I have, on more than a few occasions, stressed that "simple" and "easy" are not the same thing.
Azure Reflections is a simple game. Dodge bullets, shoot enemies. It is not, however, an easy game. Azure Reflections is side-scrolling bullet hell that tests your patience, your reaction time, and your ability to memorize patterns. But beyond that, it has an anime moe charm, is very self-aware, and incredibly entertaining.
The game play is like most bullet hells; avoid a screen full of projectiles all determined to ruin your day while occasionally getting in a few shots of your own at whatever colorful and occasionally insane enemies turn up. Survive as long as you can, then cash in all the currency you earned on that run to build your character up for your next attempt. Rinse and repeat. Don't expect to beat the game in one go, it's designed to be replayed over and over. From the standard enemies to the bosses, the action is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to die repeatedly until you learn the enemies' patterns.
Your characters have different accessories you can equip and different attack specials such as spread shots or homing shots. These allow you to play to your strengths as you'll have very little room for error once the bullets start flying. Your character's hit box, shown as a tiny heart near their waist, is the only part of them you really have to worry about. If it's hit, you're stunned and can't move. If you're hit again while stunned, you die. Killing enemies, absorbing power ups, and narrowly avoiding attacks (called grazing) fill up your meter that allows a Danmaku Rush, an attack that absorbs bullets to gain strength is and is the only thing that can destroy bosses.
Because the actual story is so short, it's hard to go in depth without spoiling it too much. Summed up, you play a priestess in search of snacks (and her servant) who gets caught up in an interdimensional adventure. You'll battle ice fairies, frog goddesses, an ethereal librarian, and even a demonic maid. You know, standard anime fare. Each of the characters is entertaining, chocked full of charisma, and are genuinely fun to meet. And then be destroyed by. Beating the game unlocks even more characters and, eventually, new bosses and stages, with fresh, unique dialogue depending on which character you use.
The visuals are stunning; the scenery is gorgeous and the characters vibrant (when you have a free moment to admire them while avoiding death). The music is intense and really gets your heart pumping. Unfortunately (unless you hate dubs) the game's audio is Japanese-only. This isn't a problem during cut scenes, but when your character and the boss are exchanging witty repartee in the heat of battle, you can't take your eyes off the bullets to read the sub-titles.
The game is funny, self-aware, silly, and of course very challenging. While short, it has a lot of replay value as the story changes depending on your character. It can be a little jarring in the beginning, especially if you're not used to the genre, but if you stick with it there's a lot to love about this title.
Final score: 8 out of 10
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.