Nights of Azure 2 bears a strange relationship with the first one. It begins the exact same way : Aluche is granted the title of Templar and her first mission is to escort priestress Liliana to where she will be sacrificed. As you could guess, Aluche is not too hot about letting her childhood friend die like this, even if that’s for the sake of saving the whole world from the wicked Moon Queen. From there, Aluche decides to disobey the Church and will seek to eliminate the Moon Queen all by herself.
Fans of the original Nights of Azure might be taken aback by the storytelling here. Because while Nights of Azure 2 tries to mimic its prequel, it’s surprisingly disconnected from it. The story of this second installement does a awful job at explaining the links between past and present : where the heck does the Moon Queen come from ? How did Arnice turn into a enemy ? Is there a reason why Camilla’s last name is Alucard ? Numerous questions raised by the story aren’t properly answered in the narrative, which is frustrating at best. You even have to look into the encyclopedia within the game to get essential details.
Actually, the narrative in a whole is one giant mess with big holes and almost no plot (the real one). In the end, the story is nothing more than « search & destroy the Moon Queen ». Every other story element is blatantly underused : the Rurud Order, some big organisation supposed to compete with you, doesn’t do a thing. The Church has almost zero screentime whereas it was a the center of the intrigue before, and your allies’ indentity and personality lack details. If you liked the subtilities of Nights of Azure 1, I regret to inform you that it will be a distant memory here. That said, I did feel some good storylines like for example the relationship between Aluche and Myuvel, but here again everything happens so fast that it can’t be felt epic or emotional. It would have needed far more background/cutscenes to feel truly great. With approximately 20 hours to clear it, Nights of Azure 2 looks simply too short to tell a proper RPG story.
Very limited in its main story, Nights of Azure 2 tries to make up for it with substories for each secondary character. Aside Liliana, you can date 6 other girls. I say « date » on purpose because while it’s a little exaggerated, the theme of the series still lies in the yuri, that is to say the attraction between women. That’s a bit new because the previous one was centered on Arnice with somewhat little relationship feature. You will thus be able to progress on any of your buddies’ own story by completing the quests they propose. Nothing fantastic, because it will always be matter of taking the girl with you to slay some demons or lead her to a certain location. Eventually meaningless in terms of gameplay or experience, as you’ll quickly be sighing over the abysmal dialogs. As said before, all this lacks a whole prologue dimension and much better writing to be efficient.
In terms of gameplay, you’ll find again combos mixing square and triangle buttons, like in the first one. There are a tad more variations in this sequel, so a slightly richer action part. Buttons are customizable if you need to adapt the controls to your habits. The player can still use other weapons : the two-handed sword, the cristal sword, the great shield and the mirror shield. This part is fairly underwhelming, as both swords and both shields perform identical moves. Worse, the weapon-changing system is blatantly unconvenient, which prevents you from having fully access to those powerful great swords. Again, a significant step back from the first one. And the big problem remains : your blows still lack a sensation of impact or power, making battles very slack. Even boss fights were uninteresting, whereas they were absolutely great with Arnice.
The big new thing of Nights of Azure 2 is tag battle, because you’ll always have one of the girls as ally when going into dungeons. Each of them has her own personal abilities, focused on attack or defense. Liliana for example can revive Aluche from KO, useful when you consider the cost of losing in this game. She can also boost attack status for a few seconds. More offensive, Veruschka can kill an enemy in one blow or cause damage on a wide area. There are also two gauges that allow super abilities known as Double Chase and Lily Burst, two types of combined attacks that deal maximum damage.
The world of Nights of Azure 2 is composed of several dungeons themselves divided in very small sectors. Those ones are rather flat and empty, except for some various traps not so dangerous anyway. A pretty much uneventful progression and poor level design that doesn’t live up to the architecture of the first game. The time you can spend outside the hotel is still limited to 10-20 minutes depending how far you’ve developed Aluche’s status, but the huge revolution here is that you also have a limitation in terms of days, exactly like in an Atelier game! Every sortie costs you one day, symbolised by moon phases : if the moon gets fully dark, it’s game over. A little bit of organization is therefore essential on who you take with you and where you go, especially if you intend to complete character routes. You also need to fight well, because every KO brings you back to the hotel.
Fortunately, each main boss you defeat rewinds the Moon phases, and in the worst case scenario you can always redo the whole chapter. The problem is that unlike Atelier, the schedule is kinda tight and getting to maximum friend level is difficult at first. Unless you know the conditions for good end in advance, the game sends you straight to bad end.
Nights of Azure 2 brings back the Servants, those friendly monsters helping you in the fights. But here again Gust made radical but unappropriate changes. First, you now only have 2 Servants following you, whereas in a previous game you were allowed to bring as many as 4 groups of 4! The monster deck is of course no more, and the entire strategic side of the feature has vanished : no way to form tactical groups like before. Servants also have new roles : remove obstacles on your path or turn themselves into weapons for Aluche. Servants are hidden in some places on the maps, often in a blocked path. So in order to secure all the Servants, you need to permanently have with the Servants that can clear the path, which makes the others pretty much useless. It’s especially annoying in terms of weapons, because you’ll almost never bring the Servants that transform into the weapons I mentioned earlier. Hence you’ll rarely have the occasion to use them. Another consequence of all this is that Aluche can’t transform like Arnice did, another key feature of Nights of Azure that has been sadly ditched here.
In a trailer published early July, Gust underlined that they had made considerable effort to improve PSVita version (although they probably knew it would never reach the West). Indeed, there is a huge leap in graphics and modeling, it’s even pretty neat. But you still have to expect far less good frame-rate and hiccups. Lightning effects are reduced among other drawbacks, but it runs well enough to ensure confortable sessions outside. Ironically, Nights of Azure 2 represents the improved PSVita version of a game itself in sharp decline.
On PS4, you’d expect something a lot more beautiful, but it’s not always obvious. This home console version is quite close to the portable one on certain cutscenes, to the point you’d come to wonder if it’s the PSVita doing a record best or the PS4 being low quality. I would tend to think on the latter, because despite much more good-looking fighting (numerous effects during attacks, etc.), aesthetics go from correct to subpar. This is when you realize that in promotion videos, Gust had been using mostly pre-rendered cutscenes! Not very fair… In real time, modeling is average and facial expressions non existent. In terms of graphics or animation, Nights of Azure 2 on PS4 is not even remotely close to Blue Reflection, a game released six months before by the exact same developer.
But that’s not the end of it because the game crashed on both systems, and includes numerous annoying sound bugs : voices and sounds effect are time to time inaudible in battle. The sound environment wasn’t very good to begin with, because of the blatant lack of lavish sound effects in battle. The soundtrack will partially make up for this, with orchestration is still great in every possible tone. Then a question needs to be raised : was it relevant to develop 3 versions of Nights of Azure 2 at once, especially when you know that PS4 version alone accounts for more than 60% of total sales in Japan? This latest Gust title has all the symptoms a of rushed product lacking a compelling story and decent polish. We’re glad to get swimsuits for every character, but having a complete experience along with them would be nice.
Nights of Azure 2 is a disastrophic sequel any way you look at it. The delay didn’t help the slightest. Far from living up to the first one, Nights of Azure 2 is nothing more has ruined gameplay and a story in shambles. By releasing such a poor product Gust and KoeiTecmo deal a fatal blow to a promising franchise. Both publisher and developer should rethink the way they’re doing this, because it would be unacceptable to see Atelier Lidy & Soeur suffering from such pathetic development circumstances.