Nights of Azure flew completely under the radar when it came out last year, but it was one of the most charming JRPGs I’ve ever played. It featured an approachable tale of two women desperate to save each other from an unfortunate fate: the Knight protecting her beloved – the woman chosen by their leaders to be sacrificed to the great evil. Naturally, I was more than a little excited when I heard a sequel was being made, carrying the same themes forward.
In Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon, we’re again asked to take on the mantle of a knight of the Curia, this time a young lady named Aluche, tasked to protect her childhood friend Liliana who has been chosen to be sacrificed to a demon known as the ‘Moon Queen’. As you can see, the game carries forward many of the same story elements… including the fact that things are not always what they seem.
Feast For the Eyes
Nights of Azure 2 is a pretty game full of beautiful women. And more beautiful women. And cute monsters. And then more beautiful women. In case you hadn’t figured it out, this game’s cast is entirely female with a love triangle forming our core cast – Aluche, Liliana, and Ruenheid. Beside them is a cast of numerous female side characters rounding out the cast, some of which are spoilers so I shan’t reveal them. And across from them are a set of female enemies. Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the eye-candy and I really liked most of the cast, even what we saw of the villains… but it felt a little strange to not even have a random male NPC anywhere. It just made the world feel a bit lopsided.
Moving on from the cast, the environments were very picturesque much like in the first game, although in a more mundane way this time around. For Nights of Azure 2, the focus was more on ordinary places – travelling around a town, visiting a local academy, a nearby village – and as a result the visuals are less extravagant. With the exception of one particularly amazing region, most of the areas displayed their beauty in classical architecture, flowerbeds, or lush trees.
And the Ears…
Nearly every game I’ve played by Gust lately has had the same comments, so this next line should come as no surprise. Nights of Azure 2 has a wonderful soundtrack, that fits quite well with the game’s many set-pieces. It is full of interesting orchestral pieces that play up the environments and the emotions of the game very well and create just the right mood. The only bad thing I can really say is that none of the pieces particularly stood out to me. There was no piece that I recall listening to and just being blown away. Perhaps its simply a symptom of how good game music design is nowadays, or perhaps its just that the game music was too subtle to stand out. Either way, it was a great soundtrack that might have just benefited from one or two pieces having a bit more impact to be truly memorable.
Of Knights, Monsters, and Lilies
Nights of Azure 2 is a single player action RPG, but you’re not alone. You bring with you a pair of familiars – adorable monsters who bond to Aluche throughout the game – and your preferred side-character, who is referred to by the game as a ‘Lily’. The combat incorporates these AI controlled followers, but at its core is a pretty standard hack and slash RPG. Aluche fights with her trusty sword and has a fairly simple combo system built off of light and heavy attacks. Functional, but nothing particularly special. Everything else comes from synergy with the Lily characters.
There are a half dozen or so different Lily characters you can find throughout the game, each with their own distinct combat style, special attacks, and abilities. I think the Lily system was probably the best addition to this game, overall. It accomplishes several things – it brings the side-characters into the story in a greater way, it makes a lot of the side quests actually have some meaning, and it gives you a vast array of combat customization options. The various Lilies range from casters to agile assassins, from snipers to front-liners… but they’re all useful, which lets you have the choice of picking which you want by playstyle or character preference without feeling like you’re missing out.
The familiar system is less inspired. They let you bring two familiars with you, out of a selection of well over a dozen unique familiars. Each familiar has a distinct element, attack pattern, and spell… with the spells ranging from combat spells to weapon transformations. I know I mentioned earlier that Aluche has her trusty sword, but she can also have one of her familiars transform into an alternate weapon – draining the familiar’s mana relatively quickly – such as a greatsword, lance, or shield. I found most of the secondary weapons to be slow and unwieldly, so I didn’t use them much even though they were definitely powerful. However, the issue comes with the fact that certain familiars have exploration abilities as well which allow you to access new areas. Many of the familiars lack these exploration abilities, and there simply aren’t enough familiar slots to cover all of the exploration abilities and still bring ones without them, which makes it difficult to justify bringing those familiars at all.
This matters because the game is bound by multiple layers of time limit. Every time you venture out of the hotel you have a set length of time you can be out and you can only visit one place. Each visit takes one day, and you have a limited number of days per chapter. While the time limit is not terribly restrictive, it makes bringing familiars that can’t help you reach special places a waste of time, since you can’t always afford to take extra trips just for treasure. It’s an unfortunate reality that, even as the game advances and your time limit grows per trip, you can never visit multiple places in a single trip… which can make the time limit feel more restrictive than it otherwise needs to be.
A Story of Sacrifice
We step into this game as Aluche, having been given the task of guiding the ‘Bride’ to be sacrificed to this demon who is threatening the world. Soon after, we discover the obvious – the Bride is our long lost friend Liliana, and things quickly go to hell as we encounter the Bride, refuse to give Liliana up, and die. Don’t worry, what I’m spoiling is basically the first half hour of the game, if that.
The rest of the story explores the relationships between Aluche and her team of ‘Lilies’, the history of what happened since the first game, and a vast religious conspiracy. Unfortunately, only the first of those three is adequately developed within the course of the core game. I’ve heard rumours there are multiple endings, but the game doesn’t make it easy to find them, so I can’t really judge them. From the core story (as I saw it) exploring as many side quests as I could and exploring the stories of two characters to max ‘lily rank’, we got a ton of exposition on the characters, but not a whole lot of explanation of the rest of the events. Worse, the game’s ending comes completely out of left field and doesn’t really resolve much.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed what was there… it just felt really incomplete. It felt like I was reading a book with random pages torn out. A well written book, truly, but one that just lacked some explanations. The further the story progressed, the less it felt like I understood – and nothing really cleared up at the end. I did find the ending to be quite interesting, though. That just made me want to understand it even more. It creates an acute sense of frustration to have something interesting unfolding in front of you… and not have the information to make it all make sense.
I normally try to avoid comparing games too directly in reviews, but in this case, the games are so similar I felt it was important to spend some time discussing how this game lines up against the original Nights of Azure. It felt like a slight step backward in almost every way. The combat was less engaging, the music wasn’t quite as memorable, the visuals weren’t quite as pretty, and so on. Even the little details… the exploration was less engaging, the outfits were less interesting.
It seemed so weird to me to see a sequel be slightly worse than its predecessor in almost every way.
Nights of Azure 2 is a great game, and one that I will likely remember for a long time. Most of my criticisms stem from comparisons to the first game, and not overt flaws of this game itself. The game stifles choice a bit through some punishing time restrictions, and some aspects of the story aren’t developed as well as they deserved, but Nights of Azure 2 once again proves that Gust’s repertoire extends into more mature territories than their more famous Atelier series.