Nights of Azure is a Japanese role-playing game set in a world where demons are taking over the night. As with any JRPG, there's a lot of lore to get your head around – so buckle in. The game is set after the defeat of the Ruler of the Night, who, once beaten, showered the world in his blue blood. Those who came into contact with the blood turned into demons, and are stealing the night from the humans. The game centres around protagonist Arnice, who somehow resisted the blood, and as a result is half-demon, half-human, and she's been tasked by a mysterious organisation, Curia, to reclaim the night. Arnice fights using weapons that she summons using her demon blood alongside assistants known as Servans, which she actualizes from collected fetishes – that is, she makes creatures out of inanimate objects.
There are some interesting concepts thrown into the game, but there are so many different bits and pieces to understand that it can sort of seem like you're drowning in information. Arnice has a friend, Lilysse, who is a Saint, and is destined to seal the remains of the Ruler of the Night. It's heavily implied that there's definitely something more than just friendship between the two, but the game is actually surprisingly subtle about it; beyond the girls' obviously ridiculous proportions and jiggling, the fanservice is pretty toned down. It's because of this relationship that Arnice seeks out an alternative to ending the Ruler of the Night once and for all, without Lilysse having to sacrifice herself. These are just two of the main plot points, but past that there's a lot of other stuff going on, which all seems to get bogged down in the weight of the main story without having much bearing on it.
As it's the night-time that needs protecting, Arnice does all of her exploring during the moonlit hours. Leaving from the hotel base, a 15-minute timer starts counting down, and you select an unlocked region of the town map to visit. Walking into certain areas triggers fights with enemies, where you can choose to unleash your Servans – of whom you can have a maximum of four in your party. These brawls are fought within the existing environment, which makes the exploration flow seamlessly. It's a pleasant experience.
The hack and slash combat is fun, if not a little easy. Arnice possesses the ability to generate different weapons using her blue blood, so once they've been unlocked, you can easily switch between them using the directional pad. The game tells you that each weapon has its benefits, but honestly, it's not overly obvious what these are, so the need for switching isn't great unless you're up for some experimentation. What's more, there are no enemies that pose a particular threat, and even boss battles are easily dealt with without too much thought.
As for the Servans themselves, you have no direct control over them. You can tell them where to go, and give them tactical orders, but ultimately they're artificial intelligence, and can often act in the most infuriating ways – like healing Arnice when she's only lost a few health points, rather than rescuing another Servan on the brink of death.
Each Servan has its own strengths, weaknesses, and skills. Once you've found the right combination for your team, there's little incentive to actualize any more Servans - unless you really want to check out every single one of them. With the right team behind you, the already easy difficulty level drops even lower, and defeating even the most formidable of bosses will seem like a relatively simple task. It's a shame, in a way, that the release doesn't reward you for trying to get more out of the Servan system, but at least it's there for those that want it.
Levelling up, meanwhile, is a strange task. While your Servans level up the traditional way – experience points gained through battle serve to make them stronger, and each level comes with its own perks for each of the creatures – Arnice's levelling isn't quite as straightforward. Using one of the in-game currencies, the blood collected from enemies after defeat, Arnice visits a sacrificial alter in a sort of dream world that's accessible through the elevator in the hotel. There, she buys her upgrades while wearing what's an incredibly revealing outfit because, apparently, the more skin on show, the more blood that you can offer.
Honestly, the whole thing is a little convoluted, but does offer an interesting tactical question: will you spend the collected blood on upgrading Arnice herself, or spend it in demon shops on fetishes for actualization and booster items? Unfortunately, the question kind of answers itself. Fetishes and booster items are easily acquired through looting treasure chests or item drops, but there's only one way that Arnice is going to level up.
Outside of combat and exploration, a lot of the action takes place in the hotel. There's a fighting arena in the basement, where Arnice is invited to complete challenges for rewards, be it blood, coins, or items. There's the previously mentioned sacrificial altar, too, though beyond levelling up when you've got enough blood, there's not much need to visit, unless you're prompted by the game.
Once you've met certain characters, you'll also unlock a mini-game of sorts in the form of a world map with unlockable trade routes. To unlock the routes, you just pay for an expedition to the area and wait the allotted number of days. The trade merchants will then return with an item from that area, and then you're done. It's not a particularly involved process, but it does give you something else to do outside of the main story.
Simon, the hotelier, is the one to talk to for quests. While most can be undertaken during Arnice's night-time exploits, eventually, day-time activities are introduced. Because the whole point of the game is that demons are taking over the night, the day-time is a little boring, so you don't actually get to see Arnice doing these tasks, and just get an update of how they went once you get your daily report. Spoiler: they always go fine.
While Nights of Azure is an enjoyable enough ride, it doesn't really possess anything that makes it worth investing a large amount of time in. A lot of the game's extra components, like the inclusion of merchant trading, seem sloppy and poorly thought out, offered as a mere distraction from the rest of the release. Luckily, it's fairly easy to power through combat and see out the story, and doing so is reasonably satisfying, if not a little repetitive at times.