STAFF REVIEW of Greak: Memories of Azur (Xbox One)

Tuesday, August 31, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Greak: Memories of Azur Box art When a game has a beautiful artistic style and aesthetic, it can be easy to forgive some of its other shortcomings. Sometimes though when the frustration outweigh the positives it brings down the whole experience, no matter how much you wanted to enjoy it. This is a tale of a gorgeous sidescrolling adventure with hand drawn visuals that I instantly fell in love with when I saw it, eventually forcing myself to play through it once you have to fight against the main mechanics the whole way through. This was the case for me with Greak: Memories of Azur.

You start out playing as the character Greak, part of a race called Courines who are under attack from a rival faction, the Urlags. The situation is getting so dire that soldiers aren’t returning home and now the Courines are starting to make plans to leave their home of Azur via an airship that they’re attempting to build. Greak’s brother and sister, Raydel and Adara, have gone missing, so before he can do anything else he must search for them among the swamps, forests and temples that neighbor their village.

Greak wields a small sword and is quite proficient with it. He’s also able to jump and climb and will need to utilize all his skills to defeat the Urlags along the way. The overarching narrative is a typical tale of you having to save everyone, though you’ll need to find your siblings before you can do so. As you eventually find and save them, they’ll join you on your quest to run errands to find parts for the airship so that everyone can escape before the Urlags take over and kill everyone. Not only is the artwork great with its colourful palette, but the few cutscenes you do get are all hand drawn, looking like a classic anime, adding even more life to the characters.

While you’ll only begin with Greak, you’ll eventually get to add siblings Adara and Raydel to your team as you progress and make your way through the lands of Azur. Most of the time you’ll be jumping and climbing platforms, stopping every few moments to fight and defeat enemies that randomly spawn along your path. Now and then you’ll have to deal with some puzzles, mostly pressure switches or sending one character to turn a crank to hold a door open while the other passes through. You’ll gain just a few more basic combat moves as you complete side quests, but there’s no skill tree or special moves.

As you explore areas you’ll come across locked off parts which you’ll need special keys or items to access. Reaching the end of one area usually culminates in a boss fight and then having you backtrack all the way to the village to hand in your quest and talk to someone. There’s a couple fast travel points, but not enough to solve the frustration of constant backtracking. The areas are decently sized but you’re constantly slowed down by having to get each character across larger gaps one at a time, but more on that shortly.

All three characters, once gained, have their own skills and playstyles. Greak simply double jumps and can attack with his sword, Adara does a small float, much like Princess Peach in classic Mario Bros games, and lastly Raydel deals more damage and can block attacks and other things with his shield. Individually they are perfectly fine to play as regardless of whom, but having to control them all simultaneously is where Greak: Memories of Azur starts to quickly fall apart.

Once you have control of two characters, you need to control both at the same time. One button will make them run to your position provided that there’s no gap or drop, and another will make them run alongside you when held. This in theory works, but in execution it’s one of the more frustrating mechanics I’ve ever had to suffer through.

Crossing small gaps shouldn’t be a big deal when you have two or more characters running alongside you, but the problem comes in since they all cross gaps differently. Greak double jumps but Adara floats when the button is held. This means they’ll land in different spots or fall into a pit. The only real solution to this is taking one character, getting them across to safety, swapping to the other and then taking them across hoping that an enemy doesn't attack the first character. Do this for every gap and large leap and you’ll start to understand how tedious this becomes, even more so once you have all three characters. If there are enemies around, good luck, because they don’t really defend themselves and if any one of the three characters die, game over and back to your last save, of which there’s no auto saves.

This issue is exasperated when it comes to boss fights. Not only do regular Urlag enemies pose problems, but bosses with large health bars are near impossible to do if you bring all your characters in to fight, because again, if one dies, game over. I suppose you’re supposed to quickly swap between characters when safe to do so and attack them at different times, but actually doing so isn’t really practical. Instead, I just hid two of my characters up on a ledge or in a corner and took on the boss solo with just one instead.

The fact that the core gameplay is built around controlling three characters, yet is the worst part of the whole experience, the longer my adventure went the less I wanted to play it when I kept failing because of the poor controls. Just as equally terrible is the inventory management. You can only hold two or three items initially with each character, but this is nowhere near enough space given you need to always have healing food and items along with quest items and more. Your bag is going to be constantly full, even if you shell out the gems to purchase a bag upgrade of a single slot. That’s right, 100 gems for a single inventory slot and only purchasable once.

There’s a mechanic about finding cooking pots to create food from three separate ingredients, but I tended to never have enough ingredients when I eventually found these pots due to lack of inventory space. Also, your inventories aren’t shared, so if one character is low on health and you’re not controlling them, you’ll need to swap, open their bag then eat before switching back.

Even worse, quest items count as bag space that needs to be held onto. So when you get two keys to open some mysterious doors, that’s two less healing items you can take with you until they are used. Also, the stacking quantity is so low that it just adds to the frustration. Some items are meant to be brought back to town to be sold for a decent price, but again, good luck having the bag space to actually do so since you’ll need as much healing food on you at all times due to the terrible group mechanics listed above.

Greak: Memories of Azur is so beautifully drawn, I hated to not enjoy the gameplay so much, as I wanted to stay within its world to admire its vistas and animation. The colors are so bright and the cutscenes are done to perfection. There’s plenty of small details and is simply a delight to take in visually. The soundtrack is done just as well, with a live orchestra performing a soothing and fitting tone that fits the aesthetic perfectly.

It's a shame that for how great Greak: Memories of Azur looks and sounds, it’s brought way down by its artificial difficulty from its poor escort controls and mechanics. I should want to play more the further I get into a game’s world, but instead the longer it went on, the less I was enjoying it, simply wanting it to be over due to its controls. Controlling multiple characters is much more frustrating than it should be, especially given how stunning its visuals are. I wanted to love Greak: Memories of Azur on its gorgeous aesthetic alone, but find it hard to recommend at its current price point due to having to constantly babysit multiple characters for a ten hour playthrough.

**Greak: Memories of Azur was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 3.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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