By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong

NIGHTS OF AZURE 2: Bride of the New Moon (NotA 2) is the sequel to the action role-playing game published by Koei Tecmo in 2015. Created by Gust, a developer best known for the hugely successful Atelier and Ar Tonelico series, the new release features a mix of hack-and-slash combat and party-based RPG mechanics, with heavy focus on its characters and backstory. Highlighting an anime art style with tons of fan service, as well as multiple endings depending on player decisions, it provides an attractive premise for those looking for a good game to sink their teeth into.

In NotA 2, players take control of Aluche, an agent of the Curia tasked to escort the Priestess Liliana, her friend, to a demonic she-devil in command of legions of monsters hell-bent on bringing about the end of the world. The mission takes a turn for the worse, and Liliana is kidnapped. Slain by the Moon Queen, Aluche is brought back to life, but as a devil-human hybrid who possesses extraordinary strength and is prone to the demonic urges present in her blood. With this newfound power at her disposal, Aluche must find a way to recover Liliana, beat the Moon Queen, and save the world.

As with its predecessor, NotA 2 is not without negatives. For all the story’s seemingly sweeping arc, its execution could be better. At times, it waddles through trope, with frequent references to total destruction and numerous mentions of holy and demonic organizations, but with very little by way of actual presentation. It takes a “Tell, but don’t show” approach, a definite miss that becomes more evident when characters speak about things that aren’t seen in-game.

That said, NotA 2 redeems itself with its expansive treatment of protagonists. It pores through tons of character dialogue and interactions. Each of the seven companions Aluche has boasts of a unique personality and art design, and stand in stark contrast with the others. Referred to as Lilies, they have their own quirks, and even their own story quests, and players are more than free to explore their backstory and background once enough affection has been earned.

Certainly, these Lilies aren’t just for talk. In battle, they are able to assist Aluche directly by fighting alongside her, and, depending on who’s brought, can have a direct influence in the players’ fighting style; each Lily brings a certain set of skills, passive and active, into the fight. Whether it’s immunity to knockbacks, or the capacity to stun all enemies in front of Aluche, Lilies add depth to the gameplay; there’s no right or wrong partner for the particular occasion, just player preferences leading to novel experiences.

Granted, combat is little more than the usual action-button mashing with the standard blocks and dodges, as well as light and heavy attacks. Nonetheless, NotA 2 distinguishes itself with the Lilies via Double Attacks or Lily Bursts. The presence of Servans, basically pets that can help buff allies, damage enemies, or even turn into weapons for Aluche, likewise provides it with a definite change of pace vis-a-vis the usual brawler-type releases.

Admittedly, the Lily System isn’t perfect; players have very little control over when or what a Lily is going to attack, thus making some of the harder and flashier Double Attacks tough to do. In these cases, the players may well be compelled to go the easy route and just hit the closest enemy rather than the one the Lily is fighting.

The Time Limit can also be a pain. Missions in NotA 2 are segregated by days, or “Phases of the Moon.” Due to Aluche’s alien body, she can be out only a certain amount of time each day before needing to rest. Thankfully, it gets more forgiving when scaled with upgrades and level progressions. Still, it ultimately shines the spotlight on the game’s biggest flaw: repetition. Each stage is rather linear, and relatively short to boot. Enemies generate interest at first, with a plethora of foes to fight and a variety of bigger and larger enemies to pick apart; combined with the many side-quests at the players’ disposal, it offers hours of fun on the get-go. Once NotA 2 forces players to revisit areas to finish some quests, however, the lack of enemy variety stands out. And when some quests forcefully end the day, they can get frustrating and monotonous, as the only thing Aluche can actually do after she’s done fighting is level up — and go through more of the same day after day.

Parenthetically, NotA 2 suffers from technical issues that hamper the gaming experience. Unpatched, it ran horribly both on the PlayStation 4 and the Nintendo Switch, dipping into single digits frequently and especially when enemies were on screen, and even lagging in some open areas despite low-resolution environment textures. Fortunately, the latest patch released for the two consoles fixed the frame rate issues for the most part. On the other hand, sound equalization concerns remain and can be jarring. And, in-game, there is the general lack of weight of Aluche’s attacks, thus making the otherwise-satisfying notion of cleaving through enemies a chore.

Broken down to brass tacks, NotA 2 is more hit than miss. Its gameplay could be smoother, and its repetitive nature can make the game feel boring at times, especially during side quests that involve backtracking. Then again, there’s a surprising amount of depth in its game mechanics. Its Lily System is an interesting idea to work around, and its focus on supporting characters adds to its charm. It’s not for everybody, but, past its blemishes, it’s a uniquely fun spin that should prove worth its $60 sticker price for fans of both RPGs and button mashers alike.