NOTE: The author of this article was a contributor to the Kickstarter campaign for Battle Chasers: Nightwar.
After the closure of THQ proper and the dissolving of Vigil Games, Joe Madureira and other members of Vigil reformed as a new studio, Airship Syndicate, with the goal of returning to the long dormant Battle Chasers comic series that Madureira started and left in the late 90’s/early 00’s, but not as a comic book, but rather a video game inspired by classic 16-bit RPG’s like Final Fantasy. Battle Chasers: Nightwar was put up on the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter where it was successfully funded and now two years later, the game is finally available for everyone to play. Similar to how Darksiders was a terrific take on Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series, so too is Battle Chasers: Nightwar to games from Square/Enix that appeared on the Super Nintendo. However despite being separated by a few decades from those games, Nightwar still carries some of the problems inherent with that style of game and a few technical hiccups as well.
While on the search for mana, the fuel that powers their world, the group of Garrison the warrior, Knolan the mage, thief Red Monika, the war golem Calibretto and a young girl named Gully who wields a powerful pair of gauntlets that were crafted by her missing father have their airship shot down above a mysterious island. Now separated, the group must find one another and deal with an ancient evil that’s been buried beneath the island in which they find themselves marooned. If you didn’t read the Battle Chasers comic, Nightwar does a good job of bringing you up to speed on the universe, each character’s motivations and the uneasy relationship the characters find themselves in with the best story beats being simple conversations between characters at rest stops in the inn. Don’t come to Nightwar expecting a gripping plot though, as its story of a group of travellers who have to band together to vanquish an ancient evil is not that compelling and perhaps too beholden to the tropes of the genre that Airship are inspired by. The presentations is solid though, with some good voice acting and motion comic style cinemas in Madureira’s signature art style.
What more than makes up for the lack of a compelling story though is Battle Chasers: Nightwar’s visuals. Madureira’s 2-D, hyper exaggerated characters like a muscular knight with a giant sword and a scantly clad female thief are translated well to 3-D and the world that the characters inhabit similarly feels like a comic book brought to life in the best way possible. You spend your time wandering an over world and crawling through dungeons and there’s a lot of variety in the environments from dark caves, hauntingly gorgeous snow-filled lands and grave yards among others. What makes some of the more mundane areas pop is a great use of color that makes something as visually uninteresting as a sewer memorable. The soundtrack, composed by veteran Jesper Kyd who did work on some of the better Assassin’s Creed games, is pretty forgettable save the main menu theme, and it wasn’t until I was told by someone else playing that the game that different dungeons had unique battle themes because I had just tuned the music out. It’s not bad mind you, just nothing that you’ll find yourself humming.
Like traditional JRPG’s such as Dragon Quest and the above mentioned Final Fantasy, you’ll spend your time in Battle Chasers: Nighwar navigating dungeons in search of loot and engaging in turn-based battles once you run into enemies on-screen; No random encounters to be found here. A game like this is made or broken by the battle system, and thankfully it rarely gets boring fighting regular enemies, giant, end dungeon bosses and everything else in-between. Your team and your enemies take turns selecting commands and a meter on the left side of the screen will show whose turn is coming up, really making you think about what the best move to make is and which enemy to strike first. Battles rarely devolve into simply mashing attack, and there’s normally a lot of strategy involved in even the most simple encounters where knowing when to use a specific command is the key to saving precious hit and magic points. A mechanic called “Overchage” allows you to build up excess MP over your regular limit by using basic attacks (for example, a character with 140/140 MP will get 150/140 MP after a simple attack) so there’s the risk/reward with this in knowing when you simply must exhaust your MP permanently, and when you can afford to build up Overcharge to get through a long dungeon without running out of MP or having to use items to replenish it.
The cast of characters, six in total, each have their own unique strengths and weaknesses and it’ll be easy for everyone to pick their favorite to suit their play style. A character like Garrison is great for dishing out damage, while a new character to the franchise, Alumon, has invaluable healing and resurrecting magic. Characters have abilities that can be used outside of combat as well, such as Calibretto’s which allows you to regenerate HP over battle and Gully who can uncover hidden rooms in dungeons with her massive gauntlets. Picking your team not only comes down to how is valuable inside battle, but outside as well. It’s disappointing that unlike a game like Final Fantasy X where you could change your party within a fight, Nightwar limits this to at the start of a dungeon or in town, but it also would make the game a little easy in some respects as well.
When not fighting, you’ll be exploring the over world and dungeon crawling. Nightwar’s map is pretty big, but there’s a set path on which you can walk on and there’s a handy marker telling you where you need to go for the next story mission should you get distracted with one of the game’s side distractions such as hunting down optional bosses, some which require some serious work before you can find them, fishing, or fighting through waves of enemies in an arena. The dungeons are also fairly easy to navigate, and you’re rarely at a loss as to where you need to go within them as well. Dungeons feature a few puzzles, but nothing that gets too taxing or will stump you. The best dungeon has you in possession of an artifact that allows you to alternate between two dimensions, making you jump between two worlds in order to progress deeper, but for the rest it’s just finding a switch to flip or manipulating statues.
The biggest problem facing Battle Chasers: Nightwar is that as good as the battle system is and the dungeons are, steep difficulty spikes require you to replay areas in order to grind loot and experience which becomes tiresome. You get a lot of game in Battle Chasers: Nightwar for not that much money; I put forty hours into it until I reached the end of the campaign and there was a few side quests that I didn’t complete, but you get that sense that a lot of that game time is spent running in place. You’ll be in a dungeon fighting enemies that won’t challenge you that much only to then encounter ones that will kill you with ease and upon completing a dungeon, you’ll go to the next portion of the map only to find out you’re not powerful enough to be there yet. These walls normally mean you have to go and do that dirty five letter word: grind, which is best done by replaying already completed dungeons. Airship cleverly designed the dungeons with multiple difficulty levels that give better rewards like loot that can be used to craft stronger items, armor and weapons the higher you set the difficulty and they change-up a little, but some are overlong and a chore to replay. By the end it can feel that Nightwar has overstayed its welcome despite being a solidly crafted love letter to JRPG’s.
I played Battle Chasers: Nightwar on the PS4, and starting out, a more apt title would be “Battle Crashers” due to the abundance of times the games would arbitrarily crash. A post-release patch has since been put out that has corrected this problem, but others still persist. There’s some lengthy load times getting into some battles as well as when you first start-up the game and it even stutters a little when trying to navigate through the pages in the pause menu. It’s a simple thing, but you can’t skip the opening cut-scene until it plays out a little and I get that a lot of work was put into making it, but it’s not something you’ll want to watch every time you start the game. I haven’t had hands on with the PC version, but I reside with someone who has played the game through to completion on that platform, and that version appears to run much more smoothly, even allowing you to skip through the opening cinema right at the start.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar succeeds more than it fails in recreating 16-bit JRPG’s for the modern era thanks mostly to its solidly constructed battle system and colorful, comic book inspired art direction. The all-over-the-place difficulty and need to replay areas over and over can get tedious and the technical issues are troublesome but not deal-breaking, but if you’re patient with it, you’ll find more than enough to like about Battle Chasers: Nightwar for its very low asking price. It may not be a game that will stick with you once the credits role, but if you’re a fan of these types of games or even appreciate them from a far but find some of the more hardcore entries intimidating, consider this a must buy. Not quite a classic, but like Darksiders before it, it’s a respectable emulation of a genre of games that Airship clearly has a lot of love for.