Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review
Release Date: October 3, 2017
Developer: Airship Syndicate
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (coming soon)
As a well-renowned comic book artist, Joe Madureira made a name for himself. Regardless of criticisms toward some of his art styles, Joe did an amazing job on several X-Men titles. I was a comic book nut at the time, with my high point during X-Men's Age of Apocalypse, wherein Maduriera illustrated all four issues of Astonishing X-Men. In 1997, Maduriera went his own way to craft the Battle Chasers comic book, which bounced between producers Cliffhanger (a section of Wildstorm Comics) and eventually DC. Through the four years it was created, a whopping nine books came out. Despite the uproar over the slow release schedule, many praised the book for its unique sword and sorcery style and brighter storyline than a lot of titles of that era. Battle Chasers had memorable characters and a gripping storyline. Unfortunately, the series didn't last, and it abruptly ended on a cliffhanger as Joe moved forward with his plans to start his own game development company. Non-comic gamers will recognize his work most with 2007's Darksiders. Battle Chasers has apparently held onto its cult following despite the cliffhanger. Maduriera started a Kickstarter to create Battle Chasers: Nightwar, a JRPG with a hint of Diablo influence, with the promise of an Issue 10 in the original comic book series. It skyrocketed over its goal, nearly doubling its requested amount. Joe Madureira has returned to one of his original creations to craft a beautiful anime/JRPG inspired video game that his unique characters fit into perfectly.
This game is one of the biggest success stories of Kickstarter, primarily due to its polish. A lot of care has gone into this game, and it's easy to forget that it really comes from an independent studio. The animated cutscenes are beautifully done, characters are solid, and the environments are meticulously detailed. Things that may look like corner cuts (such as the static images used in conversations) look more like they are there to mesh with the comic book feel instead. Characters with different sounding voices even have different speech bubbles, much like a comic artist would use to depict different noises and sounds.
The story is self-contained, though it does still fit into the universe. A quick introductory scene starts to get you caught up, and then it's right into the battle as your airship is shot down. A few of the characters find each other quickly and head out to find the others, but as usual, things are more than they seem, and our adventurers are soon swept up into a grand adventure. The maps you adventure across vary from an overworld with map lines to follow and a Diablo-esque isometric view. Within those levels, you have to traverse the maze, avoid traps and enemies, and find your way to the goal. Getting into combat turns into an oldschool traditional turn-based battle that is very well thought out. There is a battle line on the side of the screen that keeps you updated on the turn order. Attack charges may change that order, so choosing attacks that balance speed with power is essential. The key draw in this game is the Overcharge. Doing basic attacks charges your Overcharge, which is additional mana for your larger attacks. It kind of reminds me of the body armor in Goldeneye 007: just as you had a stock life that could go down but you could top it off with armor, you have a set amount of mana points that can be conserved if you recharge the meter at the right time. This is great for when you don't have the mana recharge capability any other way. Eventually you charge up a Battle Burst, a beautiful game-changing attack.
One of my favorite parts of the game is the overworld map. It looks like it was genuinely hand-sketched, as if the characters are walking about on parchment. They stay to strict lines, though you do have multiple routes you can take. Instead of randomized battles, you physically see an enemy on the map that gives you an idea of the kind of party you will face off against. In the dungeons, the enemies physically move as well, and you can use stealth to sneak up or avoid them completely. On the main map, killing an enemy makes them stay dead, leading to more freedom to get around. Staying overnight at the inn will cause enemies to respawn, so you can choose to go the quick route and try to stay healed, or grind away, spawning more enemies with each evening you sleep. There are actual reasons you can't go to certain parts of the map (locked doors, enemy archers, etc) that feel very natural, rather than restricting, and help guide you to your next objective.
Inside the dungeons, you also find different ways to increase your stats with the crafting tables. You can add benefits and bonuses to your offensive and defensive items. You also find the traditional lore dump scripts, loot boxes, and the like. While there are certain rooms that need to be in each dungeon, the road to them is randomly generated, and changes even more based on the difficulty you play the level on. This is actively chosen on each entry, so you can challenge yourself to a harder version of the same area. With plenty of chances to re-run levels at higher difficulties and side quests, you will have to do a lot of grinding as you continue. There is a steep curve between dungeons, but it seems crafted for the purpose of pushing the idea of cranking difficulty or doing odd jobs. This fleshes out the experience more than feeling like a chore.
The comic book characters fit beautifully into the JRPG world. The 3D stylings and 2D inspiration work wonderfully together. Characters talk to each other in battle with speech bubbles popping up over their heads like they are in the comic book. Each character's unique design from the comics radiate through in the gameplay, from the peace loving war robot to the traditional warrior with the giant sword. The art style is bold and colorful, making you feel as if you are still reading the original comic material. Character portraits are traditional 2D art, while the battle screen is filled with 3D versions that look like they leapt off of the comic page.
Airship Syndicate is doing a great job of listening to fans. They have recently released the first patch, squashing a lot of game-save-killing bugs, and helping balance out the gameplay. In my review time pre-and post-patch, I've seen plenty of improvements, as not only have a few extras been pushed in and leveling working better, but loading times have been improved. Pre-patch I'd notice that the first battle of a gaming session would take forever to load. At times, you still see frustrating load times, particularly if you save on the world map in front of a dungeon. Load the game to the map, enter dungeon, load the dungeon. Not huge problems, they don't rear their head often, but it is an annoyance when you come across it.
Battle Chasers offers plenty of replay value, with randomized dungeons, changeable difficulty levels, secrets aplenty, and a New Game Plus mode. You can tell that the developers are fans of the traditional RPG that has lost it's sparkle in recent years. With the push toward more realistic graphics and action-based gameplay, it usually takes an independent team that ends up pushing a strategy game with more statistical tweaks possible than you could ever imagine. Airship Syndicate has done the amazing job of making an easily approachable, traditional JRPG styled game that is lengthy and looks like a AAA title on an independent budget. I hope that this title leads to a reissuing of the original comics or compendiums of the entire series, and I look forward to seeing where Gully, Calibretto, Garrison, and the rest go from here. These colorful characters are a blast to hang out with, and I look forward tomore adventures, in print or video game form.
-Beautiful artwork brings the comic page to life
-Traditional JRPG gameplay lets you think and strategize to victory
-Unique characters play differently, and it's easy to level and equip them, watching them grow into powerhouses
-It drops into a living world, like starting on The Two Towers and never seeing the Fellowship of the Ring
-A few bugs/loading times (that the developer is pushing to squish and actively supporting the title)
-Menus are clean, but maneuvering is a little odd, the inventory system could use a little better organization
Special thanks to Airship Syndicate and THQ Nordic for providing a code for review on PS4.