Best known for the long-running Atelier series, Gust Co. Ltd. knows how to capture the essence of alchemy. The company has grown into its niche considerably over the course of the last decade, but rarely does it stray far from bubbling potions and well-intentioned yet occasionally clumsy protagonists. So when it came to deciding to try something new, Gust felt that not only should there be a change of setting but also a change in tone. Long-time fans of the company should look to say goodbye to the bright, pastel landscapes of the Atelier series and instead prepare to enter a world of Nights of Azure, where the night itself is a dangerous place.
The land of Ruswal was victorious in its fight against the Nightlord, a monstrous demon, but the victory was bittersweet; in his dying moments, the Nightlord's blood spilled out of him and cursed the very land. Those who come into contact with the blood become monsters themselves. These monsters roam the lands at night, forcing the remaining humans to live solely through the light of day. Only the strongest are capable of fighting back against the fiends, including Arnice, a powerful knight who herself has been tainted by the Blue Blood of the Nightlord. It is Arnice's job to protect her old friend Lilysse, a living Saint who has been tasked with sealing what remains of the Nightlord away by self-sacrifice.
To do so, Arnice must battle the many fiends that remain in the world. Fortunately, or possibly unfortunately, her contact with the Blue Blood has turned her into a half-demon, one with a particular taste. Not only has her transformation given her the ability to drink the blood of others, she can also summon a sword composed of her own blood. As the game continues and Arnice becomes more powerful, she will be able to transform the sword into other forms, such as dual swords or hammers, to change her playstyle.
Arnice will not have to fight demonic forces alone. Due to her unique blood-tinged abilities, she can form contracts with demons known as Servans. The Servans can be summoned in battle to assist Arnice, up to four at a time, each with varied combat or support abilities. Players do not take direct control of the Servans, rather they will follow Arnice and begin auto-attacking enemies as they appear, but there are four orders that can be given to them focus in combat: Focus fire on the currently targeted enemy, activating the Servan's special ability, recover MP, or to reform on Arnice. Servans will continue to level up and can be modified in small ways with equipped items. Servans have their own HP and MP pools, the latter of which can be restored by consuming the Blue Blood of enemies.
For the last of her combat options, Arnice has a meter that fills as she attacks enemies. When full, she can temporarily call on her demonic half to transform into a powerful form. These forms can also change Arnice's playstyles as well, from a demon form that massively boosts attack to a phantom form that reduces her combat abilities in exchange for new ones that focus on supporting and buffing the Servans.
There is more to this game than fighting in the night. Even knights of the realm must sleep and when Arnice goes to rest her head it is at Hotel Ende. Hotel Ende serves as a hub for the game, a one-stop shop for story missions, side quests, and the ever important request board that offers rewards of money and blood. In keeping with the game's motif, blood is used as a form of experience that is used for multiple purposes. The most obvious is leveling Arnice, but blood is also used to power up Servans and recruit new ones. Underneath the hotel houses the Arena, a combat-focused area where Arnice can take part in different scenarios with various restrictions put in place, like taking no damage or using only Servans during the fight.
Hotel Ende will also be the place where most of Arnice's interactions with the rest of the cast take place. In addition to Lilysse, there's also the hotel manager Simon; fellow knight Corinne, who serves as an advisor for Arnice; a young researcher named Professor Alucard, who hopes that Arnice and her experiences will help him with his research; and the travelling merchant Lloyd, whose vast knowledge makes him seem far more than that. These characters, along with some Arnice will meet along the way, all have side stories that can be followed through and many have ulterior motives for being at the hotel. But the core of the narrative remains the relationship between Arnice and Lilysse as they explore Ruswal hoping to bring an end to the blight of the blue-blooded demons. Gust and Koei Tecmo are trying to sell their relationship as "...a love story of two star-crossed women who lived, fought, and were ultimately lost to the annals of history," so much of the game relies heavily on how this relationship pans out. And like previous Gust games, the story will play out differently based on story choices made throughout the game.
Nights of Azure is, at the very least, a new area for Gust to utilize for its first Action RPG since Ar Tonelico 3. Along with its darker tone, it seems to try and offer more ways to play through the game, whether going all in on the action aspect of the gameplay or feeding monster collecting urges and letting more strategically-minded players assist and manage their collection of demon servants. RPGamers will be able to discover for themselves which they prefer when the game arrives in North America and Europe later this year.