Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review
A great looking RPG, slightly let down by some technical issues
Turn-based and grid-based RPGs have made somewhat of a resurgence in the past few years. If you’re leaning towards the JRPG scale, there was I Am Setsuna, Bravely Second, Trails of Cold Steel series, Persona 5, Fire Emblem, and a few more to boot. On the western side, games that break from the mainstream have found a life on PC, like The Banner Saga, and have eventually made their way to console.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is based on the comic book series written and pencilled by Joe Madureira. The game was funded via Kickstarter campaign in October 2015, which leads us to the here and now. I’m not familiar with the comic series, but developers Airship Syndicate and publisher Nordic Games sure were, leaving the video game industry a little prettier for it. A quick Google search of the comic spits up some fantastic-looking work and I was hopeful the game would live up to its gorgeous exterior.
The game takes place on The Lost Continent, and you step into the shoes and over-sized gloves of Gully, daughter of Aramus, whom she has lost contact with. Gully and her friends’ airship is shot down by brigands, and you survive the fall, pressing forward to reclaim your party members. With a couple in hand, you head to the town of Harm’s Way, which serves as your hub for the game. Here, you can rest at the inn, shops for new weapons, potions, enchant objects, trade artefacts for Shadow Coins to buy high-powered items, and complete hunts for the Beast Master. It’s a classic hub, like the towns you work through in, say, Baldur’s Gate, or the Disgaea series.
As you progress through the game, work through dungeons and cross the continent, you need to discover who shot you down, why (which may have something to do with the magical gauntlets Gully possesses), and what this antagonist has planned for The Lost Continent. Not only that; she needs to find the mission that her father was on.
On Gully’s journey, she is joined by the grizzled veteran Garrison, walking robotic fortress Calibretto, old spell-weaver Knolan, rouge Red Monika, and a little later on, devil hunter Alumon, each with their role to play in battle. Gully is more of tank, capable of buffing her protection and dealing out moderate damage. Garrison is a classic glass canon with high offense but lower defence. Calibretto is a little of both, with some healing capabilities thrown in there. Knolan can be a magical powerhouse; Monika’s focused on speed, whereas Alumon can also fit into that mage archetype.
If you’ve played role-based RPGs, let’s say Final Fantasy IX because it was recently re-released, then you will know it’s important that your party has balance and respective jobs. If you go all-out attack, then the game will wear you down quickly. Ideally, you want someone to take damage, someone to heal it, and someone to dish it out. Plus, you can only have a maximum of three party members at a time. For that reason, I found myself relying on Gully, Garrison, and Knolan.
I think Battle Chasers: Nightwar stumbles somewhat in these respects. It’s important that you’re given a chance to experience what the characters offer, and it would have been nice if this was woven into the main campaign. The onus is very much on you in regards to who should be in your select party, and there is little reason to switch up your line-up. So, you can either chance it in a new dungeon, or go back through old locations to try different party loadouts. Because coin can be hard to come by, and you have to use it sparingly, sometimes it’s not cost-effective to outfit someone you’re not fond of using, when you could instead better equip a starter.
I would have preferred an in-dungeon changing system. While you can select a crew to venture into an already visited dungeon, it would have been nice to try different combinations on the fly. However, this could upset the game’s balance.
Speaking of dungeons, the fact they are procedurally generated, with various traps, chests, and lore to scavenge, means you never have the same experience, which is fantastic for replayability at higher difficulty levels. Each dungeon consists of several “rooms”. Some may never change if they relate to an event or mechanic, but the rest remain a mystery until you step into them. Enemies appear on the map, rather than in random encounters. Each of your characters can unlock various dungeon abilities that can help make your journey a little easier. Gully, for instance, can slam the ground, dazing enemies when you enter battle and even knock down destructible walls to find loot.
The turn-based battle system manages to elevate itself above other games of the same genre, and it reminded a little of Trails of Cold Steel. You have your standard attack, ability, item, and flee options, along with a battle hierarchy list that is based on speed. Planning your attacks so they manipulate the list is important—abilities take time to charge, and the enemy can get in a good few hits before that. Each group of enemies dictates which moves play to your strengths.
However, it pays to think carefully about which moves you use and how they will stack, because each attack/ability has a secondary function. This can lead you to “stacking” your actions. You can, for instance, have Calibretto attack, which sunders and damages the enemy, then perform a move with Garrison that adds extra damage to sundered opponents. As you progress, you keep these little playbooks in your mind to unleash on bosses or troublesome opponents.
A welcome feature is the “overcharge” mechanic. We’ve all been there, trawling through a dungeon and running dangerously low on mana, MP—whatever you call it (I’m looking at you, Persona). While your ability points will be whittled down during dungeon crawling, the overcharge ability functions like an in-battle recharge. Let’s say you have 10 AP, and an ability requires 20 AP. Well, upon attacking with a character, which can add 10 or more overcharge, this number is tacked on to your AP, so 10 AP + 10 overcharge means you can unleash your move. Of course, it’s still wise to save AP, but this method allows you to continuously replenish your “pool” so you are not left stranded.
The “Burst” feature functions like a special attack metre. You take damage, and it fills up. What makes it useful is the fact you never find yourself “saving” your Burst for a boss. Because it recharges swiftly (with up to 3 levels), you can actually use it in battle. And it’s not a straight up attack—some moves heal, make you more likely to land critical hits, or add a layer of armour. All these elements combine to make you work out a plan to deal with each set of opponents—is it better to go all-out attack, or focus on continuous damage over time, via poison or bleed damage? What’s more, each character has different secondary abilities, so, while I found myself having favourites, you are certainly encouraged to switch it up and find which combination of characters suit your battle style.
If you go around beating on hapless creatures enough, you can level up. Perk points come in two flavours, the first being loosely more about your offence, and the second your defence or talent roles. If you want to do more damage you can do that, or you can focus your points on being a healer/weathering damage. This, combined with the way equipment can also focus on these disciplines, let you gently guide your characters down your chosen battle path.
One of my more personal issues with Battle Chasers: Nightwar is the way in which its story is delivered. A big defining factor for an RPG, in my mind, is the narrative. You’re assuming the role of someone, something, or a group of people, and these plat points connect and fill the time between you killing things. Battle Chasers: Nightwar doesn’t place its story at the forefront. You discover more about The Lost Continent via lore, landmarks, and chatting with people. These are segregated into world and locale knowledge. It takes the Bethesda (and older RPG) route in that respect, and you are rewarded for collecting all parts with some nifty chests and items. However, this is my most unfavourable method of learning about the narrative.
If you’re one of those people who love the lore from games like Skyrim, Nightwar has a lot to offer. But, in RPGs, I prefer a little more character interaction, the notion of a plot developing beyond the few sentences exchanged in dungeons or the albeit lovely comic-style cutscenes that bookend each dungeon. Having sunk quite a few hours into the game, I didn’t really feel that invested in the characters and their journey. You get to pull back the curtain somewhat when resting at the inn, which provides a puddle of depth to the cast, their personalities, and motivations. It left the characters feeling more stereotypical, which was a shame, because (I would hope) the comic series they are based on fleshes them out. Perhaps, I would have gained more from it if I were familiar with the comics.
It was not only characters I wished were fleshed out, but the game’s soundtrack, too. It has some nice piano scores for the overworld, and the battle music is quick and flowing, though none of them stuck with me. Obviously, these shortcomings could be put down to the fact it is a smaller budget game; however, with the degree of care that was taken in the art and design, I was a little disappointed.
On the other hand, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is perhaps one of the prettiest games I’ve played this year—on par, artistically speaking, with Persona 5 and Tides of Numenera. Art is the game’s backbone, and each environment, dungeon, and part of the continent manages to exude a sense of uniqueness. I had to double-check that dungeons were randomly generated.
The game’s overworld is best described as the maps you find in whopping door-stopper fantasy novels, or your Warhammer or DnD campaign board. It has a hand-drawn, stylized quality with models blended into the environment. You cross the map with a little breadcrumb trail of dots. These dots cross over monsters, power-up shrines/wells, treasure chests, and environment locations. Each area, of course, has its RPG staples: verdant forests, mines, desert, snow, etc.
Enemy and a character models, as well as the accompanying art and animation, are so crisp and smooth you could grease it up and go luging. Every strike, spell, special Burst move and animation are pure eye candy.
The UI is pretty simple: it’s a book/journal with pages for various elements; character upgrades, items, lore, bestiary, etc. I found the item screen could get a little cluttered sometimes, despite an auto-sorting function. In-battle, reading the tiny UI text for each character/move was a pain. At one point, I considered buying those spectacles rich old ladies wear at the opera, because, when sat anything less than a metre away, I had to squint at my TV harder than a man trying to watch a flea circus during a sandstorm.
Another thing you battle in Battle Chasers: Nightwar, aside from monsters, is bugs. Playing a review copy, I ran into well over a dozen issues. Some of these were minor—chests still glowing after being looted and no explanation for what symbols mean on your mini-map—while others crashed the game. In particular, I discovered that Battle Chasers: Nightwar does not play well with other apps. In one instance, I had Spotify playing the background and approached a dungeon boss. Where a comic strip once was had been replaced with a violet screen. At first, I thought it was a meta commentary on the usage of colour transitions—like how Lord of the Rings: Return of the King fades to white about a dozen times before actually ending—but, alas, it was not. The game promptly died, and the same occurred again when heading to the dashboard, browsing the web, and heading back in. Luckily, the game auto-saves often, so you never really lose more than five minutes of progress.
Despite some of its flaws, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a thoroughly enjoyable RPG. While its battling can become a little tedious when ploughing through weaker foes and backtracking, that’s par for the course in RPGs and many other genres. It does not reinvent the wheel, but it sure does make it sparkle with its arresting art style and world design. With easily over 20 hours’ worth of gameplay in The Lost Continent, including New Game+, if you’re a fan of turn-based RPGs, it’s a no-brainer. If you’re searching for a bit of good ol’ fashioned dungeon crawling and having your wits tested in battle, Battle Chasers: Nightwar has that in spades too. However, if turn-based RPGs cause you to turn away from your respective store, it may be a harder sell due to its generally slower pace.