Ah, Gust… I love you most of the time, but your quirky way of making games can get to be trying. While I missed the first Nights of Azure (I finally got my paws on a copy that’s in transit), Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon comes off as an intriguing standalone sequel that’s got some fine points but is quite flawed when it comes to gameplay elements.
It’s certainly got plenty of fan service if you like your cast of all-female characters doing their Action/RPG thing wearing revealing outfits of questionable levels of protection against injury. However, main character Aluche comes off as a mostly clueless to attraction cypher with a curvy figure (like almost every other character in the game). But between the strict timed gameplay that limits the action, somewhat pedestrian plot and AI that could be better, this one’s hard to love although it has its moments.
It’s not that the game doesn’t try its level best to be accessible or likeable, but it certainly gets off to a slightly shaky start that more or less spells out the rest of the game in a nutshell. Heroine Aluche is driving a stagecoach and spies a young girl about to be attacked by werewolf-like creatures. She leaps off the moving coach and into the game’s first of many running tutorials and defeats the foes. The next scene begins with Aluche and the newly rescued Liliana riding in the stagecoach and talking right before the pair are attacked again and the next set of tutorials begins. Um… so, who’s driving the stagecoach? Amusingly enough, a later coach scene has a shot of a faceless driver seen for a split second, as if the developer realized they made a little bit of an error earlier.
Aluche soon meets her childhood friend Ruenheid (another tutorial set) and the trio eventually meet up with Malvasia, The Moon Queen who (oops) kills Aluche after a brief battle. She’s brought back to life by Camilla Alucard (yep), a doctor researching demons who uses Aluche as a guinea pig. Aluche now has the blood of the first game’s lead character coursing through her veins, some powerful skills that grow as the game progresses, and a lust for blood (fangs and all). She’s also crippled by only being able to go outside for ten minutes at a time before she collapses, so oops… there’s that trade-off working against her new powers.
The game proper ends up being disappointing because nicely rendered characters and a few environments aside, it’s pretty standard Action/RPG that plays like a sexier Dynasty Warriors/Sengoku Musou game with a far stricter time limit or a scaled down all-female version of Omega Force’s highly underrated Trinity: Souls of Zill O’ll (which really needs a PS4 upgrade). Initially, Aluche has a mere ten minutes to smash through enemy ranks on the way to a successful checkpoint that allows fast travel to new areas or back to her home base, the luxurious Hotel Eterna. That time increases as she gains levels and spends ability points or gains extra time via quest rewards. But the moon’s status also comes into play as if you waste too many game days completing an area, you get a Game Over and it’s a trip to your last save or worse, a full chapter replay.
The problem is for a game that begs you to explore later stages, that time limit forces you to keep one eyeball on the timer on the upper right of the screen and the other on the furiously paced action scenes that require a load of controller inputs. You have two Servan allies (down from four in the first game) and one AI companion you can dive orders to, a load of combos based on weapons or Servans acquired, and other skills needed to take out enemy packs as quickly as possible. The net result at some point is you’ll run out of time at some point because you get stuck on a boss stage as the timer ticks down or you miss the area on a map that unlocks the fast travel option and have to go back to the hotel before the clock runs out.
Granted, you can just abuse the save system and retry maps until you complete chapters and advance the storyline. The game is after all, made to be replayed multiple times because it’s impossible to see every relationship angle develop fully or explore every mission you’re given because of moon phase factor. The issue is the game’s assorted flaws make it a tough replay unless you’re fully committed to living with its currently unpatched problems. The frame rate dips a bit much (I hear the Switch version is worse) and while the action is satisfying, some things seem off.
For example, you have a set of meters that build up, enabling Aluche to unleash special attacks with her AI ally or allow them to assist with a special move. As your eyes are going to be busy with the game’s tossing enemy packs at you, you might miss out on jamming on the Circle button or the fact you can wipe out some strong enemies with L1 and Circle when the chance arises. Having to watch your time really kills the fun because it drags the game down into a series of “run past as many enemies as you can until you get locked in an area where you beat up a midboss that unlocks a fast travel gate” sessions. Of course, bosses tend to be a bit trickier to take down.
As the game continues on, Aluche gains a few new allies (Servans and humans with a few surprises on the side) and enemies, but the hectic clock-watching pacing of the levels stays pretty much the same. In my opinion, Gust should have gone full Dynasty Warriors/Sengoku Musou with this sequel, opened up the maps for free exploration and let players carve their way through at their own pace. That moon phase stuff could have been better implemented as it forces you to rush to boss fights which extend the phase, but still force you to play maps too quickly.
Visually, the game’s character models look great as do most enemies. Even though this is Teen rated, you’ll get an eyeful of skimpy outfits and a mildly sexual undertone as Aluche deals with her new and old friends. It seems there’s a lot of attraction on display, but as noted, Aluche is kind of slow to get what’s going on or mostly ignores or scampers from desire. That’s too bad, as it would have been nice to see a more positive view of a same-sex relationship. That said, it’s also amusing to see clueless Aluche stumble and bumble through the game like some clueless guys do when they meet the gal of their dreams. Sounds and music are alright, but I’m going to need to check out the first game to compare.
While I didn’t hate my time with Nights of Azure 2, it’s clear a bit more work needed to be put in, especially with the game wrapping up some of its story in a pretty decent manner. Still, those gorgeous characters in the art above really needed to be in a much better game with more refined gameplay. I’ll go back at some point to uncover more during a replay, but for now, it’s back to the grind with other games while hoping Gust goes the extra mile should there be a third game made.
Score: C (70%)
Review code provided by the publisher.