Developer: Idea Factory / Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory Intl.
Platform: PS4, PC(Steam)
Price: $49,99 USD
Release Date: February 13th, 2020
If you’re an otaku of any capacity then you most certainly have heard or read about Azur Lane before. It is a mind-bogglingly popular phone gacha game about collecting and fighting with anthropomorphic war ships. These games are known for, among other things, having amazing art and design, on top of being terribly addictive.
There aren’t many examples of series that started as mobile games and transitioned into traditional video games. Could Azur Lane Crosswave become proof that investing into traditional games is a lucrative move for other popular gacha games? Personally, I would absolutely love for that to be the case. Too many gachas have good characters and setting but terrible pseudo-gameplay and I’d like nothing more than to see them translated into action games.
Crosswave begins with a short introduction explaining the world and setting. The four major nations in this world are at war with some unknown entity called Sirens that mysteriously appear from the sea, and the Kansen girls are warships. Their looks, personality and relationships are based on the history of those ships in the real world.
The story’s protagonist is Shimakaze-chan, the adorably smug newbie Destroyer in the Sakura Empire. She is paired together with the gloomy and introverted Suruga, a Battleship. The events begin when you sink an enemy supply ship and spill a large amount of mystery cubes in the sea. Collecting these cubes and discovering their purpose is the main plot focus of this game.
There is a ton of flavor text to read. Mostly talk between the different girls, their relationships and references to real world events. For example, Bismarck was terribly afraid of HMS Hood because, in the real world, the Hood mortally wounded Bismarck(although they got sunk in return). They even talk about this. Arizona is described as having a heavy past and the Japanese aircraft carriers that attacked Pearl Harbor have personalities that can be described as malicious at best.
Outside of the main game there’s a whole section of extra stories for exploring these relationships. Reading through all of them was a bit boring, specially when it involved characters I cared least for, but not too terrible. Obtaining this game’s Platinum trophy was by far a larger chore, but I’ll touch upon that subject later down this review.
My first impression was “I expected much worse, this is actually really fun”. Immediately after that come “Holy shit, this is hard”. I started the game on Hard and within the first hour I was stumped. How could this happen, on an Idea Factory game of all things?
I’ve reviewed many games from IF on this website and, consistently, I’ve always had the same complaint about all of them. They’re too easy. My favorite IF game is still Fairy Fencer F largely because it was their only challenging game. Up until now.
Turns out Azur Lane’s character levels are actually quite significant, as is the change when moving up or down on the difficulty selection. At first I found myself retrying battles a dozen times until I could get them right, and that was a good thing. I had to learn and get good in order to continue the story, it actually felt that I was experiencing the hardships that the Kansen girls talked about in cutscenes. Eventually though, I became completely stumped. Even if I dodged all the planes and torpedos, I was just getting wrecked by suicide boats and chipped away by firepower.
The difficulty in Azur Lane Crosswave was certainly a good part about it but I felt that the difficulty curve was not adjusted properly. It wasn’t that I wasn’t learning fast enough, it was that enemy ship damage was scaling much faster than my own.
Now, if you’ve seen footage of this game before it might seem like it was just shooting and dodging. You’re thinking “This game journalist is just terrible at video games. You should go back to reviewing visual novels if you can’t play an action game, you scrub”. Well, allow me to explain.
Azur Lane Crosswave is not just an action game, it’s a full-blown bullet hell. Yes, like Touhou, but in 3D space. The shiny bullets flying across the screen are what catches your attention the most but they are, in fact, the smallest of threats. Underwater Torpedoes can come from enemy ships and enemy planes. Planes can also be dive bombers too.
On top of all that you have the actual warships firing at you from a distance, airplanes randomly spawned from the horizon and the terrifying suicidal boats that explode on contact. All of that coming from every direction. Automatic anti-air defenses are garbage and torpedoes are barely visible unless you’re REALLY paying attention. You gotta dodge all this while still making your own shots hit. It is way more intense than it looks.
After you’ve gotten a little further into the game, enhancements on your Kansen become more important. With access to better weapons, weapon and skill upgrades and different compositions of ships, the difficulty becomes way more manageable. I played the game on Hard for the most part but still had to tap it down to Normal occasionally because the difficulty could spike up suddenly, to the point where I was getting sunk on one hit.
Your own movement and attacks are very smooth. The animations and sound from quickly turning really show how much effort they put into making movement feel just right. Thankfully, actually landing your shots in the game isn’t not a terribly difficult task, you just aim in the direction of an enemy and fire your skills. This is particularly difficult against quick Destroyers. Dodging was also fairly easy to learn and was essential in surviving the harder missions. Battleships I felt were the worst ship type simply because they couldn’t dodge.
The ship types I played the most were Destroyers and Aircraft Carriers. Of course, the fact I liked these characters the most was certainly a part of it, but I just couldn’t ignore the benefits offered from having mobility and range. Ramming enemies up close with Ayanami and releasing Torpedoes at point blank was immensely satisfying, unleashing all my divers and torpedo bombers with Akagi too felt nice. Light and Heavy Cruisers were lacking in comparison.
Absolutely nothing to be disappointed about in regards to music and audio, the soundtrack is fantastic. There’s more than enough variety and quantity. I’ve played the game for dozens of hours to get the Platinum trophy and, even though I got sick of the gameplay, the music was still exciting to listen to.
The game is completely voiced and, as you might expect, the voice talent that goes into these games is exceptionally good. The same actresses often will voice multiple characters but you would never known unless you looked it up. Really drives home the fact that Japanese seiyuus are on a completely different level.
I will voice endless praise for the designs and art of Azur Lane. I can’t get enough of silly anthropomorphic ships, they’re full of charm and soul. It’s the whole point of this series, you know? You create all these amazing characters and get people hooked up on spending money on the phone gacha. They are made to be waifus. Even if you don’t like a few of them there will certainly be a Kansen that fits your tastes.
The roster of characters Azur Lane is huge. Naturally, not all of them made it into the game. The upper half of the most popular are playable ships, with lower half appearing as support characters. Supports have portraits, voice acting, levels and everything, but don’t have models so you can’t play them. You only assign them for bonuses granted for being in support position.
Character portraits are well done but, like most Idea Factory games, they are merely face variations of the same action poses. It was quite immersion breaking reading laid-back scenes because all character portraits have their weaponry rigs and action poses all the time. Considering that art and characters are the most important part of Azur Lane, I expected better. Yes, even for a game with 40+ different characters.
The 3D models of girls are actually quite detailed. They don’t have a whole lot of different animations but all of them have unique moves and expressions. Definitely no complaints about them.
Everything else is budget-tier though. The water and the terrain is always the same, you just get different times of the day and lighting. Performance is also not all that good. I experienced slow downs several times during play. One time the game froze completely for over 10 seconds, I was about to hard-reset my PS4 when the game suddenly started moving again.
Usually I wouldn’t bring up trophies on my reviews but this once I feel I must get this out. Damn, that was a huge chore. It would’ve been much easier if I had read a guide before I played but that would’ve hurt my pride as a gamer. Usually I will look up a trophy guide only after I’ve beaten the main game. With AL Crosswave it was no different, except that it was only then that I found out about the absurd requirements for the Platinum trophy.
This game knows their players, and what they want to do most is marry the cute Kansen girls. You can do that in this game and it’s a central mechanic to improving them as playable characters.
The problem was: In order to Platinum the game, you must spouse all the Kansen. Each and every one of them. That’s 28 main characters and 35 support characters. Marrying them requires expanding their max level(requires farming character-specific items), raising them to max level, buying a wedding ring(more farming for character-specific characters), and then raising their affection points to max. Grinding and farming was bad but not terrible, you can get items for multiple Kansen by doing missions over and over. You can get stuff within 1 or 2 minutes with no problem.
Raising affection was the worst though. Getting it to max requires assigning them to missions and playing with them. Each and every one of them, at least 10 times. But the real killer was doing 10 missions with each character as Secretary Ships, which you can only do with one girl at a time. By the time I finished the game I had done over 80% of the content but I had only used about 5 girls as secretary ships. I had to replay missions for over 12 hours in order to get the Platinum. The last 6 hours just doing the easiest/fastest mission over and over in order to raise affection.
Looking back, I don’t know why I put so much effort into this. It was way more effort than it was worth it. I guess I just really clicked with the game. Or I became way too infatuated with Ayanami’s smile. One of them, don’t know which.
I have previously mentioned the misadjusted difficulty curve of AL Crosswave but that was far from the only issue I had playing this. I guess the most jarring would be the item grinding. I expected that there would be item and level grinding from a game based on addiction-based gacha but it was still a shock to see. Having to do the same mission half a dozen times in order to drop items I needed was a chore that I had to do way too many times.
Although I’ve praised the gameplay in this review, I felt that there were way too many missed opportunities for improvement. Despite having “wave” in the title, the water physics in the game are terrible. Water surface has ripples that react when you move or shoot but nothing has real impact. You barely even acknowledge that you’re traversing water, which should obviously be a big part about cute girls fighting on the ocean. It would have been nice to see waves impact on your movement, water splashing everywhere and a better physics model overall but perhaps that would be too much to ask from a budget developer such as Idea Factory.
This has turned out to be one of the longest reviews I’ve ever put up on this website. Despite all the issues I’ve pointed out I believe that Azur Lane Crosswave will be one of the finer games I’ll play this year. Yes, it’s rough around the edges and the production values could be better overall but it was a fine video game. The chaotic gameplay, the superb music and piles of cute girls won me over. I still would never touch the phone game but now I know for sure that at least one good video game came out of this series.
I suppose the best way to end this almost pointlessly long review is to talk about my favorite Kansens. Without a doubt my Azur Lane waifu is Ayanami. I can’t get enough of her gentle smile.
My most played girl was Akagi. I don’t know, crazy chicks really click with me at this point in my life.
Runner up position goes to Shimakaze. I loved her as a protagonist and her smugness makes my heart feel all fluffy.
Other than those three, my favorites were Long Island, Yamashiro, Yukikaze, Saratoga, Atago, and U-81. I did not use them as much but I hope to do so if another Azur Lane comes out. As per usual, a gallery of screenshots and videos will be left here at the bottom.