Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
August 17, 2021
Greak: Memories of Azur is a really charming example of how a game can communicate its themes via its mechanics. Telling the tale of three siblings trying to stay together amidst the destruction of their home, this puzzle-platformer is a thoroughly engaging experience, from its gorgeous hand-drawn art style and bombastic orchestral soundtrack to its puzzles and challenges emphasising the bonds between the protagonists. While some gameplay decisions don’t quite work to the game’s benefit, Greak: Memories of Azur is a truly fantastic gem of a game that is well worth checking out.
The power of three
The game’s narrative takes place in the land of Azur, where the elf-like Courine race are persecuted and hunted by the warlike Urlags. You play as Greak, a young Courine who has become separated from his siblings Raydel and Adara. The Courines have planned on building an airship so that they can leave Azur before they are wiped out for good. Greak must find his family and help the Courines assemble the airship so that they can finally escape to safety.
“The characters themselves were incredibly endearing, with wonderfully expressive and detailed hand-drawn models.”
The somewhat unusual control scheme in Greak: Memories of Azur helps reinforce the bonds between the protagonists. After a short tutorial explaining how to control Greak and Adara at once, Greak wakes up to find himself alone. You then slowly relocate your siblings, and add their unique skillsets to your arsenal.
The way the game dangles those teamwork mechanics in front of the player before yanking them away for a few hours helps demonstrate how deprived the siblings are on their own without each others’ support. Later challenges in particular really focus on how well they work together as a team. The characters themselves were incredibly endearing, with wonderfully expressive and detailed hand-drawn models.
Teamwork makes dreams work!
Each of the siblings has individual special abilities, with strengths and weaknesses. Greak can double jump and crawl through narrow passageways, as well as defend himself with a sword and crossbow. Adara can glide, hold her breath the longest underwater, and fire ranged magical projectiles. Finally, Raydel has a shield and grappling hook to reach inaccessible areas, but cannot swim at all. While Greak: Memories of Azur introduces each character with short sections where you play as them individually, for most of the game you are playing as two or three characters simultaneously.
The method by which you can play as multiple characters at once feels mostly intuitive. You can only control one of the siblings directly, swapping between them with the D-pad on the controller. Using the shoulder triggers, you can draw your other characters to your position with RT, and have them follow you with LT. For puzzle sections, where players must coordinate their abilities to press down on buttons or open up new paths, the process of rapidly cycling between the trio and moving them around worked fairly well. Although the siblings you aren’t directly controlling won’t move unless you summon them, they will take reasonable measures to attack nearby enemies, ensuring you don’t need to micromanage them too much.
Unfortunately, this gameplay style becomes more unwieldy in boss fights. While group combat against regular enemies doesn’t generally demand much finesse, bosses tend to require more fine-tuned tactics and splitting up the party. This is where the fact that you can’t do much to make your party members move without direct control becomes a liability. As your party members don’t really have any artificial intelligence aside from attacking nearby enemies, and can still be hurt and killed (resulting in a game over), boss fights would result in focusing on frantically leaping between party members to keep moving them away from the boss rather than directly engaging the opponent.
The fact that many bosses have attacks that penalise keeping the siblings near one another can make it pretty frustrating too, as drawing the others towards you is one of the only ways you can make them move on their own. I appreciate the intention of maintaining that theme of family bond by needing the siblings to be constantly supporting and protecting one another. However, giving your idle party members a greater degree of autonomy and self-preservation would have made some fights less annoying.
A world of wonder and danger
The world through which Greak and his family voyages is truly gorgeous. Light filters through trees and cave walls, giving each area an eerie and haunting ambience. Featuring animated background elements like rushing waterfalls, flickering torches and rustling leaves, Azur feels constantly alive and vibrant. All of this is complemented by a heroic and adventurous orchestral soundtrack that added a dramatic flair to Greak’s adventure, particularly during the vividly animated hand-drawn cutscenes.
Through exploration, you can forage for ingredients in the environment, and collect ones dropped by some enemies. By combining items in cooking pots scattered around the world, you can craft new kinds of healing items and record new recipes. Straying from the beaten path can also unlock permanent character upgrades in hidden areas.
That said, I found the inventory system rather limiting. Each sibling can only carry up to 4 items, and key items and vendor trash also add to that limit. While the intention is probably to encourage the use of healing items rather than hoarding them, it also led to me just ignoring vendor trash due to how much of a disadvantage giving up a healing item would be.
In terms of the exploration itself, the world manages that fine balance of feeling big without being overly burdensome to navigate. The different areas are all fairly large, however when you need to return to the main hub area, there are enough fast travel points to expedite the backtracking. If you split up your party members, a quick press of the RT button will indicate where they are in relation to you. While this was certainly helpful, an actual area map option wouldn’t have gone amiss. It isn’t always clear where your characters are in relation to their objective, particularly when they split up. It becomes easy to get lost unless you have a good memory or keep your party together at all times.
Overall, it was the strong world-building in Greak: Memories of Azur that kept me invested in our trio’s quest. Greak regularly returns to the hub area, where the remaining Courines have cobbled together a camp while assembling their airship. During your visits, you get to know some of the fellow refugees and get a sense of their community, and even go out of your way to help some of them with optional side quests.
Like Greak, the other camp inhabitants have lost loved ones and have their own motivations and struggles. As enjoyable as the relationship between Greak, Adara and Raydel was, I found the wider group of NPCs that the protagonists interact with rather engaging as well. By showing how the Urlag attacks impact the rest of the Courines, it gave a stronger sense of stakes and made the world feel more lived-in, particularly as their situation becomes more desperate.
- Mostly intuitive and unique control scheme
- A touching and heroic tale of family and finding home
- Gorgeous hand-drawn art style and cutscenes
- Large, vibrant world which encourages exploration
- Fast-paced boss fights can be a hassle
- Annoyingly limited inventory system
- Lack of area map makes it easy to get lost
Greak: Memories of Azur is a truly charming little title that fans of puzzle and action games will really enjoy. Its unique mechanics of controlling the three siblings at once paid off for the most part, even if it became more frustrating during boss fights. While the game’s restrictive inventory and lack of area maps wasn’t ideal, it didn’t prevent the gorgeous hand-drawn world and enchanting soundtrack from drawing me right into the experience. Greak: Memories of Azur is fun, very easy to like, and definitely worth checking out.