizing your offense.
Servans, meanwhile, have basic offensive capabilities and either a manually-triggered attack or the ability to transform into a weapon, diversifying Aluche’s arsenal. Some Servans are also capable of dispelling barriers or enhancing jumps, making it important to consider which you bring with you.
Rounding out the RPG features is an attribute tree of sorts whereby the accumulated blood of defeated foes can be exchanged for permanent advantages as you level up, while a separate pool of points enhances and evolves Servans. You don’t need many (if any) of these improvements just to complete the game, but a daunting grind awaits the completionist.
Here’s the catch…
Each time you venture beyond the party’s headquarters, a timer begins. Regardless of what you’ve accomplished, when that timer reaches zero, you’re returned to safety and must rest for the night. Each time you rest, the phase of the metaphysical Azure Moon wanes, and when that moon reaches new, it’s game over. The moon can only gain phases by vanquishing a powerful foe (and thereby moving to the next chapter).
These limitations on their own aren’t terribly restrictive—there’s plenty of time to make it through the main scenario. The problem is that you are also given dozens of side quests, many of which will vanish at the end of each chapter. Predicting the number of nights you can afford to waste basically requires precognition, and running out of time means restarting the chapter and losing all progress earned since reaching it.
It seems at first as though the game is encouraging efficiency and careful planning, but it quickly becomes clear that no matter how proficiently you plan, no matter how much you multi-task, some things are not getting done.
Moreover, what can be accomplished is done so through mindless repetition. One new locale is unlocked per chapter, totaling seven. Side quests universally involve going to a specific area, often with a specific person, and killing a certain number of enemies or visiting a certain locale. Gameplay as a whole thus amounts to clearing out the same same handful of zones over and over. (If you aim to complete the game rather than simply clear it, append several more overs.)
For the sake of a thorough critique, I aimed for an optimized playthrough—using trial and error to determine how much time I would have and then attempting to bundle as many objectives as possible into each outing. It was as exhausting as it wasn’t fun, especially as unfinished Lily quests piled up and I over-leveled my foes until the thought of plowing through the same zone one more time was unbearable. The solution is as simple as it is obvious: don’t (unless you enjoy that kind of thing, I’m not here to judge). Focus on your main objectives, avoid completing the last, and then whittle down the moon on select objectives and move on.
How, then, will you knock out the scores of side quests and complete the massive tree of blood bonuses and Servan evolutions? You can disable the game over mechanic in New Game+…
From the traditional combat to the dated visuals, Nights of Azure 2 is a mixed bag of boons, banes, and jiggle physics that feel ripped straight out of the ‘00s. There’s a dark allure to this gothic fairy tale that help it feel more nostalgic than antiquated for a time, but the waning moon mechanic and repetitive grind erode its charm if allowed to overstay their welcome. Altogether average in every other respect, I would recommend it as a light trek for an off day, but the price tag (currently equal to the latest AAA titles on the market) is difficult to justify.
~ Final Score: 5/10 ~
Review copy provided by Koei Tecmo for Playstation 4. Screenshots taken by reviewer.