Released on: May 20, 2019
Available Platforms: iOS, Android,
Price: Free (Has microtransactions and loot boxes)
Developed by: Shanghai Manjuu, Xiamen Yongshi Published by: Shanghai Yostar
Mobile games often get a bad reputation for being venues for cash grab gacha games. While I agree that there are many games out there claiming to be free, only to run headfirst into an obstacle so difficult that they have to fork over their hard-earned money (often referred to as a paywall), I do see the potential that mobile games have. They are ideal for when the player wants to play a few rounds while on their morning commute, and they are easily accessible (what with them being on the ubiquitous mobile phones.) I like browsing the Google Play store for mobile games to try out, or even get recommendations from Youtubers I watch. Today’s game, Azur Lane, was a game I had tried before, lost interest, but got back into it when I saw that there was a crossover between it and some Virtual YouTubers (known as Vtubers) I watch (to which I found out too late that it was an event, that I missed.) I have been playing it quite a bit recently, so I decided to review it. Does Azur Lane break the mobile game mold?
Set in an alternate universe version of World War 2, our story begins with a recreation of the Battle of Denmark Strait (a real-life naval conflict in 1941 between the British and German naval fleets) but with anime girls. The game then asks the commander (the player) to introduce themselves (select a name) and has them square off immediately afterward. The player learns about a military alliance comprised of the Eagle Union (United States), the Royal Navy (the UK), the Sakura Empire (Japan), and Iron Blood (Germany) called “Azur Lane” until aliens caused the alliance to split. The Iron Blood and the Sakura Empire now fight against the Eagle Nation and the Royal Navy. Typing this made my brain hurt. I understand that this takes place in an alternate universe, but it is still absolutely ridiculous. When reviewing the synopsis of Azur Lane, I had trouble believing what I was reading. It’s not like there was a reason for the Americans and the British to fight the Japanese and the German during 1941; let’s introduce aliens.
Visually, Azur Lane is serviceable. Each ship features two main art styles: a full-body one when the player is perusing the menus, and a chibi (small, big eyes, cute) style when in combat. The full-body one’s art style is appealing, while the chibi one is cute. That said, the visuals aren’t unique and striking enough to stand out, and are very much on par with other mobile titles.
Azur Lane has the player collect battleships personified by anime ladies. The game gives the player a couple of ships at the beginning of the game, and, over time, the player will acquire a whole army. The game itself plays like a slow-moving 2D side-scrolling shoot em’ up, where the player avoids enemy bullets and defeats enemy ships. The player can give their ships five pieces of equipment, enhance them by sacrificing lower-end vessels, and even give them new outfits. Where Azur Lane got me hooked was with its simplistic gameplay loop. Most games will have a discernible list of things the player does while they play a game. I’ve heard this referred to as “the gameplay loop.” Some games are excellent at offering the player many different options to obfuscate the gameplay loop so that the player is unaware that there is even a loop. Mobile games are usually too transparent with their gameplay loop, which makes the player realize that they are doing the same things over and over again too quickly for them to get sufficiently sucked in. Azur Lane does a slightly better job at this with its shooter style gameplay. Even though I put it on “Auto Mode,” there is something so fascinating about seeing anime girls portraying battleships shooting each other.
As my synopsis section might indicate, the story to Azur Lane is laughable. The story in mobile games is usually an afterthought, and it is quite clear that Azur Lane is no exception to this. The idea to Azur Lane is already silly; World War 2 battleships personified as scantily clad anime ladies. The fact that aliens are what causes the story’s conflict is what killed any suspension of disbelief.
Oh boy! It’s that part of the review where Sergie talks about the gacha (loot box) mechanics! Understandably, Azur Lane, being free-to-play, has gacha mechanics when it comes to acquiring new ships and new gear. The player spends both Wisdom Cubes (which they can earn either in-game or use premium currency to purchase) and coins on building ships. After a few hours (or by using a Quick Finisher to speed up the process), they will get their new vessel. While Wisdom Cubes aren’t super hard to come by in-game, their acquisition does slow down considerably when the player reaches chapter three, making ship acquisitions that much more sought after. Equipment also becomes essential, and that too is earned randomly via a box (of loot, if you will.) I will give credit where credit is due; I never felt like Azur Lane was incessant with its loot boxes. That said, people who tend to get addicted to these should exercise caution when playing Azur Lane.
Azur Lane takes a strange idea and runs with it. It knows how weird it is, and it relies on the player being okay with its weirdness. That said, I did enjoy my time with Azure Lane. The gameplay is engaging enough so that players keep coming back. It also has cute anime ladies for those drawn by that sort of thing, and a reward system just a little in favor of the game makes Azur Lane an addicting experience. If the player is looking for a deep story, exciting gameplay, memorable characters, and a game they can spend hours on, this is not the game for them. Azur Lane is best enjoyed for a few minutes to kill a little bit of time and people who like fiddling around menus trying to optimize their characters and those who do not mind gacha games. Those that have an ethical issue or addictive gambling tendencies should steer clear of Azur Lane, or at the very least, should enjoy it responsibly.