Koei Tecmo Continues Their Legacy Of Disappointing PC Ports
Ports like this are always a difficult thing to review. On the one hand, Nights of Azure is a lovely, well-written, and endlessly entertaining RPG that’s more than worthy of your time, just as it was in 2015 (if you’re in Japan) or last year (for the rest of the world.) On the other hand, the Steam version is a lazy hack job of a port that, while more functional than, say, Arkham Knight, does nothing to set itself apart from the PS4 version, and in many ways may even be inferior.
Whether or not that makes the game worth buying to you is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. After all, as Arnice is fond of saying: “I control my destiny!”
Let’s start with the good, because there’s a lot to talk about. Not a lot’s changed, so much of this will sound familiar if you read Mike’s review of the PS4 version. First of all, the story – arguably the game’s biggest selling point – is still well-written and fantastically told, even for someone like me who’s generally not a big fan of Japanese games. 800 years before the start of the game, a beast called “The Lord of Night” was slain by a holy warrior, whereupon his demonic blue blood rained upon the Earth and corrupted everything it touched. Humans who were poisoned by this blood twisted into horrible monsters called “fiends”, who come out at night to feast on living humans. Much is made of the way humanity now fears the night as a result – hence, “Nights of Azure.” It’s like a fantasy take on the classic zombie setting, except a lot more awesome and original than that sounds.
Not everyone’s afraid of the fiends, though. Enter Arnice, the game’s protagonist, a holy knight in service of a group called the Curia which is dedicated to protecting humanity from these horrible beasts. She arrives on the uncharted (yet developed and populated?) island of Ruswal and runs into her childhood friend Lilysse, a priestess with the ability to purify the corrupting influence of the Lord of the Night’s blue blood. Arnice learns that the Curia wants to sacrifice Lilysse to make her the latest in a line of martyrs that keep the Lord of Night from returning to our world, and is forced to make the difficult decision between saving the world and saving her best friend. The story is well-written, and well-told through the excellent voice acting (and English subtitles that were actually written by someone who can write, and write well – not just a translator.) Characters are fleshed out, well-rounded, and interesting, and the story manages to balance its dark and often depressing subject manner with just the right amount of humor for it to feel impactful without ever devolving into actual farce.
The presentation in general is stellar. The music is lovely, the graphics are gorgeous (though no moreso than they were on PS4, as I’ll discuss in a minute), and even on my laptop the game runs at a consistent 60 FPS, which is rare for Koei Tecmo PC ports. But presentation and even story mean nothing if the gameplay is lacking, and in this respect Nights of Azure mostly delivers. Combat itself is fast-paced and a heck of a lot of fun – largely standard but immensely satisfying hack-and-slash stuff involving a mix of light, medium, and heavy attacks that can be strung into combos. While Arnice is the only playable member of the party, she can also summon Servans, semi-fiendish assistants that act a bit like Pokemon but with more bloodlust. The Servans have their own levels and experience and a wide array of offensive, defensive, and support abilities, and mastering them is a crucial part of the game’s combat. Well, maybe not “mastering” – the game’s fairly easy and has no difficulty settings, less about careful resource management and more about colorful chaos, something which I don’t necessarily mind but which gamers looking for more of a challenge may find off-putting.
Later in the game, you also get the ability to turn into a demon. So that’s fun.
Unfortunately, the PC port still comes with plenty of the problems we (and other sites) complained about in the past. While the Hotel Ende as a central location that you return to after every mission is a cool idea, and it’s a location with a lot of charm, I still think the game would have been better as a linear series of levels. For one thing, you can’t access any of the items you get in combat until you return to the Hotel, meaning that your initial excitement is completely lost by the time you return and find a whole bunch of items you forgot you had. You can also only level up by returning to the Hotel and sitting through a dream sequence in the elevator, which makes sense in the context of the story but forces the pace of the gameplay to come to a screeching halt. And everything, everything has to be managed through a horribly unintuitive series of clunky menus that make it difficult to compare the abilities of items, equip gear, or manage your Servans. With how easy the game is, you might just not bother, selling all but your very best gear at the end of each mission and finding four Servans you like well enough to upgrade and keep until the end of the game.
Nights of Azure is one of those rare RPGs where I enjoy both the cutscenes and the gameplay, and don’t feel the need to skip either, so I guess they felt like they had to implement something that was a waste of the player’s time.
Not only does the PC port not fix these problems, it doesn’t really make any changes at all, other than the fact that all DLC now comes as part of the standard package. And when I say no changes, I mean none – all of the button prompts are still for PS4 controllers, and though I found my Steam controller was an acceptable substitute, I can’t recommend getting this game at all if all you’re working with is a keyboard and mouse. What’s more, while the game itself ran mostly fine, the otherwise beautifully-animated cutscenes had visual glitches, framerate issues, and crashed more than once (though admittedly, this may be fixed with a patch at or shortly after launch.) There’s also almost none of the graphics settings options you would expect from a triple-A PC game. There’s two different types of anti-aliasing, and only a handful of resolutions (sorry, everyone with a 1440p monitor.)
If, like me, you don’t own a PS4 and never had a chance to play Nights of Azure when it was fresh and exciting, this is a good-enough port that it’s worth dealing with its relatively minor issues just to play a really fun hack-and-slash RPG with a dark and gripping story. Again – at least it isn’t locked to 30 FPS (“cinematic” my foot.) But if you don’t own a controller, you’re gnona have a real bad time, and if you already own the game or have access to a PS4, there’s really nothing to recommend the Steam version over the original.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4, PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: Koei Tecmo America ; Developer: Gust Co. ; Players: 1; Released: February 7, 2017; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $29.99;
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Nights of Azure.