Battle Chasers: Nightwar has an interesting history. Back in 1998 Joe Madureira, a comic book writer and artist working at Marvel Comics left to start his own comic book series – Battle Chasers. It was a sword and sorcery, steampunk tale that only produced 9 issues and yet was extremely popular.
Madureira left the industry and abandoned Battle Chasers to move into the games industry where he was later to become creative director for Darksiders. Fast forward to 2015 and Airship Syndicate, a new development studio with industry veterans including Madureira created a kickstarter to get Battle Chasers: Nightwar funded.
The game is set as a standalone story to the main comics which is good as it allows someone unfamiliar with the comics to pick up and understand what is going on.
The story follows Gully, a young girl whose father – a legendary hero has gone missing, leaving her his gauntlets – the source of his power and envy of all. Gully has a mission to protect these gauntlets whilst searching for clues about what happened to her father.
Supporting Gully are the comic series familiar crew: Garrison, a swordsman who was loyal to her father and now swears to protect Gully, Knolan the old, eccentric Wizard, Calibretto the giant war golem that is a gentle giant, Red Monika – a loveable rogue after riches and a new character in Alumon – a wise demon hunter.
As a turn based RPG inspired by JRPG classics many will be familiar with the genres classic construct – young hero makes unlikely friends and stumbles into an evil plot, the story isn’t laid on thick – it develops slowly in between battles through comic inspired dialogue cutscenes and the odd interaction between your characters.
The dialogue is good and the characters are loveable and a lot of lore can be found throughout the game, the story however is light weight without any sense of gravitas.
The music of Battle Chasers is matched throughout perfectly to its setting and place. When traversing the open world map ranging, exploratory background music evokes a sense of questing, in contrast the dungeons have a much more sinister, oppressive feel to them given weight by the darker music used. Clark Powell produced 29 songs for the game, a very complete and accomplished soundtrack that due to its variety has depth and purpose.
In addition to the excellent soundtrack it is perhaps the subtle sounds which most impressed me, the library of sound effects used are excellent – perfectly balanced at the right volume these effects have a very high level of polish that is pleasing to the ear. We get to hear a wide range of sounds from the tip of the hat to Final Fantasy in a satisfying smashed mirror noise when entering battle to the wide variety of battle grunts, slashes and spells. Upon entering a battle each of your characters has a very subtle noise they make, for example Garrison swings his sword with a satisfying swoosh and Calibretto’s metal frame creaks.
It is not only in battle that our senses are treated – whilst exploring dungeons audio is cleverly matched to the visuals we see on screen from running water to a bird flying across the screen in the background. The culmination of all of these elements is an accomplished layering of audio that is subtle and yet enhances the feeling of immersion into the games world. The final piece to this auditory sensation is voice acted dialogue that is surprisingly well done albeit used sparingly.
Major cutscenes are voice acted as well as some smaller parts in the game to give a sense of a characters personality, this is not just major characters but includes NPCs. Often each of these characters will have some dialogue linked to a major quest or plot development.
In battle our protagonists have a small number of lines which are well delivered but used sparingly, this is a conscious choice to limit the potential annoyance of hearing the same line many times causing battle fatigue.
Visuals & Performance
Right from the opening scene Battle Chasers: Nightwar catches the eye with a beautiful hand drawn cutscene that brings characters straight out of the comic series to life. Characters through the world display a level of detail and quality rarely seen in any game let alone in an indie title.
Characters in and out of battle are vibrant and move in a fluid way which is something that lets many games down. The enemies on display are equally matched in terms of detail and pleasing design though the actual number of unique monsters is a little on the low side, likely due to the high level of detail per enemy.
Attacks carry weight with strikes feeling like they do damage which is supported by the excellent audio effects.
The little details are excellent as well – everything from the in-game battle and crafting menus have been refined to be both pleasing and clutter free to the extent that, at first tricks you into thinking the game is perhaps less complex in its systems than it really is.
Stylistically the game draws of course heavily from its comic source, Bastion comes to mind as does the slightly cartoon like graphics and text of a Blizzard title. Dungeons have a 2.5D Diablo viewpoint and the details for water, fire, mana and general backgrounds are equally impressive. As you progress through the game different areas have a unique feel to them with the exception of the overworld which was quite simple and more akin to a visual novel such as Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series.
On the move the game looks great and everything fits, JRPG’s tend to feel right at home on the move but can sometimes suffer from stuffy menus. I was surprised that the game did not include touchscreen capability as I believe this would have been a good fit, particularly in the Overworld sections.
Sadly performance doesn’t live up to the polish we see in the visuals, when the game was first released on other consoles in October 2017 one of the few criticisms it received was dropped frame rates and long loading times – both issues persist in this version. It can from time to time take 20 or so seconds to load up a battle or new map which is noticeable though not quite in the range of major frustration.
Dropped frame rates and a loss of visual fidelity do affect the game also from time to time, given the high polish you can forgive it but it does slightly detract considering how well oiled the game is.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a classic turn based, JRPG influenced game that sticks to its roots in class systems and tactical combat whilst dispensing with some of the genres bug bears and modernising elements of play.
Initiative turn based battle
You control a team of 3 characters against up to 3 enemies per battle and there is an initiative turn based system presented at the top left hand side of the screen displaying a turn order. This is based on both the speed of your characters and enemies as well as the specific action you take – for example some attacks will be instant whilst other, more powerful attacks take longer to charge – all of which can be previewed by selecting an action and seeing the impact to the turn order.
This dynamic system encourages constant re-evaluation and is affected by one of the large number of buffs and debuffs such as haste or slow. Certain equipment will also effect your speed as well.
Each of your characters falls into a classic role from tank to healer and damage dealer, as each character develops they will unlock a number of skills which can often be used in collaboration to devastating effect if used correctly, for example you can attack an enemy with Calibretto’s Gut Punch which inflicts sunder, a status effect that opens them up to more damage and follow up with Garrets powerful strike to demolish an enemy. This plays very well with the initiative turn based system as you will need to evaluate how best to combine attacks in order to take down an enemy with an eye on taking less hits.
HP and Mana are here as expected but we have a mechanic called overcharge that adds a twist, your characters basic attacks generate temporary mana by overcharging their mana meter by a certain amount, and up to a certain point depending on both the action taken and the characters ability to generate overcharge.
This adds some interesting nuances to combat, the first is that when your mana is depleted in one of the longer dungeons you have a way to generate additional mana to power your spells. The other is the incentive to open up battles with basic attacks in order to overcharge your mana so as to not continually expend as much mana in battles, this balance led me to interesting decisions and made your basic attacks something heavily used as opposed to something disregarded early on as many other classic games do.
As you get further into the game you will be reunited with additional comrades that offer their own unique play style and interesting combos with other characters.
As well as overcharge, your team shares a Battle Burst meter – think of Limit Breaks from Final Fantasy complete with an epic cutscene when activated, where things differ is in the fact that the Battle Burst meter is shared across your 3 characters leading you to think wisely about which is going to be most effective in the battle.
Outside of combat you travel across the Overworld, essentially a game board style map similar to what we see in many mobile phone RPGs today, this modern approach does away with the larger wanderings across a big map we might expect.
Random encounters are instead replaced with an enemy icon at certain points on the map which you can choose to avoid in an effort to remove some of the frustration of random encounters. These cannot be avoided all together but you can choose how many battles to take on and at your own pace.
Travelling across this map is a fairly quick affair that you use to get from point A to point B with a little exploration thrown in, crafting resources and treasure chests are spread across the map to entice you to explore further and will often require additional battles to be won in order to gain the additional loot.
NPC’s are also available with the games main town conveniently placed and easily accessed with the help of portals that you can use to fast travel between discovered areas.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar features 9 dungeons and these are the biggest and best aspect of exploration. Interestingly each dungeon is semi-randomised with predefined areas connected by randomised routes and enemy placements with major encounters, such as bosses, being fixed. You can complete a dungeon, head back in and find it re-arranged.
When you enter a dungeon you can choose a difficulty level in the style of Diablo, opting for a less punishing option will be significantly easier but will provide lesser quality rewards whereas higher difficulties will slap penalties on but provide a much improved chance of finding rare equipment and materials.
I love this system, it incentivises repeat runs and lets players choose whether to play it safe or notch up the difficulty based on their play style.
Each dungeon will feature some fairly simple puzzles to solve as well as randomised traps and even hidden dungeons, rare bosses and secrets to be discovered all of which serve to keep you wanting more. There are quests given to you by NPCs, another subtle feature is the perk system which allows you to put points awarded as you level up each character to tweak their attributes to your personal preference.
As well as each characters perks there are additional perks for killing a certain number of each enemy – rewarding you for grinding the same mob which you may need to do in order to level up and get tougher at certain points in the game. One of the games criticisms was its steep pacing on launch on other platforms back in November last year – this is something that has been addressed now and I found the pacing to be spot on. I never felt helpless or overly strong, as you do gain in prowess you can opt to skip easy battles which no longer provide XP on the overworld map – stopping repetitive and pointless battles.
Crafting and gear
There are a huge number of items to be crafted in the game from potions through to epic weapons, the system is fully fleshed out. There is an interesting twist of the modern here as well – unlike most games you are able to attempt to craft an item if you are missing ingredients with the chance of success reduced accordingly, on the flip side if you opt to put more ingredients in you have the chance of producing an epic version of the item crafted.
This both adds some interesting choices whilst removing some of the tedium often faced when crafting in other games.
Weapons are visible in battle, something I find disappointing when absent and is very welcome here – as well as different rarity levels for weapons you have a number of slots for armour and accessories as well making the dungeon runs and crafting worthwhile.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar has a lot of depth hidden behind its beautiful graphics and wonderful sound effects – there is substance here with some cleverly done balancing and an interesting blend of traditional turn-based battles with tweaks. Unlike some of the other RPG’s out there on the Nintendo Switch these changes are well thought out and add to the game instead of adding clutter. The omissions are planned to reduce the annoyances – for example if a character dies in combat they are revived afterwards with a small amount of HP – these small changes improve the experience.
At £30.99 in the UK and $39.99 in the US Battle Chasers: Nightwar is priced at an interesting point. It is certainly cheaper than its triple AAA cousins but is priced above Indie games. Considering its 20+ hour engaging campaign, exceptional visuals and audio and depth with repeatable, randomly generated dungeons and crafting system there is a lot here.
There are a few performance issues and it would have been nice to see touchscreen capability but these do not detract enough to lower its worthiness for investment.
1st class audio
Some performance issues