To me, there has never been a time where I have legitimately felt bad while playing an indie title release from a small developer team. Anyone you ask who has worked in the video game, animation, or any sort of industry at all will tell you that big projects take time. And quite a lot of time too! From creating several pieces of concept artwork to other important aspects of game design such as sound, animation, gameplay mechanics, and even the artwork for the physical box cover, too!
Sure, studios with big budgets such as EA, Bethesda, Ubisoft and the like can churn out a title within a year and still rake in millions of dollars in profits. But it’s the little guy who, for me, gets the most attention (and my money!) for being able to create a full title, no matter how short, on a shoestring budget and taking their time with it to make sure everything is perfect.
And if you were to hand me an indie title where careful attention to detail has been paid to the artwork, gameplay mechanics, story, and soundtrack and asked me if I would like to play it. Well, hey, I’m intrigued!
And that’s exactly my reaction when I was assigned a PC copy for Greak: Memories of Azur by Navegante Entertainment provided by our friends over at the NYX Game Awards after the end of the first season of the 2022 competition. And after a 7-hour playthrough of the game and completing it in one sitting, I can definitely say that this is a solid single-player sides scroller game that is beautifully animated and is filled with some great storytelling. I never had a boring moment in traversing through the entire map with a coterie of different characters with their bright and lively personalities, to encountering differing enemy types that forces me to change up my attack strategy on the fly to progress to the next part of the story.
The story of Greak: Memories of Azur opens up with a cutesy hand-drawn 2D animation when you boot up the game for the very first time. Giving you a very good idea on how the overall art style and graphics of the game will look like for the rest of the playthrough.
Greak: Memories of Azur starts with a narration on the history of the land of Azur. After an unexplained cataclysmic event that happened in the uninhabited part of the country, a new race of sentient beings called the ‘Courines’ seemingly appeared out of nowhere and populated the rest of Azur. Establishing their own society and populating the rest of Azur with new trade routes, royalty and even their own military force. And in return, they also serve as a primary force of safeguarding Azur from evil forces who have corrupted the lands for time immemorial. The Courines, who have been building castles and fortresses to counter these evil beings have succeeded every time with every war raged against them. Until a smart group of monsters banded together and alongside with a mysterious power, forging an alliance together and completely overwhelming the entire Courine race. The worst war and defeat they have ever tasted.
And that leads us to the very first moment of the game where we finally take control for the first time. Taking place during the aftermath of the bloody war, now with only a handful of Courines left in all of Azur and scattered throughout the lands in small village holdouts and an even smaller militia force.
You first start the game as one of the three playable characters in the game, Greak. Who is on a mission to escape from the lands of Azur and away from the roaming Urlag forces hunting down the last of the Courines. But he cannot leave Azur yet, as he still has to search for his two remaining siblings that are also scattered across Azur. Adara and Raydel. After a straightforward and detailed tutorial section that teaches everything you need to know about movement and combat basics, you eventually find marks made on trees that can only be made by one person, you sister Adara.
You eventually find Adara and get a preview of her abilities while learning how to switch between different characters. Before you black out and find yourself in a small village holdout, Raven’s Road Camp, manned by a handful of Courine survivors. Many of them are still working on an airship with the hopes of escaping Azur and the Urlags for good. And to do that, you will be tasked in sourcing for various building materials and resources ranging from easy-to-get common items to risky excursions for rarer items.
Further down the line, you are reunited with Adara again and this time, she is made a permanent part of your 3-man party. However, she starts to get visions of your brother and final sibling of the trio, Raydel. With the steadfast belief that Raydel is alive, Greak and Adara sets off to find their brother and escape with him together. All the while working together in perfect tandem and utilizing their own unique powers and abilities to cover their own strengths and weaknesses.
Now, everything that I have described so far sounds extremely similar to a children’s fantasy cartoon that you might have watched at some point on a Saturday morning or in my case, like an episode of Wakfu. Though the game is entirely fantasy in nature, there is also an underlying theme of family and always sticking together to the very end. As seen in many of the heartfelt and well-animated cutscenes, great dialogue, and gameplay scenarios where all three characters have to work with each other. Every minute of my playthrough feels like an entire season of a fantasy cartoon, and I love every second of it.
Alright, alright. I know I’ve said this probably a dozen times by now, and I’ll say it again. Greak: Memories of Azur is an incredibly beautiful game with hand drawn graphics and great animations in both cutscenes and gameplay making you feel like, say it with me: Being in an entire season of a children’s fantasy cartoon.
The characters that you play and encounter throughout the entire game are simple in nature, but they are all designed to be unique and stand out from one another with some subtle aesthetic traits. Greak has simple bright yellow robes and brown trousers with a glowing Laurean sword, Adara with a purple dress and magic amulet, and Raydel fully decked out with a Laurean sword, shield and battle-tested armor and cape. The survivors of Raven’s Road Camp are also immediately memorable from first sight too. From the bookworm librarian, hardened blacksmith, caring caregiver, and the fearless Courine mayor to even some non-Courine characters like a giant ridable dog-horse fully equipped with armor!
Enemies in Greak: Memories of Azur is also given the same attention to detail and treatment. Members of the Urlag invaders also wildly vary from species and faction throughout your entire playthrough. While the simple and slow-moving ones that are drawn to be repulsive are no sweat at all, it is the humanoid ones that give you a run for your money and instill some amount of fear during your encounter. Unlike the Courine people, each enemy design is from a completely different faction of the Urlag force with their own set of special skills and attack. And the leaders of the factions are also designed with immaculate attention to detail with armor, weapons, and other trinkets that truly makes them stand at the top of the people they are leading and ruling over.
But the one piece of visual eye candy that definitely takes the cake in the looks department has got to the be world and the environment around you. Everything is so incredibly detailed, so meticulous with every branch, rock, nook and cranny. Stranded in the middle of the forest on its own, my jaw simply just dropped to the floor with just how serene it is with great usage of colors and the perfectly executed fantasy cartoon aesthetic. Although, my favorite parts of the game definitely have to go to the Altars and the Viraane Ruins. Both of which have some seriously impressive and immersive atmosphere that gave me a sense of some proud and grand civilization that has long disappeared from the face of history, yet these impressive monuments still remain.
I can go on and on about just how amazing this game is purely by art alone. But I’ll leave that thought with you to discover the little details and painstakingly hand-crafted artwork all by yourself.
As I was playing through the entirety of Greak: Memories of Azur, I’ve quickly come to discover that the game isn’t afraid to use every single mechanic at its disposal. Which I saw it as a telltale sign of the dev team putting in some serious effort into designing the abilities of the three playable characters and the platforming slash puzzle parts of the game that force you to utilize their abilities in perfect tandem to proceed.
Greak is the first character that you will take control of for the first parts of the game. Equipped with a rare sword made from Laurean sword and a crossbow, he is the main damage dealer of the party as you unlock more and more attack moves and upgrades to increase your damage output. His crossbow, both stock and upgraded versions, can also be used either as a ranged weapon to hit enemies from afar or to restore your health from health drops that are too far from reach. He also has the ability to crawl through small spaces and tunnels that lead to other secret parts of the map, something the two remaining playable characters lack. Assuming that you have enough crossbow bolts, of course! Overall, Greak plays like the typical sides scroller brawler that we are all too familiar with.
Greak’s sister Adara, on the other hand, is the master of the arcane arts and takes on the role of a ranged attacker instead. Adara’s attacks is split into two primary projectile types, a smaller and fast-firing, but weaker blasts to charging her bolt to become larger and more powerful, albeit slow-moving and takes a long time to charge up. And if you are not careful and standing at a ledge, it also has some recoil that pushes Adara back. Unlike Greak, Adara does not have the ability to double jump like her brothers, although this can be circumvented by simultaneously moving together in a group. Instead, Adara can hover over large distances for as long as her magic meter allows. Allowing her to reach certain platforms that is otherwise too far for Greak to jump over to. Additionally, Adara is also able to swim and dive underwater. Able to stay underwater for much longer periods than Greak and giving her more time to empty out treasure chests for items.
Finally, we turn to Raydel. The eldest brother of the lot and quite possible the most nimble and powerful (in my opinion) melee fighter of the lot. Compared to Greak, Raydel isn’t a particularly heavy hitter, nor the nimblest. But he more than makes up for it with his long melee attack range. Allowing him to hit enemies from a further distance without fear of taking damage. Raydel is equipped with two items that can further boost his attack capabilities when used correctly. The first item that Raydel has is a shield. While he cannot dodge roll away from enemy attacks like Greak and Adara, he can still negate damage from direct enemy attacks. And also bypassing dangerous areas for Greak and Adara to cross, positioning his shield either horizontally or vertically to escort his siblings to safety.
The second gadget at his disposal is the grappling hook, which easily makes Raydel the most agile character in the entire game. In addition to double jumping, Raydel can aim his grappling hook to grab onto ledges and other areas to launch himself into higher areas of the game. The grappling hook can also be used for combat purposes as well. Hooking in enemies from far away and dish out massive amounts of damage to them up close. The only weakness that Raydel has compared to his younger siblings is being unable to swim. Forcing either Greak, Adara, or both of them to help him navigate across bodies of water.
With these characters with their own set of abilities, strengths and weaknesses to cover each other, the family must traverse across the lands of Azur and must work together to overcome the different challenges that is cleverly designed by the dev team.
Throughout my playthrough of Greak: Memories of Azur, I found myself put in several situations where there are platforming and puzzle sections of the game where I had to travel together as a group by syncing their movement together and double jumping in hard-to-reach areas and even abandoning one party member to trigger a pathway from across the map. It requires a fair amount of backtracking and trial and error to figure out the optimal strategy for all party members to progress through an area.
In addition to that, since this is a strictly single-player experience, you are forced to think on your feet during combat scenarios. As enemies of all types can spawn in without warning, you may have to immediately drop whatever you are doing and switch between different characters to get them out of trouble. They aren’t completely vulnerable, however, and can fend for themselves while stationary against single entities.
Boss fights, on the other hand, can prove to be a more dangerous encounter. As a majority of them having access to AOE attacks and abilities, grouping Greak, Adara, and Raydel together is a fatal idea and sporadically spread them out to reduce their chances of getting hit. Only switching between them when the boss is either close by or when one party member is recovering their health. There is, however, an option in the settings menu where you can toggle invulnerable party members when they are not in use. While I recommend the more casual of players to leave this option on, the added challenge is much more when you flip between different the three siblings and delivering a brutal combo of attacks and the power of family.
I’ll be honest with you, I walked into Greak: Memories of Azur purely just for the cutesy art style and with a staunch belief that I can complete it in its entirety within a whole day or so. I managed to beat the game within a 7-hour timeframe, sure, but I ended up coming out of it feeling satisfied that it was so much more.
It is a moderately-challenging indie title that constantly makes you think while moving on your feet with some seriously stunning gameplay feel, clever level design and platforming and puzzle sections to go along with it, and since I cannot stress this part enough, absolutely gorgeous art that feels straight out of a children’s cartoon. And with a great story that further bolsters the themes of family values.
Greak: Memories of Azur is a fantastic indie game, full stop. The people over at Navegante Entertainment poured their heart and soul into creating the world of Azur and its quirky characters, and you can see it on your in in between the lines and the little details.
If a sides scroller action-adventure platformer style of game with great art, story, soundtrack and level design is something that tickles your fancy like how it did to me in the beginning. Then I cannot recommend Greak: Memories of Azur enough as a fantastic indie title that you must have in your library.