April 13, 2018

Andreas Betsche

Make a nostalgic trip back to classic JRPGs with Azure Saga: Pathfinder

April 13, 2018 | Andreas Betsche

Nostalgia. That’s what obviously comes to mind when talking about Azure Saga: Pathfinder, the new game of Indonesian developer Masshive Media. It is, in most of its aspects, a trip down memory lane, reminding of classic Japanese role-playing games. The developers tried to transfer the classic feel of those story-driven games with turn-based combat into a modern costume. That seems to be a trend now, as we have seen other attempts by Southeast Asian studios such as WanderJahR or Legrand Legacy.

Azure Saga 1
Synch and his droid Noide embark on their journey, not knowing what adventure lies ahead.

Azure Saga mixes Sci-Fi elements with high fantasy and tells the story of Synch, a space traveller who tries to find his lost father, who himself was looking for a new home for his people after their planet suffered terrible destruction. Synch and his companion droid, Noide, crash on an unknown planet and will soon discover that something weird is going on there. The game unfolds in a surprisingly deep story about the balance between science and tradition and, despite being completely linear, comes with some more or less predictable story twists.

Azure Saga 2
The game mostly tells its story through dialogues, often very seriously with the occasional light-hearted spirit.

Synch and Noide encounter other characters on their journey, which will soon accompany them on their quest to save the world. Being party members, those mostly likeable individuals cover the usual JRPG tropes with knights in shiny armors, rogue rebels and natives with magic powers, taking party roles such as tank, damage dealer and healer. While the character design is mostly solid standard RPG style, this comes also with a drawback: all female characters are portrayed in overly sexualized costumes. An unpleasant reminiscence of the past that developers should overcome in the year 2018.

Azure Saga 3
A view of the game’s battle screen. Due to random encounters, you’ll spend a lot of time here.

Battles in Azure Saga are turn-based and offer you the choice to bring three party members into battle. Each has its own special abilities, allowing for a varied and challenging combat experience. Attacks charge a combo meter for even more impressive special attacks. The game adds a special variation to the gameplay called United Skills. By finding a combination of skills, players can unlock powerful combat attacks that can easily turn the tides. While the battles are challenging and need a very tactical approach, especially against bosses, they also come way too often. This is another drawback of classic JRPGs: random encounters.

Azure Saga 4
The game offers a variety of beautiful 2D environments to explore.

The game looks beautiful in its drawn 2.5D environments, dungeons and 2D battles and dialogues. This colorful world deserves to be explored and offers a lot of secrets and side quests. Unfortunately, this can involve heavy backtracking, and with the aforementioned random encounters, exploring the world is unnecessarily tedious at times.

Azure Saga 5
The world of Exlonia is traveled through this map screen.

Character development in Azure Saga is kept very simple as your party develops their skills automatically. Yet, players can equip them with powerful trinkets and even have a jewellery crafting system. Surprisingly, this system is introduced to the player at a very late stage of the game, such as other customization systems like magic tattoos. While this might be a decision not to overburden the player with options at the beginning, we would have loved to play around with it much earlier.

Azure Saga 6
Choosing the right characters for each battle is the key to success.

Azure Saga is an ambitious project for a small Indonesian game studio like Masshive. Yet, they succeeded at delivering a very polished and, at times, even captivating JRPG experience. The 20-hour-long story is entertaining, the graphics are beyond criticism, and the gameplay is diverse enough to push players forward to the end. If you want to explore everything in the game, be sure to free up some space in your gaming schedule! In the end, we wished that some features, such as the crafting system, would have had a more direct effect on the gameplay and that some annoying aspects of classic JRPGs, such as random encounters, would have received a modern overhaul. If this doesn’t bother you, Azure Saga is worth a trip into nostalgia.

Azure Saga: Pathfinder is available on Steam for PC on Windows and Mac. This review is based on a review copy kindly offered by the developers.

Andreas Betsche

Andreas Betsche founded Virtual SEA in early 2016 after researching Cambodian mobile games for his Master’s thesis. He has a background in Southeast Asia studies and has worked and lived in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Since he has been actively playing games since the early 90s, combing both worlds in Virtual SEA brought together both of his passions.

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