Following a crash landing on a strange and foreboding island, five adventurers find themselves thrust into a conflict of apocalyptic proportions. Amidst the camps of bandits, werewolves, and the undead, the travelers learn that the island's past and their future are closely woven together. Each warrior brings their own skills to the table, and utilizing those skills to the best of their ability will be the only way the stranded heroes will escape the island.
Back in the late 90s, Joe Madureira created a comic series known as Battle Chasers. Though the comic was popular, it lasted only nine issues due to intense scheduling issues (with more than a year between some issues). He left to work in video games, bringing his instantly recognizable art style to the Darksiders series. Along with some other Darksiders devs, Madureira took to Kickstarter to help continue the story of Battle Chasers, this time in video game form.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is available on Steam, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for $29.99.
Though most people are likely to be drawn into the game for its art style, the writing still has to be mentioned. The plot of Battle Chasers: Nightwar has two main issues that keep it from being anything special, or, arguably, mediocre: its fractured nature and its banality.
Nightwar is a continuation of the comic series from the late 90s-early 2000s. Though the brief series isn't required reading to understand what's happening in the game, without it you may not feel much for the characters. Aside from the newcomer Alumon, all the heroes know each other and have already banded together. They've laughed, they've cried, they've fought and survived together. The player is not witness to those events, however.
The game does what it can to rectify the problem without burdening the player with unnecessary information. Biographies are available in the character menus, and a brief introduction to the faces happens early on. Still, playing Nightwar feels like walking into a group of people having a conversation. The saving grace here is that if this kind of problem would be irksome to you, catching up on the plot-so-far will only take you nine comic issues.
What can't be saved is the rather paint-by-numbers plot that the interesting characters find themselves in. There's someone out there fiddling with magic they aren't supposed to, threatening to raise the dead and take over the world, and it's up to our heroes to stop them. That's about the long and short of it. Again the main draw of the comics was of course the art, and the same is going to hold true for the game. Though other elements may further entice prospective readers/players, compared to Madureira's distinct style, they're mostly bonuses.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a combination of Western style and Eastern gameplay. Combat plays out in turns, with the heroes on one side facing off against the baddies on the other. Strategy comes into play early on, requiring astute use of actions and abilities in order to offset the considerable might of the monsters and wicked humans that block your path.
Your team is made up of three out of your total of six heroes, each one bringing something unique to the table. Gully, the gauntlet-wearing child can take the most damage, offering temporary shields and taunting enemies to focus on her while your less structurally-sound teammates deal damage. Callibretto, the giant robot, has most of his focus in healing the party as well as removing debuffs. The rest are either focused entirely on damage, debuffs, and/or hybrid between damage and healing.
Early on fights won't offer much resistance, but sooner than you'd think your heroes will start taking massive hits and returning little damage in response. All the heroes have mana to spend on powerful abilities, but relying on those alone will leave you drained of your resources quickly. To help, characters also have free, instant-speed, attacks that generate Overcharge. Overcharge acts as temporary mana, disappearing at the end of combat and sometimes providing other benefits.
There are two forms the game takes as you travel across the island. Littered throughout are dungeons made up of rooms connected by the cardinal directions, the maps of which look like something that was done in 30 seconds on graph paper. The rooms themselves, at least, don't adhere to a strict square shape. Monsters roam about in these rooms, guarding treasures and secrets and threatening to send you back to the start. You'll be equipped with abilities that can stun, heal, and buff before entering combat, but enemies are often so fast that you won't get them off that often. The main thing to avoid is monsters linking to each other, pulling each other into battle and making your life that much harder.
Traveling between these dungeons is done on the world map, forcing your characters along a branching path that is forced into linearity by locked gates. Monsters appear here too, and they can't be avoided unless you're of a sufficiently high level or you can find another path that circumvents them. The combination of the dungeon layouts and the world map traveling makes the game feel like a playset rather than a realized world, making it hard to take the setting seriously.
The usual WRPG activities, like crafting, loot collecting, and fishing, are home in the world of Battle Chasers. Fishing is done within dungeons, through a simple mini-game that relies on proper gear, reaction time, and some luck. A satisfying element to crafting is the ability to add more materials than what are needed for an item. Doing so raises the success chance beyond 100%, and for every 100% you add, you are guaranteed to craft and item of superior quality.
An unfortunate occurrence that happened during my time with the game was frequent crashes and soft locks. Though some of these issues have been fixed with a day one patch, others persist. A rather early quest taking place in the sewers still cannot be completed as the required boss to be slain will roar and grumble, but never appear, and my characters become locked in place, requiring a reset of the game. Other crashes would occur at the most inopportune time, such as immediately following a boss's defeat, but before the auto-save kicked in. Thankfully the auto-save is generous (though apparently not enough), so crashes were more of an inconvenience, usually, than something that caused loss of progress.
Loading screens were also very present in the PS4 version of Battle Chasers. Unsurprisingly, every area required a load time, the duration of which is uncharacteristically long for a game of this size and this day and age. Loading bars would also pop up before enemy encounters, freezing the shattered screen effect that occurs when battle is about to commence. A minor annoyance, but one that's very noticeable, nonetheless.
A requirement that surprised me later into the game is the need to do some grinding before advancing the plot. With a few dungeons under my belt, I was faced with having to turn away from the next dungeon due to most of my party being several levels below the recommended starting line. While a few levels might not sound like much, when enemies can deal 50% of your health, if not more, in a single attack, you want to be over prepared. Bringing along flasks and food becomes highly recommended at this point, as flasks offer emergency services while food will give buffs that last several battles. The only hiccup then becomes being able to afford all the resources while managing your budget for new crafting recipes and gear.
The art style is simply gorgeous and awesome, there's no other way to put it. Maduerira's style is pulled straight from the 90s, and yet is timeless in how it conveys amazing action, terrifying beasts, and busty ladies. Better than it was in Darksiders, his style translates to Battle Chasers: Nightwar near-perfectly. With a higher budget, larger team, and more time, perhaps it would have been flawless. Nevertheless, the ratio of concept art to graphics is so close to 1:1 that it's amazing. Too often we get amazing concept art and then in-game art that doesn't live up anywhere near to the concept.
Characters are awesomely designed, conveying their personality and role extremely well without ever saying a word. The character designs here show a bit more restraint than what was in Darksiders, where characters had gigantic pauldrons and huge fists. Enemies look both cool and horrifying, and each one invokes a feeling of wanting them as an action figure on your desk.
Music is stellar, capturing a feeling of both adventure and dread in every dungeon. Too often music was either too quiet or non-existent in dungeons, however. This was a bug that was supposedly fixed in a day-one patch, though if it was, my copy still suffers. Still, when the music does kick in, it's perfect. Voice acting, too, is great, serving the characters and the plot extremely well.
At the end of the day, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a stunning work of art, alluring and captivating, offering classic JRPG combat with a Western, 90s comics, coat of paint; yet it's also a bit shallow. Though there is a lot to do, there isn't much in terms of variety. You can fight, you can fish, and you can craft. Exploration isn't rewarded by much, and there's not much of it to be done (though the game tries its best). NPCs offer nothing in the way of conversation, not really, standing there only to work the cash register and giving the occasional side quest.
Battle Chasers won't offer up the experience you'll get with other newly released RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin 2, and if you're already playing that game, in fact, you might want to hold off on Battle Chasers unless you were a huge fan of it in the 90s. By comparison, Nightwar is simply too barren, even if the price tag is $15 less than Original Sin 2.
For its price, this game really only feels worth it for die-hard fans of the Mad-style and/or are lusting after some classic JRPG combat with a dash of challenge. I can't help but feel a little disappointed by the title overall, I must confess. For an RPG, the combat is great, but there isn't much else there to let you feel invested in the world. Writing is more important in RPG than any other genre (except maybe visual novels), and that's the weakest aspect of this game, so it hurts all the more.
Even for its faults, Battle Chasers: Nightwar was very enjoyable, though doesn't live up to the dream of the 90s. Fans of the comic series, JRPG combat, or just Mad-style art will likely find their $30 well spent on this studio's inaugural entry. Those with just a passing interest in the title might be better served waiting for a sale.
|+ Stunning and unique art.||– Performance issues (framerate drop, crashes).|
|+ Challenging strategic combat.||– Lackluster writing.|
|+ Enthralling music.||– Limited variety in what you can do.|