If there's one thing you learn when you play a lot of Japanese games, it's that they love them some scantily clad ladies - the cuter and more youthful-looking the better. And few games like to have their heroines quite as barely clothed as the ladies of hack and slash role-playing game, Nights of Azure 2. Take their (optional) bikini outfits, for example - as literally the smallest slip of fabric the developers could get away with, barely containing their humongous bouncing bosoms, they are of course the perfect attire with which to fight demonic creatures - which is why we wasted little time in setting everyone to wear their swimwear 24/7. Add in the fact that many of the main characters have a distinctly lesbian bent to their interactions, and it's fairly obvious who the game has in mind as its primary target audience - and we're betting it's not us, as a 28 year old female. But, in the spirit of fun, we decided to give it a go anyway - and we were pleasantly surprised with what we found.
Set an unspecified time after the original Nights of Azure game, Nights of Azure 2 slips you into the barely-there outfit of Aluche, a knight of the quasi church-like organisation, the Curia. Her most recent mission? To deliver the prophesied 'Bride of Time' to the evil Moon Queen as a sacrifice, as a way to pacify her and prevent her from shrouding the world in a never-ending night. However, things don't quite go according to plan, when Aluche and her quarry get ambushed by none other than the Moon Queen herself - an encounter which Aluche doesn't survive. Fortunately, a passing doctor lends a hand, bringing her back from the brink by turning her into a half demon, cutting her blood with that of the demonic protagonist of the original game, Arnice. With the Bride of Time now AWOL, and the threat of the Moon Queen's eternal night looming ever closer, it falls to Aluche to try and save the world - a task complicated by the fact the Bride of Time is none other than her childhood friend (and potential love interest), Liliana. Can she save both the world and her best friend?
From your base in an abandoned hotel, you'll head out into a big, bad world that teams with demonic monsters - known as fiends - who flood the streets come nightfall (which, given the influence of the Moon Queen and the impending apocalypse, lasts pretty much 24/7 now). Each district, whether it's the town centre, the forests on the outskirts or an abandoned school, is its own little self-contained level, and it's up to you to clear out the fiends inside, search for your missing friend and seek out any mission-critical information.
Aluche doesn't have to go it alone though. During the course of the game, she'll meet many a female friend whom she can take along with her on her adventures, from a fellow experimental half-demon, to a travelling chocolatier who likes to drown bad guys in a sea of confectionery. These partners are an integral part of Nights of Azure 2's battles, which are heavily reliant on team attacks - although you'll need to choose wisely, as you can only bring one along at once. At its most basic, combat here is mostly a button-mashing affair, full of fast and frantic sword slashes and well-timed blocks and dodges - however, by working with your partner, whether you're simply concentrating on the same enemy as your companion, or saving them from an endless assault, you can unleash a whole range of screen-clearing special attacks.
Along with your big-boobed companions, you can also find and recruit various creatures to your cause, known as Servan. From a friendly fiery cat, to a lightning-infused wolf, or an oversized butterfly woman, different Servan will lend a hand (or paw, or wing) in battle in different ways, generally either as a portable flamethrower/freeze ray, or by transforming themselves into a different weapon for Aluche to wield. However, in practice, you'll likely find yourself relying almost entirely on the former, as each Servan tends to have a useful secondary ability you can make use of outside of battle, while exploring town. Every so often, you'll come across some thorns blocking your path, or a higher platform you need a hand jumping too, and you'll need to make use of your Servan's powers to get past. Most areas have something blocked off in such a way, and, as you can only bring two Servans with you each trip, and can't change them mid-mission, you'll find yourself sticking with just those that have a useful ability, meaning many of the ones you collect will just sit in the hotel, unused.
Speaking of exploring, Nights of Azure is a little bit unusual, as it doesn't actually give you limitless time to wander around said areas - because of the toll your half-demon state takes on your body, you're on doctor's orders to limit yourself when exploring, with a scant ten minute timer at first. As you level up and Aluche grows stronger, you'll get a little longer, but the time limit forces you to keep on marching forward, without much in the way of dilly dallying. On one hand, it means you need to make clever use of the time you do have, and think strategically about how to get from A to B, but on the other - and as someone who's borderline obsessive about checking every nook and cranny - it stresses us out a bit too much.
It's something which is compounded by the fact you have a second, overarching time limit to watch too. As the eternal night approaches, the moon outside begins to wane, and once it's all gone, you'll actually be staring down a game over. Beating significant bosses at the end of each chapter resets the time limit's progress, buying you more time, but you'll still need to make clever use of your time if you want to complete not just the main missions, but a multitude of side quests and extra tasks too. We've taken to planning our excursions with pretty much military precision, chopping and changing our companions so we can hit not just their relationship-furthering missions, but several other enemy-clearing tasks too in one fell swoop.
Perhaps surprisingly, relationships with your party members are a bit of a big deal in Nights of Azure 2 - perhaps even a bigger deal than the main story itself. As we've alluded to before, Aluche and Liliana have a bit of a romantic bond, and while that does play a big part in the latter half of the story (once you've found her), she's not the only female Aluche cares about. While the other relationships tend to be more platonic and friendly, Aluche will start to develop bonds with your female party members as you take them out on missions, unlocking unique quests and back story segments as you and your 'Lily' (Japanese code for 'lesbian') grow closer. Of course, there's plenty of titillation to be had along the way, as befits a game that stars a couple of lesbians, with many a lingering camera over a bikini-clad backside, as well as light-hearted conversations about weight, chocolate and chest sizes, to name but a few.
While the story may not win any awards for writing, the blossoming relationship between Aluche and Liliana is a nice touch, and a somewhat refreshing change from your average role-playing game. However, we found the time pressure - both when exploring towns, and with watching the moon phases - to be a little on the stressful side, given that we're one of those types who have to explore absolutely everything, and we had little time to linger. All in all though, while it won't be everyone's cup of tea, Nights of Azure 2 is a nice surprise - just brace for lots of cleavage on display.