Review – Battle Chasers: Nightwar

Joe Madureira, or “Joe Mad” as fans know him, started his career in comics with Marvel at the age of sixteen, and has since established himself in the industry with his trademark art style. In ’98, Madureira left to launch his own comic series, Battle Chasers, which was ultimately cancelled before the tenth issue as a result of a slow release schedule. But this year, Joe Mad’s Battle Chasers had its second debut, in the form of the new game Battle Chasers: Nightwar.

Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a new RPG game developed by Airship Syndicate that takes players back to the golden age of turn-based JRPGs. That statement alone may turn away some of our readers, but don’t be so hasty. Airship Syndicate has managed to bring new life to an otherwise stale genre. Combat scenarios have maintained their classic appearance of opposing parties on either side of the screen and the primary HUD down below. But these battles are (thankfully) not random, as all enemy encounters are visible on the map, and therefore avoidable when need be. More importantly, Battle Chasers: Nightwar keeps the game fresh.

Anyone familiar with Darksiders, will instantly recognize Joe Mad’s style. Armor is oversized, layered, and always littered with dents and battle scars. Joe Mad’s character color scheme always reflects their battle archetype. Calibretto (bottom left) is primarily a healer and buffer character, thus the green featured in his armor. Likewise, Garrison is a fighter, and clad in bulky armor and red, not unlike War from the Darksiders series. The full cast of playable characters will all be visually represented within this color scheme.

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There are two ways that players will traverse through the game, the overworld map, and dungeons areas. The overworld, pictured above, is simply a detailed version of the world’s map with roads, objectives, town hubs, and a few additional places to explore. Item caches and enemies both appear clearly on the overworld map, but as you’re forced to stay on the road, you can often do little to avoid combat. Located on the overworld map, your central town is a small outpost called Harm’s Way. It’s here that you’ll find the inn and all of your key merchants.

Players familiar RPGs will immediately recognized the merchant services that are offered: inn, armory, potions, crafting shop, etc. What takes time to adjust to is the fact that these are your only shops. In order to purchase from a higher tier stock, you’ll first have to pay to upgrade each of the merchant’s shops; a tedious, but necessary endeavor. In addition to the standard town merchants, you’ll find two additional services: the Bestiary and the Collector. The Bestiary will serve a far greater role of importance than it often tends to. In Battle Chasers: Nightwar, enemy health and move sets are invisible to players until a certain number of that enemy type is defeated, forcing you to familiarize yourself with each new region’s creatures before you can fully develop a successful combat strategy. Perhaps even more importantly, the Bestiary plays a tremendous role in the growth of your Burst meter, which will be essential to big fights. The Collector will buy the artifacts you find scattered throughout the world and give you his own form of currency, which you can only spend there. It sounds like a bit of a rip-off, but this is where you’ll find some of the best character-specific weapons and armor in the game. Thankfully, you won’t find yourself needing to upgrade the Collector’s shop to find new gear, as the merchant stocks himself without additional involvement.

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The other way you’ll travel through the world is through the game’s dungeons. Battle Chasers: Nightwar‘s dungeons are similar to dungeon crawlers like Baldur’s Gate. Entering a dungeon or an exploration area will change the camera to an isometric perspective as you explore these labyrinths. Each one will offer new puzzles, side quests and ruthless boss fights. Sadly, those boss fights are so challenging, that it’s a turn off from the game. Each new dungeon increases the difficulty so dramatically, that the only way to continue through the plot is to spend a significant amount of time level grinding enough to defeat the boss and move on. I spent most of my time with Battle Chasers exploring additional areas and killing under-leveled enemies to get strong enough to move forward. The saving grace is that each dungeon shows players a difficulty rating based on their current level and equipment before they enter. Ranging from “easy” to “impossible,” each new area is transparent about players’ odds, though for players who just want to play through the story, you’ll find “impossible” pops up a bit too often.

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But with that said, grinding doesn’t always have to be a chore. One of the things that makes Battle Chasers: Nightwar so much fun is the turn-based combat. Most JRPGs can be a tad slow and have such similar movesets that players likely know what to expect before they actually begin. However, Battle Chasers adds stat buffs and debuffs to every attack, as well as permits stacking status conditions. For example: One of Red Monika’s default attacks, Chimera Sting, does damage based on attack power, adds a random debuff status effect to the target, and generates overcharge (a temporary boost to mana). Using this ability, you can instantly attack a target and stack poison damage, potentially doubling the poison damage the enemy takes on each of their turns. Another example of this would be Calibretto’s most basic move, Gut Punch. Calibretto is a support character and therefore doesn’t hit for much damage, but it also inflicts Sunder, which is a status effect that breaks the target’s physical damage.

With all of these buffs and status effects, players have the opportunity to develop an even wider range of strategy than most JRPGs allow. Status effects will stack on top of one another anywhere ranging from three to six times, depending on the type of condition. Ignite (burn) and Poison will work up to six times, while Sunder will only go up to three.

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If this already wasn’t enough to take in for combat, there’s also the Burst Meter. The Burst Meter functions very similar to Final Fantasy VII‘s Limit Break. As your party delivers and takes damage, the Burst Meter bar will fill up and allow you to use powerful abilities that will help you out of particularly tough situations. The bar itself is divided into sections that will be drained in their entirety as you use Burst abilities, with each ability costing a full section of the Burst Meter. Over the course of the game, you’ll be able to unlock additional sections on the Burst Meter and character Burst attacks (up to three) by visiting the Bestiary and completing character specific quests. Red Monika’s starting finisher, Creeping Death (pictured above), will deal a minimal amount of damage, but will poison enemies, adding one to the poison condition for each turn, easily dealing upwards of seven hundred damage (which is a lot on this game’s damage scale).

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While there’s plenty of great things to be said about the gameplay itself, the story is indeed lacking. The game opens with the titular group of characters, Gully, Garrison, Red Monika, Knolan, and Calibretto, on an airship that finds itself under attack. The zeppelin is almost immediately destroyed, and your party members get separated and fall to the island below, where the rest of the game takes place. As you gather your teammates, you stumble across a number of factions who are all gathering ancient weapons for a witch conspicuously named Destra. The story is underwhelming, but certainly doesn’t take away from the factors that make Battle Chasers: Nightwar the enjoyable RPG that it is.

I find myself a fan of most of the playable characters, but I’m let down by the lack of character development that takes place over the course of the game. As Battle Chasers was originally a comic book, the game starts off assuming that you’re familiar with the characters and their dynamic. Thankfully, players will gain their own understanding of the characters and their history together as the game progresses, so all is not lost. But just like comics, character development is incredible minimal. As much as I love Batman, he will always be a brilliantly brooding brute, changing little. The characters of Battle Chasers: Nightwar will change just as little, and simply can’t stand up to the character arcs of modern gaming.

Despite its flaws, Battle Chasers: Nightwar, is a great RPG for gamers who feel the classics haven’t aged well, but still feel nostalgic for old school games. Overall, I wouldn’t call Battle Chasers a must, but it falls pretty close. The game’s ending leaves plenty of room for a sequel, and while there aren’t any concrete plans for one yet, I look forward to the series’ future.

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Reviewed on PC.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar
is currently available for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac.