"Nights of Azure had untapped potential, which I can forgive; Nights of Azure 2 abandons that potential and refuses to work with it, and that's something I struggle to accept."
Sequels are a chance for developers to try and improve on their first game. I often find they experiment with new ideas, as well as improve on a couple of crucial flaws from its predecessor, and most of the time this works. If there was one game I reviewed last year that needed a few tweaks, Nights of Azure
was it. I really wanted to like it, because it wasn't a terrible game. It had some good ideas bogged down by repetitive combat and missed opportunities. Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon is Gust's attempt to make amends, but in the process, they manage to forget the few good things about the previous game which results in even more of a disappointment.
The plot follows an extremely similar pattern to the first game, but with even less at stake. Set a year later, Nights of Azure 2 focuses on a new agent of Curia called Aluche. She's tasked with defending up with her childhood friend, Liliana, who has been chosen as the "Bride of Time" to sacrifice herself to defeat the Moon Queen. Aluche is killed during the journey and wakes up to discover she's been turned into a half-demon and that Liliana has gone missing. With her newfound powers, she embarks on a quest to save her best friend and defeat the Moon Queen for good.
Nights of Azure 2 utilises many of the same tropes as the first game, yet completely forgets what made its predecessor refreshing. The relationship between Aluche and Liliana takes a backseat because she's absent for a portion of the game, which is a let-down. Rue, a holy knight, throws a wrench into the mix by falling in love with the half-demon, but their only attempt at romance is simply as a joke for the player. I wanted to feel some sort of connection between Aluche and either of the girls, but there was nothing. Instead, we're lead to believe girls in bikinis and girls who love chocolate are more important than meaningful romance.
When the game isn't relying on skimpy outfits, girls' weight, and overly sexualised shots of each and every character, you're out traversing the world and fighting Demons. The combat is still this game's strongest suit, but even this pales in comparison to the first game. The basics are still very much the same, but slashing through enemies feels more lethargic. Some of Aluche's attacks feel very delayed, and she doesn't careen through the enemies as smoothly as Arnice had in the original. This made an already repetitive system feel even more so.
One thing I was missing in Nights of Azure was a jump button, and my wish has been granted on this occasion. This made fighting enemies and exploring that little bit easier, and allowed me to have some fun racking up aerial combos to my heart's content. This wasn't to last though, as the game's camera often caused frustration, most frequently when you're in a tight corridor, or fighting a boss that has an affinity for jumping around the stage. Be prepared to lose sight of your friends and foes more than once as the camera begins to freak out.
The Servans are back, and I thought these were a really cool idea in the previous game, but they needed to be implemented correctly. While in the original you could take two groups of four Servans out with you, the sequel limits you to two. They now come in two variations — a Striker, which Aluche can transform into a weapon at the cost of the Servan's MP, and a Tricker, which Aluche commands to use magic on the enemies. This provides some versatility, but the tradeoff is you lose even more control of them. You can't tell them whether to attack or defend. This is exactly the opposite of what I wanted and expected.
Instead of relying on an extra Servan or two, Nights of Azure 2 allows another character to accompany you on your journey, called a Lily. Each Lily has a unique set of abilities which you can combine with Aluche's powers to devastate the field. Rue can cast a shield on Aluche to boost her defence for 20 seconds, or she can use a Lily Burst, which is essentially a double tech where the two characters team up to cause huge damage to your foes — even up to a third of a boss' health. I experimented with all seven supporting members, but I didn't find one that particularly stood out. What's more, they level up as and when you take them out, but even when I took my level 10 companion into the final dungeon, they were never in any danger. It made their progression feel redundant.
The best way to level these characters up is to complete sidequests. There are general requests, such as killing a certain number of demons or rescuing Servans, but there are also character-specific requests which increase their affinity. These are largely the same as the standard sidequests, but give your sidekick additional stat boosts and attacks, so they're worth doing. It's just a shame these involve the tedium of going back to every unremarkable area just to do the same thing again. Every single dungeon is just corridor after corridor, and are just as dark, gloomy, and uninteresting as the next. I often did sidequests in short bursts before missions, because I couldn't imagine undertaking hours of these at a time.
Underneath the gloominess of the world, the game actually looks okay, but it's hardly progressed from its predecessor. In fact, I found some of the character models awkward, which was a shame because they squandered their original design. Characters' eyes were too far apart, and their faces were unusually flat. The game's framerate dips only do more to harm the situation. And while the first game's soundtrack was the best part about it, even this isn't enough to redeem the game overall. Most tracks are forgettable and are inaudible when you're striking down enemies, and that's such a disappointment. I thought I could rely on good presentation from a Gust game, but even this has let me down.
I'm angry with Nights of Azure 2 because I was hoping it would take on the criticisms of the first game and work with them to make an improved sequel. Instead, everything from the gameplay, to the story, and even the music is a let-down from start to finish, and what redeemable qualities the first game had have been tossed aside in favour of moe
tropes and cheap fanservice. There's the shell of a good game in there, but not the contents. I don't hate the game, but I'm annoyed that I misplaced my hope: Nights of Azure had untapped potential, which I can forgive; Nights of Azure 2 abandons that potential and refuses to work with it, and that's something I struggle to accept.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.