Review by Kashell Triumph
The Legend of Puffy Lips.
Azure Dreams is one of the quirkiest games I have ever played. Azure Dreams is one of the most frustrating games I have ever played. Above all, Azure Dreams is one of the most addictive games I have ever played. Yes, this game has been out for two decades, but it has aged relatively well. Azure Dreams will provide a unique experience that will never be replicated. Of course, it's that same level of individuality that will turn away casual gamers or those that don't have the patience to try something that strays from conventional style.
Azure Dreams has an interesting story. It takes place in the desert town of Monsbaiya. Outside of the town is a massive tower that is, fittingly, called the Monster Tower. Residents of Monsbaiya are allowed to enter the tower after they turn fifteen so they can find treasure, cultivate monster eggs or test themselves in battle. Koh, an ambitious young lad with fiery red hair and the puffiest lips I have ever seen on an anime character, has just turned fifteen and is raring to head into the tower. The promise of fame and fortune is enticing, but Koh has a personal reason for wandering the tower. Years ago, his father, Guy, vanished during one of his tower treks. With the aide of Guy's most trusted Familiar, Kewne, Koh hopes to make it to the top of the tower.
Koh's journey has a strong start. However, the search for Koh's father ends up becoming an afterthought. During my time with Azure Dreams, I had to remind myself of the real reason why Koh wanted to travel onward and upward in the Monster Tower. But, those that take their time and explore Monsbaiya will find that the town is full of well-written characters and history. Since Monsbaiya acts as your hub, you'll be spending a fair amount of time in it. It's easy to forget about the tower when you're talking to a narcissistic rich boy, deciding where to build a new bowling alley, or helping out a farmer with their crops. While it's not required, Koh can develop Monsbaiya with his profits from the tower. By the end of the game, you can turn the small desert town into a thriving, hip city. Another optional but fun aspect of Monsbaiya is that it has some bachelorettes that Koh can romance. Over time, Koh can develop relationships with some crazy women that will hang out in Koh's house and send him off to the tower with a kiss. By fulfilling certain conditions, Koh can become a perpetual lady's man and have multiple women in his household. All of these options to develop the town or to have Koh fall in love provide a good distraction when you're not up to exploring the tower.
That said, the tower is where you'll be spending the majority of your time in Azure Dreams. When you enter the first few times, the game will treat you unkindly. Azure Dreams is a rogue-like RPG. Every time you enter, Koh begins at level one. The good news is that Koh doesn't have to travel alone. At the start of the game, he can bring a Familiar with him. These monsters can be controlled by Koh or the by the AI in order to assist Koh. Furthermore, Familiars retain all of their experience. This is helpful when first starting out because monsters will usually be more powerful than Koh due to a lack of decent equipment. The towers floors are randomly generated. This means that you might end up journeying for a while before finding a weapon and a shield lying on the ground. Other items that Koh can find are elemental crystals, spheres that cast magic spells, and healing herbs. There is plenty to discover in the tower, but limited item space means that you have to pick and choose carefully. Of course, when Koh loses all of his hit points, then you lose all of your items and end up back in the town.
This is the reason why Azure Dreams takes a few hours before you can really start exploring the tower. You'll need to power up your Familiar, find good equipment that you wish to upgrade with sands scattered throughout the tower, find a way to actually leave the tower without losing your stuff, and then re-enter it. For some, this could be a problem. But, for others, this aspect of constantly going back and forth to the tower will prove to be one of the most addicting features of Azure Dreams. There is always a sense of urgency and a sense of discovery that comes with the exploration. At times, the game will do all in its power to inhibit your progress. You could step on a trap. You could equip gear that is cursed. You could get surrounded by enemies that can (and will) take you out in a few hits. You could go an entire session without finding an item that can be used to power up your favorite gear. However, with careful planning, determination, and luck, you can slowly climb the towers 40 floors successfully. Combat is straightforward in Azure Dreams. Every action that Koh performs will result in a monster taking an action. This could be moving, using an item, or attacking. Simple stuff.
Azure Dreams is fun, but its fun is not universal due to its design. Of course, there are a few problems, too. One issue is that it's not always clear what an item does. Another issue is that multiple saves are needed in order to not lose any progress. Finally, players need to be aware of the fact that things can go south very quickly. When you first begin, you will be given a tutorial on a few things, but it won't be enough to really understand all of the controls. The instruction manual be required for you to understand all that Koh can do in order to survive.
Before concluding this review, I want to mention that Azure Dreams has a fantastic presentation. Graphically, the game features a fully rotatable camera that allows you to see both the town and the tower from all view points. Environments are highly detailed. The tower is especially fun to see because it gets more and more bizarre the further you climb. Characters have fantastic designs. The sprites are detailed and the character art to go with said sprites feature big eyes, big hair and desert-dwelling clothing that continues to show how unique Azure Dreams is. The music is a joy. The tracks will put you in a good mood with their upbeat tempos and Arabian-themed instrumentation.
Azure Dreams does have a bit of a learning curve and will take a while to take off. But, I was able to finish the game in about 30 hours. Those that continue to struggle, but still wish to see things to the end, can potentially take advantage of a few exploits. I sincerely hope that more people take the time to seek this hidden treasure of a game. Fans of RPGs will enjoy it, but those that enjoy games that take risks and try different things will just as pleased.
Overall, 7.5/10: Azure Dreams has some roughness that has come with its age and its design. But, once it grabs hold of you, it'll end up being one of the most addictive and rewarding titles to see through to the end.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Azure Dreams (US, 06/30/98)
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