Original Release: November 25, 2001
Developers: Adrenium Games, Foundation 9 Entertainment, Amaze Entertainment
Publishers: Microsoft Corporation, Xbox Game Studios
I remember asking for an Xbox for Christmas shortly after it came out. I got one, and I also got three games with it: The Simpsons: Road Rage, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee, and Azurik: Rise of Perathia. I spent ages on each of these games, but I only ever saw the end of the first two legitimately. I could never figure out where to go in Azurik and wound up using some cheat codes I found online to skip to the end. It always kind of bothered me that the game left me so stumped that I had to resort to that, so I’ve been wanting to revisit it for a while and make the effort to go through start to finish. Did I pull it off? Yeah, actually. This time around, I was able to make it all the way through the game without using level select codes. Was it worth it?
No. No it was not.
The premise of Azurik is that you, Azurik, the newest and youngest initiate of Perathia’s Lore Guardians, find yourself stripped of your elemental powers following the betrayal of your fellow Guardian Balthazar, who also murders Master Eldwin and in the process destroys the five elemental discs that give life to Perathia. There are actually six discs total, but we’ll touch on that in a bit.
Following this disaster, the game starts you off in the Water Realm, a vast lagoon split housing a large ice floe, a perpetual storm at the edge of a waterfall, and a machine that, according to oracles through which Eldwin can still speak to you, powers the Water Realm. Or something along those lines anyway. I played that part of the game about a week ago, so it’s a little fuzzy among everything else.
This part of the game is actually really good. With no elemental powers to your name, you’re locked into one pathway that leads to recovering your first level of the water element. Eldwin’s voice gives you tips and tricks along the way, and Jeremy Soule’s compositions lend to the sense of scale as you navigate your way around the Water Realm. Perhaps it’s a little ridiculously epic, but I don’t know that anyone or anything else would have served Azurik’s atmosphere nearly as well.
I do sincerely love the opening hours of the game. After recovering my water power, I was able to return to the hub section (which I don’t know if we ever learned the name of or if it was Perathia proper) and make my way to the Earth Realm, a vast expanse of lush forests and deserts, with machines found everywhere to help Perathia flourish. Our first task here is to find the keys to raise the control tower at the center of the Earth Realm and restore the machinery to working order. Sadly, this is where the game starts to fall apart as well.
With the Earth Realm being so vast, it’s very easy to get lost, and there’s no real way of keeping track of what to do next short of taking notes or returning to the Tower of the Elements in town and consulting the Oracle there. And even in the case of the latter, it stops being helpful once you’ve recovered all three levels of each of your four elemental powers, instead just telling you to search for the remaining disc fragments. The game honestly feels more like an attempted marriage of Metroidvania games like Symphony of the Night and 3D Zelda titles like Ocarina of Time without fully understanding why those titles worked so well on their own.
See, the game is very open once you’ve recovered the first level of each of your elemental powers. You can travel to the Water, Earth, and Fire Realms with little, if any restriction, but once you get there, the puzzles and layout are very cryptic or just plain vague. I remember getting lost in the Fire Realm more than once, and the fact that it was filled with so many dimly lit caverns didn’t help. In addition, there are certain blockades that can only be removed once the required elements have reached a certain strength, up to level 3. And if either of them is below level three, the weaker element dictates the strength. It makes sense to an extent, but without any sort of proper map for your game, players are going to forget where a lot of things are very quickly.
I mentioned the elemental discs earlier and how there are actually six of them. If you let the opening play out, Eldwin explains that there is one for each force in Perathia: water, earth, fire, air, life, and death. Long ago, the death disc was stolen, but the balance of Perathia doesn’t seem to have been impacted terribly as a result. Once the tutorial is completed, Balthazar discovers the death disc in a fit of rage and returns to his home with it in his possession. There, the Death Guardian appears and possesses him, asking what he desires. Balthazar then makes his way to the top of the Tower of the Elements and attempts to steal the other discs to claim their power for himself. As I said earlier, this goes awry, and the remaining five discs are broken and scattered all across the world.
So how did Balthazar find the death disc in the first place?
He smashed a vase and knocked over a wall. Where was the disc for all of these centuries?
In the training room.
As the death disc is integral to the plot, it’s never recovered in-game. Rather, defeating Balthazar at the end allows Azurik to recover it and return it to its rightful place among the other discs and restore balance to Perathia at long last. It’s a nice ending, but doesn’t make up for a lot of the garbage you have to put up with along the way.
See, Azurik doesn’t let you save anywhere you want. Instead, there are designated platforms that save your game if you stand on them long enough. It’s not terribly long, a window will pop up to let you know when the game is being saved, but you can’t just land on the platform briefly and run along, it won’t register if you do that. There’s a problem with this system and I only really noticed it once I died a few times in the Fire Realm: In a game where anything can knock you into an instant death pit or into a fall far enough that you die on impact or fall out of the world, only having a small number of save points kind of slaps the player in the face, especially in an active volcano or anywhere in the Air Realm.
Instant death through little or any fault of your own is never fair to the player. It’s especially punishing when you’ve just entered the Air Realm, made a little progress, and then get knocked off the ledge you’re standing on because enemies have ridiculous knockback, leading to you falling to your death and having to start back at the very beginning of the area because of how infrequent save points are. I get their reasoning from a development standpoint, too many save points would bog the game down and mar the overall aesthetic, but you also need to balance that with just how tricky the environment is. Or at least add checkpoints so that your players don’t have to repeat lengthy segments from the very beginning every time they die. It just makes everything feel like a waste of time.
Of course, if you want to talk about wastes of time, let’s talk the Life Realm.
The Life realm can only be accessed once you’ve recovered three fragments of the life disc, which in turn requires you to do pretty much everything else in the game first. It’s a giant crystal in space that harnesses sunlight that Perathia wouldn’t receive otherwise. It’s beautiful and impressive, but navigating it is such a slog. In order to make it to the top, you have to climb halfway up either of the paths, activate a switch that fills in more of the path on the other side, go all the way over there, turn that side on, then wait for the rotating column just along the outside of the crystal to slowly make its way to you so that you can jump for a key, wait for it to come back to you so you can hop on again, then ride it all the way to the other side and grab the other key, then climb back up either path, put in one of the keys, make your way to the other path, put in the other key, and then you can go up top. It’s tedious. And then to make matters worse, you have to guide the purple beam pictured above through each of the twenty filament cores, but if you hit either of the yellow beams you have to start all over, with maybe a five-second delay between attempts. Trying again sooner just results in you standing there until the purple beam fizzles out completely and then boots you out, making you start it up again.
I’m sure there’s at least one of you saying “it can’t be that bad, right?”
Oh my sweet summer child, I recorded one of my better attempts and I was still stuck on this part for half an hour.
That’s not even the worst part. Once you’ve recovered all of the disc fragments, you can finally make it to the Death Realm where you’re immediately thrown into not one, but two mazes. The first has you looking for six keys along a sea of conveyor belts, and the second…well, the second is an elevator maze where some of the switches are inexplicably hidden behind pillars.
Not only that, but there’s no clear explanation for how to make progress in this part. I had to consult a guide to find out that I had to hit one of the switches twice just to go to the right area and make progress. Why? Why would you do that?
I wanted to like Azurik so badly. It has a cheat that gives you a sweet afro! How can you not like that?
Unfortunately, the majority of the game does everything it can to work against that. It’s ambitious and I can tell that the devs wanted to do something amazing with it, but a lot of their decisions work against that in a major way. The gameplay hardly evolves beyond making your powers stronger, the level design and enemy placement is downright unfair at times, and the puzzles leave me wondering how anyone would figure them out without a guide more often than not. And yet despite all of this, the credits brought a huge smile to my face. There’s actually a pretty entertaining string of voiceover clips by David Scully as he performs conversations between Azurik and Eldwin. And so that you don’t have to play through the game yourself and endure all of that headache, I’ve taken the liberty of recording it and posting it to YouTube. Here, enjoy yourself! I need something to wash this taste out of my mouth. Maybe I’ll give Dreamfall: The Longest Journey a shot next?