by Amber Hall
reviewed on PC
Azure Saga: Pathfinder is an action adventure game with turn-based combat and anime-style art that made me surprised to find that it wasn't a JRPG. What's really interesting about Azure Saga: Pathfinder is how it blends sci-fi and fantasy together into one story. The player begins the game in space in a high-tech spaceship as Synch accompanied by an advanced AI named Noide. They crash land onto a mysterious planet that seems to be inhabited by more primitive humans. Synch and Noide must blend in with the locals while in search of a way to repair their ship and Synch's father.
Azure Saga: Pathfinder utilizes three different types of gameplay, each with their own art style. The player moves around dungeons and such in an overhead view with a cutesy rendition of the player character. In this portion of the game, there are very slight puzzle elements and some items to find. The places you explore are extremely vibrant and appealing overall, but can sometimes be deceiving. There are a number of obstacles that look like they can be interacted with and can't be. Moreover, some objects look like the player can walk over them but prove to be as much of a wall as a pile of rubble or a fence. It's a slight annoyance and I wish that there was more to this part of the game than walking from point A to point B and randomly encountering monsters.
There's also a method of fast travel, and because the game's maps can be quite large, fast travel is definitely useful. However, there's a huge limitation on fast travel, that is, it's only useable from and to specific locations. This means that you have to backtrack pretty far just to utilize the fast travel in the first place. Azure Saga: Pathfinder is in no way the first or only game to do fast travel like this, and I think it's important to limit the usage of fast travel a bit. However, the inclusion of an item that lets you teleport to a travel location or even just out of a dungeon would be extremely useful. The amount of backtracking felt a bit silly at times, and I think some small things could have been added to make traveling a bit less cumbersome.
The second mode of gameplay is in the game's turn-based combat, which is done in a slightly less cute style than the map portion. This is, to me, the real meat of the gameplay. There's a bunch of different enemy types with different moves and passive abilities, and it's fun to learn the best way to deal with them in each situation. There's an auto button to speed through fights, but this isn't always an option, thankfully. Many times, enemies will have to be dealt with in specific ways that take more effort and thought.
The game does a good job of explaining its mechanics to the player without becoming overbearing. That being said, combat is generally pretty easy to get the hang of. It's your average turn-based combat at first glance, complete with an auto button. However, there's a lot more to this turn-based combat than meets the eye. I was pleased to find that the auto fight option wasn't always viable, meaning that you couldn't simply blast through combat. Many enemies had weaknesses to exploit and some had to be taken out before targeting others. There are also complex move sets the player can utilize called United Skills that takes specific attacks from each character and packs quite a punch. This makes experimenting and finding new United Skills fun and super useful against more powerful enemies. Indeed, there are a whole number of strategies to be had when fighting monsters, so the auto button is really only used when grinding against lower level enemies.
Grinding never felt too necessary, however. So long as you tackle enemies with a bit of strategy, you shouldn't have many problems defeating them. Characters even share XP, meaning that you never have to switch characters just to level unused ones. However, the XP system only levels up characters, and there's a lack of any standard skills to pick from to level up. As a result, there's no real feeling of what's been leveled up and how it effects battles. Perhaps it's simply a preference of mine, but I would have liked to level up mana for my magic users and strength for my melee characters.
The third part of Azure Saga: Pathfinder is the dialogue portions that progress the story. These are done in a hand drawn anime style and I absolutely love how much detail has gone into each character portrait. The plot is well written and the cast of characters are varied and interesting. If the combat doesn't do a lot for you, then the story can, perhaps, make Azure Saga: Pathfinder more worth your time. I especially love the blending of science fiction with more traditional fantasy elements. These two genres are easily blended together in other works, but Azure Saga: Pathfinder does a lot to keep the two separate while still having the genres work together nicely.
An Enjoyable Game With a Few Setbacks
Azure Saga: Pathfinder is a game that doesn't do too much to spice things up, but I thoroughly enjoyed it regardless. It's got a great cast of characters and some interesting elements of combat all tied together in rather pretty art. Sadly, the music is a lot less memorable than the art and didn't do much to push scenes and tension along. Moreover, much of the exploration felt lackluster in comparison to the rest of the game, and I wish more had been done to make that a bit more interesting. Overall, I think a rather enjoyable game that's good for a play through if these sorts of games are your thing.
Great visuals, well written plot, interesting characters, engaging combat.
Forgettable music, inconvenient quick travel, questionable obstacles, no skills to level.