Greak: Memories of Azur is a story about family set against the classic backdrop of cute good guys versus ugly bad guys. The good guys (the Courine; cute Elven-Hobbitish creatures) have established peace and harmony in Azur but the bad guys (the Urlag; Slimey, hairy and insectoid abominations) want to drive the Courine to extinction and bring chaos to Azur. Unfortunately, the Urlag have the upper hand, which has driven the Courine into hiding. Greak, separated by his sister Adara and big brother Raydel, must journey across the perilous lands of Azur to reunite with his lost siblings and aid the remaining Courine population with destroying the Urlag once and for all.
And much like the struggle between the Courine and the Urlag, Greak: Memories of Azur is always at odds with itself. It feeds you with one hand but then robs you with the other, and it all boils down to its central game mechanic. At its core Greak: MoA is about controlling three distinct characters to solve puzzles and fight bosses. You start off with the titular hero Greak who is small, nimble and brave beyond his physical capacity. Soon, you partner up with your sister Adara. She’s the weakest of the siblings but she possesses ranged magical abilities, levitation and excels at diving. Later on you complete the trio when you team up with Raydel. He’s a superb warrior with advanced fighting skills and comes equipped with a shield and a hookshot. The problem is, the environmental puzzle solving is expertly crafted but the boss fights are at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. It’s as if the game has been designed by two separate teams: one with an expert knowledge in puzzle creation and world design, and another team that were burdened with the weight of creating interesting boss encounters but chose not to bother.
The emphasis is obviously on juggling all three characters and using all their unique skills to traverse various locales and to solve numerous environmental puzzles – and it excels at this! It really does! I can’t fault Greak: MoA for this. The level design is creative and original. The environmental puzzles are fun to solve. It’s just disappointing the synchronicity hasn’t been carried over to the boss encounters. Its approach to combat scenarios is flawed from the ground up, and here’s why:
- Bosses have large health bars, most likely inspired by Dark Souls, and because the Courine are weak (especially Greak and Adara), this makes boss fights laborious and uninteresting
- Healing items have cooldown periods before they reward you with health points, which is detrimental when you’re trying to keep more than one character alive and out of harm’s way
- You can only accurately control one character at a time, which is problematic when the other characters become sitting ducks – when one of the characters die it’s Game Over
- The AI is terrible when left to its own devices, so even when you’re controlling more than one character at a time, the tag-alongs following your selected ‘main’ character are essentially useless bodies for you to escort around the stage
All of these choices chained together results in an unpleasant experience. They might work in a Souls-like where it becomes part of the genres bedrock but Greak: MoA doesn’t have the room, simplicity or fluidity to successfully pull it off. The difficulty and the somewhat-impossible expectation of controlling more than one character at a time during boss encounters is what ruins an otherwise polished and wonderful gem. It feels so reliant on co-op that I was convinced it was a multilayer game but I assure you it’s not (I checked), which frustrates me even more because the disparity turns this beautiful game into a broken one.
Greak: Memories of Azur does a lot of things right but the disparity between its puzzle-solving and its boss encounters is too large to ignore. At times it felt like a homage to Legend of Zelda, The Dark Crystal and countless anime I watched as a child, and it is without a doubt an underdog story. Yet the inner turmoil it made me feel during boss fights felt almost like a betrayal, and I can’t shake the feeling it was a disservice to the game. It is for that reason I cannot recommend it.