Comic Book Meets RPG
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a fusion of comic books and classic role-playing games with a fascinating history. The title is based on artist Joe Madureira’s late ‘90s comic Battle Chasers, which followed five diverse heroes in a medieval steampunk setting. It was eventually cancelled as Madureira moved on to video game development, working on such series as Darksiders. As fate would have it, Madureira and other Darksiders veterans successfully Kickstarted a project that would revitalize the comics in video game form.
See the game in action with my Video Review!
The story builds off its comic predecessor and follows the same characters: the stoic swordsman Garrison, elderly wizard Knolan, notorious outlaw Red Monika, kind robot Calibretto, and Gully, a young girl searching for her missing father. Battle Chasers: Nightwar introduces a new character to the ragtag team, the mysterious Alumon. While the crew is en route to an island rumored to have reserves of Mana, the world’s magic, villains attack their airship and separate them. Adventure ensues, and the companions seek out the true enemy. The story is standard as far as fantasy RPG plots go: find friends, fight villain, save the day. The characters share a believable chemistry, although they remain static aside from dialogue scenes at inns. It sells the protagonists short, but the transition from book to game is otherwise effective.
I haven’t read the source comic, but between the eye-catching designs, detailed comic panel cutscenes, and fluidly animated intro, the production values are top-notch. The subdued musical score is a bit quiet for my taste, but the light piano and violin pieces fit the fantasy theme. The voice acting is solid and sells the game’s likable cast. My only complaint lies with some performance issues, namely occasional lag, long loading times, and worst of all, instances of the game soft-locking or crashing.
The journey itself is typical RPG fare. Once you run into an on-screen enemy, a fight ensues. If you’ve played old Super Nintendo or PlayStation RPGs (or modern throwbacks to the genre), Battle Chasers: Nightwar’s combat will feel right at home. Similarly to Final Fantasy X’s conditional turn-based battle system, your three party members follow a clearly displayed turn-order, and certain actions affect that order. For instance, some spells take time to cast and push you down the queue.
Each character has a unique moveset with over a dozen possible choices per turn. For example, the wizard Knolan can unleash strong magic spells or heal the party’s debuffs. Meanwhile, Alumon focuses on attacks that hit hard and simultaneously heal wounds. Since you can only bring three of your six members into battle at a time, it’s a process to discover which combos work against certain enemies. Rarely does a move only deal damage. Luckily, the menu’s move descriptions are detailed; they reveal exactly how many hit points you’ll shave off and which status ailments you’ll inflict, so planning your move is never a guessing game. You can formulate effective strategies by evaluating every consequence.
The overcharge mechanics also stand out: stronger abilities consume your limited Mana supply. By using a regular attack, you can fill Mana above your maximum, called overcharge, which is essentially free consumable magic power. Deciding whether to build up Mana with weaker attacks or unleash high-cost spells from the get-go provides a strategic layer of tug-of-war. It’s gravy how some attacks utilize the overcharged Mana for extra damage. Each turn is a calculated chess move, not to mention the powerful and flashy Burst attacks that characters activate by filling up a shared energy gauge. They can easily turn the tide.
Overworld gameplay features both old-school and modern elements. The world map is barren, consisting of predetermined pathways towards towns, dungeons, and exploration areas with enemies littered about. The eight dungeons are more substantial. In a style evoking dungeon crawlers of the past, your set party of three seeks the path to the boss in an isometric labyrinth. There are some skills to utilize outside of battle like stealth or healing, but it’s otherwise a survival challenge. Dungeons are procedurally generated; the room layout and configuration are random, as are the events, traps, puzzles, loot, and fishing minigames within. As such, you can revisit dungeons for a new randomly generated adventure. Rather, you will have to revisit them to level up.
Grinding is an unfortunate relic of RPGs that must be tolerated, but in Battle Chasers: Nightwar, it teeters on excessive. At a certain point midgame, the enemy levels rise significantly above your party, and reliably winning battles becomes near impossible. This pattern persists from one dungeon to another, and you’ll end up replaying old dungeons repeatedly at higher difficulty tiers for experience points. The harder difficulties provide an enticing risk/reward challenge, but repeating entire dungeons gets tedious.
The miniscule EXP gain and overly expensive healing items don’t do the grind any favors, not to mention there isn’t a way to speed up battles. Furthermore, inactive party members don’t receive any EXP, so you’ll have to train them up separately. What should be an enjoyable journey ends up feeling like a chore, requiring much patience throughout this 25-30 hour ordeal. The only plusses are a healthy amount of sidequests and a good progression system, in which you earn ability perks from leveling up and defeating enemies multiple times. Character customization is fun, but it’s not enough to offset the slog.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a solid RPG with a strategic battle system and challenging dungeon-crawling, but it’s held back by its harsh reliance on grinding and sudden difficulty spikes. Regardless, its slower playstyle can work in spurts thanks to the Nintendo Switch’s handheld mode, which works well aside from some lag. If you are a retro RPG fan who won’t mind the grind, the game’s worth checking out. Madureira has put passion into bringing his series back to life, and it shows in this beautifully produced comic book adventure.
Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was originally written on DarkStation.