A return to the Gothic world of night, charismatic demons and mysterious religious orders established in GUST's original ARPG Nights of Azure was sure to be a challenging and entertaining experience right? At the very least the developers needed to copy and paste the story and gameplay onto new characters and level designs for this standalone sequel to be a moderate success. Unfortunately, Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon veered off in a different direction from its predecessor, distilling the over-the-top yuri sensuality to comic proportions and channeling the spirit of a puzzle game to breathe new Frankenstein-esque life into the basic ARPG hack and slash style gameplay. The result is a cornucopia of fun game elements that are all working against each other.
At the start, Nights of Azure 2 seems a little too similar to Nights of Azure. The same character archetypes are used and the gameplay is very similar, with timed missions defined by basic objectives like get to point B or kill X amount of enemies. However, those similarities quickly break down once you get further into the game, leaving fans of the original wishing the sequel was as uninspired a clone of the original as it seemed at first glance.
Our protagonist is Aluche, a courageous Knight of the Curia that is more brawn than brain. She is tasked with protecting her childhood friend, the powerful priestess Lilia, who has been chosen to be sacrificed to the Moon Queen in an effort to keep the world from being plunged into an eternal, demon-ruled night. This solution doesn't sit well with Aluche who decides to defeat the Moon Queen instead of giving into her demands. In the process, our heroine is turned into a half-demon vampire and must grow more powerful before tracking down the big bad Moon Queen, saving her friend and the world.
It's a functional enough premise and to the writer's credit, there are a few twists that keep it more interesting. However, peppered throughout are intriguing hints of things going on in other characters lives that are never resolved. This is likely because there is a large cast of characters that the game doesn't have time to fully flesh out, but players won't get very attached to any of them as a result. This takes much of the emotional punch out of a game that tries to hang its hat on the tragic romance angle. To make things more unsatisfying, there are a lot of unskippable cutscenes that don't manage to convey the gravitas needed to make the emotional beats land. This makes all the text boxed dialogue meant to set up banal side quests all the more tedious. Overall, the writing is lackluster, filled with awkward jokes, over the top fan service and overly dramatic sapphic romances.
The game includes a decent soundtrack, a nice variety in the cast of companions, GUST's trademark creepy enemy designs and interesting weapons to use. The ladies are easy on the eyes, although the graphics aren't top notch and hopefully clipping issues aren't a turnoff. Many of these additions to the game would be great on their own but put all together they butt heads so that players won't get to fully explore them or make the game less enjoyable. At the heart of the gameplay is another of GUST's trademarks, the use of time as a combined game and story element. Aluche has a set amount of time to go out each night and hunt. During this time she can complete missions and accrue money, items, and XP. Our scantily clad knight is also racing against the waning moon. If you don't move the story forward before a new moon, it's game over.
Both of these timed elements present an interesting challenge that will appeal to a certain type of gamer and frustrate others. Yet, they work against other gameplay mechanics that would otherwise be enjoyable. For instance, there are many companions Aluche can take with her into battle but the time crunch will prevent players from getting to experiment with all the combinations available. There is a nice selection of Servans, demon companions, two of which you can bring along with you to hunt. Some of these Servans have utilitarian abilities that will help you unlock new areas of the map, others give Aluche special weapons that she can use and level up. All these creatures have unique abilities and attacks.
This diverse selection of companions allows players to find the one that fits their playstyle and to approach challenges in different ways. Unfortunately, you'll never know which abilities are the most useful for any given area before you load the next hunt and start the timer. The timed mechanic punishes you for bringing the wrong companions along by making you waste time re-running an area or loading a save to try again. In fact, the best strategy is probably to load a level with the intention of running through it to case the joint. Then immediately load a save and replay the level with the best combination of companions. The reliance on certain Servans with utilitarian abilities to unlock different areas of the map also forces players to invest points in those companions instead of the ones that they find the most fun to play with. This is a de facto removal of choice making it so that players won't get to play the game with the companions they really want until a second or third playthrough. And while the game was clearly designed with New Game Plus in mind, the conflicting gameplay elements and long cutscenes aren't much of an incentive to do so.
In addition to the many Servans in the game, there are also a handful of ladies that can join you in combat. From a ranged attacking mad scientist to a healing chocolatier that would be more at home in an Atelier game, players have more leeway when it comes to who they want to bring along. Ranging in fighting style and physical appeal each female companion has their own side quests to complete and unique relationship with Aluche. Whether it's for story reasons, play style or physical preferences, players can choose one of these lucky ladies to bring along each night and the more you interact with them the higher your affection meter will fill.
The affection mechanic is fun and one of the most alluring reasons to play through the game a second time to see if maxing out various waifu's affection meters changes the story or unlocks fun abilities. Yet, in these companions lies another conflicting game element. Each friend brings a few special abilities into combat ranging from a quick revenge strike to a fully animated ultimate attack. These special moves seem more at home in turn-based combat than real-time action. The animations aren't skippable and break the flow of combat.
Combat should be solid in an ARPG, yet Nights of Azure 2 doesn't get the fighting quite right. Even without the complications of the companions, combat isn't great. Hacking and slashing demons is a mere obstacle to get to story objectives. Various weapons come with a variety of combos to master however, players can probably get by with a favored two, or even just button mashing. The lock on system is terrible and your AI controlled companions are less than reliable. The boss fights aren't particularly interesting or challenging either. Even the end boss is just a boilerplate three-stage grind in a circular arena.
So if the combat isn't where this game shines, and the story is lackluster, then surely the novel puzzle elements must be where this game finds its stride. From activating switches or aligning mirrors to opening up essential passageways, fighting enemies in the right order to get crucial item drops or even just bringing the right elemental Servan to unlock a chest, this game has a strong puzzle presence. The puzzle elements aren't particularly clever and can feel like filler to pad out a level and run out the clock. Solving puzzles under the duress of time can be a fun challenge, but adding that pressure to completing missions and defeating waves of enemies can seem like too much.
The addition of puzzles to Nights of Azure vastly changes the way it plays. The first game was all about choosing the right combination of Servan companions, learning their abilities and flawlessly executing attacks to clear enemies and bosses as fast as possible. In Bride of the New Moon, the focus is more on exploring levels as quickly and efficiently as possible which means having the right utilitarian Servans with you. Figuring out the solution to a puzzle, even a simple one, can take more time than clearing waves of enemies and uses different parts of your brain that may not appeal to the same audience that enjoyed the first game in the series.
GUST had a lot of good ideas when trying to bring something new to Nights of Azure 2. The larger cast of characters, affection mechanic and focus on exploration all have their merits. Regrettably, these elements clash with the time mechanic central to all the developer's games. Some may find this title's unabashed embrace of fan service to be delightfully tongue in cheek but it comes across as more comical than heartfelt making the Gothic themes and tragic romance of the plot less affecting. All in all, the game comes off as more of a joke punctuated by bouncing bosoms and laughable boss fights. Perhaps the sexy cast of characters that define the series will be enough to keep it alive but the plot and gameplay of Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon probably isn't.
Nights of Azure 2 attempts to add new gameplay elements to the tragic Gothic romance of the ARPG franchise but things like puzzles, map exploration and a larger party to master work against the timing mechanic that is central to the game's design. Add that to a trite plot and pandering fan service and there isn't much to praise.
- Interesting New Characters and Servans
- Plenty of Swimsuit Scenes
- Lily System with Affection Mechanic
- Conflicting Game Elements
- Unchallenging Boss Fights
- Unskippable Cutscenes
- Graphical Issues