Turn-based RPGs are a well-known genre in the gaming market, but on a micro level, a new title that doesn’t have Square Enix or Final Fantasy attached to it can easily get overlooked if not careful. Well, in a market gearing towards open-world exploration that steps away from the classic turn-based battle styles of the past 20 years, a new game is here to remind us what’s great about the genre and helped it last as long as it has. Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a game that began as a Kickstarter dream and turned into a surprisingly strong contender for one of the best games of the year.
The creation of the game comes from an impressive partnership of several former Darksiders developers, including comic book artist Joe Madureira, under the umbrella of Airship Syndicate. Originally, Battle Chasers: Nightwar began as a Kickstarter campaign with a modest $500,000 stretch goal. Since then, the game has expanded into one that raised over one million dollars and made a partnership with publisher THQ Nordic. Based off of Madureira’s comic series, Battle Chasers, the game pumps that comic style into its visual lifeblood, providing a colorful and dynamic look at a story that used to only live on the page. Motion art cutscenes, which were done by Powerhouse Animation, the team behind the recent Castelvania Netflix series, also help carry forward the strong art direction this game takes. An impressive team of artists and developers are just the beginning of the praises, though, as the game’s story throws players into a well-defined universe.
The story is as sprawling as Joe Mad’s original comic the game is based on, placing players in a fantastical land filled with friends, enemies, and a political struggle that emerges after the comic series’ hero, Aramus, goes missing. Aramus made a journey into a great wall of mist that stretches across the West Waters known as the Grey Line. He was never heard from again, forcing Gully, his daughter, to wield her family’s powerful Gauntlets and begin an adventure to finish Aramus’ mission. Accompanying the brave daughter on her journey is a rag tag group of fighters, including the ancient war golem Calibretto, Aramus’ former paladin Garrison, wanted fugitive and outlaw Red Monika, and old mage Knolan. After an airstrike against the team by enemy forces sends them crashing into The Lost Continent, the group is split, leaving only Gully, Calibretto, and Garrison together to search the land for their two missing companions and a way to delve further into the Grey Line.
As with most traditional JRPGs, Nightwar is a turn-based battle system, which allows the player to wield three fighters at a time against one to three enemies. Each character has their own set of special abilities in battle, including basic actions like physical attacks and defensive maneuvers, but they also have an expansive roster of powers. As each character levels up, new abilities and actions are unlocked, with the more powerful abilities costing mana to use. These two options are the bread and butter of most battles, giving players the strategic option of either unloading normal actions against lesser enemies, or attempting to combine the different characters’ abilities to start a chain of support and offensive plans. For example, Calibretto begins the game with several healing abilities that come in handy against enemies that place debuffs on the team, so it was best to have him provide extra defense and restoration to the characters who can dish out the damage. In turn, players familiar with RPGs will be ecstatic to delve deeper into each character’s abilities and create game plans on who to use and when.
One of the more intriguing aspects to battle comes with the Burst options, which are similar to Overdrives from games like Final Fantasy X. By doing damage to the enemy, a three-tiered meter fills in battle that allows a character to unleash an extremely powerful move against one or more enemies. Each character unlocks three unique Bursts throughout the game, which was a feature that I heavily relied on in battle. The Darkstalkers touch from the development team is definitely found in the difficulty of the game, as enemies, from base encounters to bosses, get progressively more difficult as the game goes on. Having the Burst attacks was a gift from heaven to get past some of the more terrifying enemies, like those that can cast Doom on the party to make them easily die if healed. However, as an added stress level, the mini-bosses and main bosses also have access to their own Burst attacks, which can turn the tide of a fight in a split second.
This is where Nightwar’s Perk system sets in, which is the most unique customization option available. Perk points are earned by leveling up and using consumable totem items, allowing players to pick and choose certain buffs to add to a character. Perk trees are specific to each character and offer simple attack boosts to specific in-battle bonuses, like Garrison having the ability of healing himself once the battle ends. The best part of it all is that the points used in the Perk tree aren’t permanent and a player can reset their choices at any time to spread the points around. At first, this system can seem daunting to newer players, but once the game progressed and I was able to see just how tough the late-game bosses got, I relied heavily on studying my team members’ Perks to figure out what combination worked best. Players should have control over more than just what inventory a character can have equipped, and it was a brilliant choice on the development team’s part to incorporate a feature that can inherently change a character’s stats and purpose in battle.
While the idea of a difficult game could turn players off, especially if turn-based RPGs aren’t in their wheelhouse, Nightwar does a solid job at pacing out the battle style for newbies and seasoned pros to understand—to a point. The way the story is set up, with only Gully, Garrison, and Calibretto as the options to use for the first couple of dungeons, players are able to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of those three characters, while also taking in the mechanics of actions, abilities, and Bursts. It also helped greatly that each of the three excel in one main area to teach the player the importance of having a defensive character in the mix, instead of just picking three heavy-hitting fighters that only deal damage. Once Monika, Knolan, and Alumon—a brand new hero to the Battle Chasers universe, introduced for the first time in the game—joined the party, I wasn’t thrown off by the diverse move pools they each had, as they all act as combinations of what the game teaches up to that point.
Alumon, for example, was my favorite choice for the later game dungeons because he is a mix between a fast attacker and a healer, which made him a perfect choice to balance my team. However, on the flip side of that compliment, once all six characters are unlocked, it can start to feel confusing and daunting to know which to focus on leveling up. Earning experience is done through battle, but it’s a slow process, making grinding a part of the whole deal. Once a player invests a good amount of time into their favorite characters, the ones left out of the party sort of fall away. While that doesn’t always have to be a negative thing in RPGs, Nightwar has a wide enemy variety that can require each of the six characters’ skills to defeat. Getting through an entire dungeon only to realize the boss can’t be taken down without a heavy magic wielder, like Knolan, can be frustrating if he was a character that hasn’t been used often enough to have a decent level. All in all, the repetitive act of grinding for experience to level up each hero, just in case they may be needed for even one fight, will be a hurdle that could deter a great deal of players.
Thankfully, there is a slight workaround for this, and that’s in the way dungeons are laid out. The majority of the game is split into two settings: the overworld map and the dungeons. Players will control the three chosen team members on a large map that can be walked on following laid out paths, which have enemy encounters along the way and access to towns, items, chests, and dungeons. Once a dungeon is reached, players have the option of taking it on in Normal mode, or they can do the Hard mode to earn better loot. No matter if a player has been to a dungeon before, the entire lay out will reset itself, moving enemies, items, and chests to new locations than before, which gives a nice shake up when having to revisit areas for experience grinds. Plus, having the option to return to a previously conquered dungeon to do the Hard or Legendary versions to earn even better gear and items gives additional incentive outside of just returning to level up characters. I loved being able to return to a dungeon that was difficult the first time around and have a much easier time taking on the enemies and bosses with my more powerful heroes. It was a great testing ground for new strategies I would create with the Perk trees and ultimately became my main focus instead of just trying to rush through the dungeons to reach the end the story. Pouring over each new dungeon layout kept me immersed in the world, and what helped further this was the well-developed in-game universe.
Apart from the vast customization options found through the Perk, equipment, and Burst attacks, players will also find random pieces of written lore hidden in dungeons that add small details to the overall story. While it’s not imperative to read every piece of writing found to enjoy the story or understand the flow of the plot, it was refreshing to have the option to delve further without it being a necessity. It was intriguing to know the characters themselves were just as unfamiliar with the Lost Continent as I was as a player, so when they would learn more about a certain area’s history, it never felt as if the writers were attempting to info dump. Instead, it felt like a mystery slowly unraveling that subtly invested me into knowing more about the world, and not just focusing on finding clues about what happened to Aramus. On an added meta level, players who were familiar with the original comic series will get a chance to actively explore this world they already knew on a deeper level, while newcomers may want to go back and read the comics to appreciate the beginning stages of Nightwar’s existence. If a fantasy game can ever pull a player in enough to spend time researching and thinking about the game’s lore outside of playing, then that’s a successful story.
It doesn’t happen often where an RPG can come into an over-saturated market and manage to have a fresh and unique approach to the genre, but Battle Chasers: Nightwar does just that. Not only does it promote customization at almost every level of gameplay, but it delicately balances the line between helping new players understand the genre and delivering a challenging experience. If you’re an avid fan of RPGs, this one is more than worthy of a look.
It can be extremely difficult to introduce a new game into a genre long dominated by one company and franchise, but Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a modern and expertly executed take on everything turn-based RPGs introduced to gamers so many years ago. It’s a reminder that old ways don’t have to die away; they just need the right people to hone in on what made the genre work in the first place.
T - Teen
|Battle Chasers: Nightwar is available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC and Mac. Primary version played was for PS4. Product was provided by THQ Nordic for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.