Welcome to Crescent Isle, home to giant spiders, bandits, and rather hungry looking green slimes. Don’t be fooled by the welcoming locals, it’s going to get worse. Battle Chasers: Nightwar is the first project by Airship Syndicate, with animation by Powerhouse Animation Studios. It is a continuation and drop in point for the Battle Chasers series of comic books created by Joe Madureira and released in April 1998; the comics were quite popular but plagued with irregular releases. The last comic, Issue #9, was released in September 2001, with a cliff-hanger which left fans without closure. Mr Madureira promised to finish the series but, by that time, had moved on to game development, now, over ten years, later Battle Chasers has reared its head again. In September of 2015, Joe Madureira, launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring the BC universe to the gaming community with Battle Chasers: Nightwar. Now it has finally released on all major systems including the Switch (which was announced earlier this year) with promises of a comic Issue #10, as a three-part story arc to be released afterwards. With the original creator at the head of Airship Syndicate, could the Battle Chasers universe move entirely into games or is this just a taster of new projects to come?
Disclaimer: I have no prior knowledge of the Battle Chasers universe. When the comics were released I was about four years old, so I went into this game blind. If there are any inaccuracies with the lore or anything similar I apologise beforehand.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar (or BCN as it will be referred to from now on, my fingers can only type so much) is a turn-based RPG, with JRPG elements and an old-school vibe, set on Crescent Isle, an island with a particularly interesting connection to Mana. You plan your moves and use your abilities to cripple the enemy and come out on top, all the while exploring a very pretty world. Your aim is to try to survive and stop things from escalating too quickly.
Now, whilst I’m not very far into the story, what I have experienced so far is quite standard for RPG storylines, and fits in rather well with its comic roots. Your party is trying to reach an area that has interesting Mana history when you are attacked and have to jump ship. From then on you must try and figure out what has happened whilst battling through the horrors of Crescent Isle.
You play as the five main characters from the original comics. I have three (Garrison, Gully, and Calibretto) but I’m not very far into the game yet nor am I particularly good at it. There is also an additional new character to the franchise who was an extended goal from the Kickstarter campaign. There is: Garrison, your traditional gruff and serious swordsman and guardian of Gully, the energetic and upbeat daughter of the deceased (or missing) über hero Aramus, who now possesses her father’s über gloves, which makes her a target; Calibretto, a very gentle war golem and medic, with a soft spot for birds; Knolan, a sarcastic (and grumpy) old wizard who seems to have a hard time dealing with everyone; Red Monika, a roguish bounty hunter who seems to always get out of trouble even if that means abandoning the others (especially Knolan when their airship is scuppered) and finally Alumon, the new guy, whom I haven’t met yet.
The NPCs that you interact with are also interesting with unique designs and funny interactions. My personal favourite is the Collector, who sells high level and exclusive gear, he never speaks, but whispers occasionally in a giggly tone, and has a very ghostly appearance.
Currently, Garrison, Gully, and Calibretto have reunited and are searching for their two lost companions, and have stumbled onto something rather sinister going down with the bandits on Crescent Isle. It’s very much a story arc from a comic with exploration, skirmishes and figuring out pieces that make little sense until later. It has me wondering “where do I go next”?
Graphics and Sound
What do you get if you mix the overall aesthetic of Torchlight, with less chunkiness and more detail, with Darksiders penchant, for oversized weapons, gloves, and pauldrons? Battle Chasers: Nightwar has influences from both these games it seems but with a style all its own. A style that really shows you its comic book origins. The 3D environments are gorgeously chunky, with dripping wet sewers and lush forests that move and writhe. This slightly cutesy effect on the environments works well. The overworld looks like a hand-drawn map with heavy outlines and simple parallel lines to indicate shadow and depth, it’s very much a fantasy map from a comic. The battle screens are hand drawn set pieces that look amazing; with very fine detail left out so that some brushstrokes are still visible, which makes it ten times prettier. The 2D art might as well have been taken straight out of the comics; it has that level of realism mixed with cartoonish and over the top features. The animations are beautiful comic style cut out affairs which only add to the storytelling and origins; well worth the investment in the animation studio. The 3D models of the characters are also very attractive, following in the footsteps of their original comics but with enough smoothing of ornamentation and fine detail that they don’t overcrowd your screen and have simple crisp clear lines. The enemy models are clean but with a haggard and a rough aesthetic to them, delivering a nice contrast with the clean crisp player characters. Really a very eye-pleasing experience.
When it comes to the gear only the weapons you wield change the appearance of the characters, and they have very nice hefty models for them reminiscent of the over the top weapons from the Darksiders series, ranging from giant boxing gloves to oversized swords.
However, the isometric view you are stuck in when exploring the dungeons and other 3D environments does cause some problems with the thickset aesthetic. Sometimes you can find yourself stuck in a corner, on some scenery or under some construct without any real explanation as to why and occasionally with no clear boundaries.
The sound is generally pleasing, although less so than the graphics since you don’t really notice it apart from in the cutscenes and in some of the boss battles. The background music is very atmospheric and mood setting with shifting origins from oriental influences, to straight up orchestral pieces, but tends to be ignored or forgotten in the battle scenes and during exploration due to your focus on the action and environments. What little voice acting there is, with a majority of the conversations being conducted in comic style speech bubbles, is done very well. Characters portray emotions simply through their voices, and in Calibretto’s case sound effects. The battle audio is meaty with attacks, spells and effects are given plenty of oomph, Calibretto’s standard attack, sounds like someone attacking a church bell with a sledgehammer.
BCN has the standard array of turn-based and RPG paraphernalia. You have many stats, with many numbers, that directly correlate to your effectiveness in certain areas in combat. Stamina, for instance, increases your health, and Will increases your Mana pool. The battle system is centered around a speed stat called Haste, the higher it is the quicker you can act in battle, and the less time it takes to activate special skills.
In battle there are three main actions, apart from the use of items and the ability to flee, these are standard attacks, special abilities, and burst. The standard attacks, or abilities in some cases, cost nothing to use and are used instantly, these could be to defend, attack, inflict a status ailment whilst attacking for reduced damage or cure another player of an ailment. The special abilities cost Mana or Overdrive and contain high-level attacks with special side effects, healing abilities and more. Overdrive is a BCN unique resource generated in attacking and using standard abilities. If enough is acquired then the Mana cost for a special ability is nullified. It gives you an easily refillable source of Mana, but only lasts for the duration of the battle it is generated in. Finally, you have Burst, a resource usable by, and generated by, all the characters in the party. It can be used once a single gauge of its bar is full and activates a character specific skill, that can be a super attack or a heal all ability. It’s your standard turn-based battle affair, with the smorgasbord of status effects, both good and bad. Health and Mana do not automatically regenerate outside of battle until you sleep at a tavern or level up, giving you the challenge of managing their levels over multiple battles and areas. Its relatable enough that it is familiar to those who play turn-based RPG battle games, but with enough minor tweaks that make it very enjoyable to muck into. I have even found myself elongating battles so that I can heal up a particularly wounded party member with a skill that either uses Burst or so that I can use overdrive instead of depleting my Mana.
Perks are the main way of upgrading your characters outside of gear. Each character has two paths to apply Perks to, each with a certain playstyle in mind. Garrison has the Swordsmen and Wanderer paths; the Swordsmen being the heavy hitting style with critical hits in mind and the Wanderer path more about speed and inflicting ailments and taking advantage of them. A great thing about the Perk points is they can be reassigned when and where you want to. Meaning you can change your character’s playstyle or adapt to new enemies on the fly simply by going to their statistics page and moving them around. Another set of Perks available are called Beast Perks and are acquired by completing beast challenges from your bestiary. These are mainly killing a certain amount of a specific type of enemy and they grant universal increases to the overall stats of party members making them very useful to acquire in the long run.
The overworld is a truly classic RPG affair of multiple locations on a map connected by intertwining paths that sometimes have monsters on them, but with the true action present in the fully 3D dungeons. These are hubs that are used to progress the storyline with a series of objectives and dozens of monsters to battle with. They can also be used to challenge yourself as they are replayable and come with adjustable difficulty.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a very pleasant and enjoyable game. With a pleasing aesthetic, fun and quick gameplay, and an intriguing story. It is definitely a recommended turn-based RPG, for beginners and veterans alike, with a relatively simple battle system and enough hidden depth to get you hooked and planning out every battle many moves ahead. Apart from movement problems and the occasional lack of direction in the dungeons (no minimap; although that could be deliberate), It is a great little game and I am only just at the beginning.
Nintendo Switch Version comes with some issues, load times are long and there are some bugs and glitches, but nothing to take you away from this game. Being able to play anywhere, at any time is a great improvement to the experience you will have with this game.