Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon Review
Last year’s Nights of Azure proved to be a mediocre action RPG from developer Gust, but it marked a willingness to branch out from their trademark Atelier series. I found that it had several interesting ideas that didn’t quite all mesh together. Nights of Azure left me hopeful… and that was a mistake.
Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon manages to find a way to be worse than its predecessor in almost every way.
Set an indeterminate period of time after the first game, Nights of Azure 2 stars a new protagonist - Aluche. She is an agent working for the Curia and tasked with sacrificing her childhood friend, Liliana, to prevent the Moon Queen from plunging the world into eternal night. Of course, Aluche is against this and sets out on a journey to find another way to save the world.
Sound familiar? Throw around some names, terminology, and it’s pretty much a repeat of the first Nights of Azure’s story.
The big difference in Nights of Azure 2 is that the whole cast is more directly involved with the struggle now. Many side characters in the first game felt like they brushed your problem to the side, which led to some awkward moments of cognitive dissonance. Now the cast in Nights of Azure 2 feels unified and have better chemistry with one another.
Characters are now more delightfully distinct both in design and personality. Ruenheid is another childhood friend of Aluche and Liliana that now works for the Lourdes Order which opposes the Curia. Camilla is a cold, calculating doctor that turned Aluche into a half demon. There’s even an adorable chocolatier among others that all get caught up in Aluche’s situation. Nights of Azure 2’s cast is certainly an improvement because the first game barely had one.
Beyond that, Nights of Azure 2 begins to crumble in every other aspect. Much like the first game, a hotel serves as Aluche’s headquarters. Since she’s now a half demon, she can only travel out at night for a specific amount of time. If the time limit expires, Aluche and her party will return to the hotel immediately. This is all fine and dandy to me until I began to uncover how structurally different the sequel is - and not in a good way.
Parties no longer involve a party of four Servan familiars. Instead, another character can fight alongside Aluche with up to two Servans. These Lily Partners are a nuisance to deal with because the AI is inconsistent; sometimes they’ll attack relentlessly and sometimes they’ll stare blankly at incoming foes. Some commands can be given to them, but there is no way to take direct control of them.
Lily Partners are crucial in combat nonetheless thanks to the new Double Chase and Lily Burst mechanics. A Chase Gauge fills up as your partner simultaneously lands hits with Aluche on the same enemy. Once it’s maxed out, a special Double Chase attack can wipe out hordes of surrounding foes. Meanwhile, a separate Tension Gauge is responsible for the ultimate Lily Burst attacks. Lily Bursts will annihilate all opposition that get caught in their target range. Every Lily Partner has different Double Chase and Lily Burst animations.
These systems are good in theory, but implemented poorly. The Chase Gauge is a finicky thing to maintain; it’ll immediately empty itself into the Tension Gauge if no more enemies are around. I found less chances to Double Chase the more powerful I got because I’d clear out enemy waves before the gauge could fill up. Plus, Double Chase has an unnecessary timer when it’s available. If you don’t use it in the few seconds it’s up, it’s gone! Sometimes it randomly disappeared when I was dashing around too.
On the other hand, Lily Bursts are quite useful against foes with a lot of HP. All the Lily Partners have a different target range for their bursts. All the attacks are super flashy, but become a chore to watch after using it again and again and again. There’s no way to skip the attack animation and the amount of time you see them quickly begins to add up.
Another feature that Lily Partners have are their unique skills. Some active skills buff Aluche while others assault enemies. Special passive skills can revive her or remove status ailments from her. Find your favorites and stick with them.
The more you use a specific Lily Partner, the higher their affinity will grow towards Aluche. This’ll unlock new quests that lets you learn more about them along with more skills for them to use. Completionists beware - it’s impossible to max out everyone’s affinity in one playthrough so if you want to see everything it has to offer, prepare for subsequent runs of the game
That's because Nights of Azure 2 has another time limit beyond the standard one for stages. Phases of the moon are a constant thing to worry about. If it ever becomes a new moon in Nights of Azure 2, it is game over and players will either have to reload an earlier save or start at the beginning of a chapter. Every time you return to the hotel, Aluche must sleep even if there was still time remaining for the stage. Sleeping consumes one moon phase and the only way to “regain” them is to beat story bosses.
This creates a viciously repetitive game cycle. A chapter will start and bombard you with a laundry list of quests; many of the time-sensitive chapter exclusive ones will have you revisit a past stage to kill a certain amount of enemies. In fact, there are a few kill quests that open up for the same area after you complete the previous one… so you have to waste another night trip to complete it.
Since you can only go to one stage per night, you’ll be compelled to wipe that stage clean of enemies to optimize the amount of experience and money gained. Once that’s done, you go back to the lovely Hotel Eterna to rest and do it all over again until you decide to advance the story to refill the moon.
The stage time limit is brutal at first with only ten minutes to spare. Leveling Aluche up will add a few seconds to it and there’s a skill tree to add on even more time to make it more bearable. I was adding on time to allow myself even more time to grind stages even more thoroughly. What a nightmare.
Each stage also has inaccessible areas unless you have the right Servans on you by chance. Specific Tricker-class Servans can overcome obstacles; one can burn down thorns in your path, another can discharge electric fences, and a special Servan can fly you up to higher platforms. This is where the two Servan limit feels awfully restrictive, but you’ll (unfortunately) be revisiting areas so much that you’ll know what to expect.
Striker-class Servans turn into new weapons for Aluche. Some turn into greatswords, spears, and even a mirror shield that can fire a laser beam. They’re fun to mess around with but the game didn’t give me a compelling incentive to use them as much as the ones that cleared stage obstacles. I wish that Nights of Azure 2 allowed me to deploy four Servans like the previous game; it would’ve made things a lot more interesting.
Then again, I shudder to think about how that would impact the game’s performance even further. I’ve only played Nights of Azure 2 on the PlayStation 4, but it is a hot mess there. The first Nights of Azure can reach 60fps with frequent dips into 30, yet Nights of Azure 2 can barely manage 30fps with recurrtent stutters. When combat gets hectic, controls would feel unresponsive and it just felt horrible to play even more than it already did. I’m shocked that the performance is this bad; its visuals aren’t a huge step-up to warrant it either.
The only improvement in Nights of Azure 2 is Gust doubling down on the relationships of the all-female cast. If you’re willing to accept the terribly tedious gameplay loop and glaring technical hiccups, there’s some amusement to be had. There’s a pool in the hotel for all the girls to showcase their different swimsuit attire as they lightly flirt with one another. It never delves into full-blown romance weirdly enough, although it leans so heavily on it.
Lasting roughly 20 hours long, the game wears out its welcome. New Game+ helps speed up future playthroughs especially when it comes to maxing affinity points with Lily Partners. It also has multiple endings like the first as well.
Nights of Azure 2: Bride of the New Moon is a very disappointing follow-up to the first game. Its reliance on constant repetitive stage runs quickly become boring. Combat is marred by fickle AI partners on top of horrid framerate drops. Its characters are serviceable, but its unimpressive plot does little to make them memorable. If you’re curious about Gust’s ongoing forray into action RPGs, just play (or replay) the first Nights of Azure.