Battle-Chasers:-Nightwar-Review Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review

   15/05/2018 at 16:51       Chris OToole       1 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - RTS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4

Review by Ror Brennan.


After the closure of Darksiders' development house Vigil Games back in 2013, fans have been left wondering what next for Joe Madureira, the erstwhile Marvel artist who had co-founded the studio to tell the comic book-inspired tale of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

While War and his brethren have since moved on to THQ Nordic however, under the stewardship of Gunfire Games (itself home to former Vigil developers), Joe Mad took a different path, heading to Kickstarter to fund what must surely have been something of a dream project of his. With his new studio Airship Syndicate, Madureira returns to the world of Battle Chasers, his very own fantasy comic book series.

After a lovingly-drawn intro that faintly calls to mind the opening scenes to many an 80s or 90s Saturday morning cartoon - though with a bit more blood than you might have seen on Live and Kicking - we're introduced to the main cast of Battle Chasers: Nightwar before being thrust into proceedings in media res. For those of us not acquainted with the world of Battle Chasers - which includes me - it can feel a little like being thrown in at the deep end; while I've got no idea what's going on, this group of characters clearly know each other well. Before long, they find their airship under attack and are forced to abandon it, becoming separated on their unexpected trip back to terra firma. It seems that Gully, the young daughter of a man of some apparent import, has inherited her father's all powerful gauntlets, making her a desirable target for all sorts of nefarious types. She's joined on this journey to a mysterious, mana-rich island by Garrison, a gruff swordsman who was brother-in-arms to her father, the elderly mage Knolan and his towering war golem Calibretto, and the shifty rogue Red Monika.

The first thing that strikes you about Battle Chasers Nightwar is just how damn pretty it is. This is a beautiful game, rendered in the same reassuringly chunky comic book style of Madureira's previous work on the Darksiders series, though this time far more colourful, calling to mind a mix of Diablo 3 and Fable, if you could imagine such a mash up coming from the pencil of Joe mad. The visuals are a mix of high-quality 2D art and attractive 3D models, with some really nicely-animated battle actions. Cutscenes and other story moments come in the form of 2D portraits and accompanying text (much of which is well-voice acted), and feel somewhat reminiscent of the skits from Bandai-Namco's Tales of games. You aren't going to get lots of dynamic, animated scenes here, but what Airship Syndicate have done works well for their game, and gives the impression that they budgeted this Kickstarter project very well from the off, knowing exactly the kind of thing they wanted to make.

Oh, and since I haven't actually mentioned it yet, I should actually point out what kind of thing Battle Chasers: Nightwar is. Despite my invoking Fable, Diablo and Darksiders, this is not an action game, nor even an action-RPG with meaty combat, as you might expect. Nope. It's a full-on turn-based jRPG-style affair. 

Combat, initiated by coming into contact with enemies on the world map (yes! There's a world map, and it is also lovingly drawn), brings us into a separate battle screen, with your party stacking up along one side and the enemies arranged along the other, as you might expect. Handily, there's a turn order bar too, so you can easily plan your wider strategy and keep track of where lengthier attacks will bump you down the pecking order, something I really wish more turn-based games would offer. Another pleasant surprise is that buffs and debuffs actually really matter in Battle Chasers, contrary to a decent chunk of the RPG spectrum, and if you aren't making use of the game's various status effects, you might find battles stretching out into grindy attrition.

Of course, you have your standard HP and MP pools, along with standard attacks ('actions'), specials ('abilities'), super moves (think Final Fantasy's limit breaks, only with cool Tales of-style Mystic Arte cut-ins) and a plethora of items, but Battle Chasers also adds a nice layer on top of managing your MP pool that quickly becomes a key pillar of your offensive arsenal. While your abilities will drain your MP, your standard actions will build up a second resource as they land. These 'Overcharge' points can be used in lieu of MP, and can even push your MP pool past its natural limit. Some skills will even draw upon this additional resource to, for instance, do increased damage depending on the amount of Overcharge stacked, so it's always worth making sure you're building up Overcharge, not only to save your MP for more critical moments, but also to maximise your damage output. With this in mind, you'll settle into a fairly regular rhythm of using instant-cast standard attacks at the start of a battle to generate Overcharge, before switching to more costly abilities to buff your allies and debilitate your foes. Even hours into the game, combat still feels interesting, and when you add in skills that add guard on hit to your weakest member, inflict debuffs like bleed and sunder to enemies to set them up for greater damage over time, and taunts to grab enemy aggro to keep them off your healers, there's plenty here to get your teeth into.

I mentioned at the top that it feels like being dropped into a story partway through. Though this is especially true for newcomers to the Battle Chasers property, I also get the impression that returning adventurers may view Nightwar as something of a sidestory in the wider universe, though obviously, having no experience of it outside of Nightwar, I can't back that assertion up other to say that I kind of feel that way. For all I know it's a direct continuation of the last issue of Madureira's comic - a continuation fans will have been waiting the better part of two decades for at this point. What those fans will have over us newcomers is an affection for the characters, who can feel a bit stereotypical to begin with - Gully is the rather wide-eyed, inquisitive kid, while Garrison has that whole man-of-few-words hard-man thing going on - but as things progress you start to see these stereotypes being subverted in some interesting ways. And I'm not even talking strictly about character development; personally, I absolutely love that the young girl who everyone is trying to protect is effectively your party tank, while the hulking war golem Callibretto takes up healing duties.

But regardless of your familiarity with the source material, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a lovingly crafted Japanese-inspired JRPG, with beautiful visuals and music, and fun, deep combat. It's also a great example of a well-managed Kickstarter project that doesn't appear to have become bogged down in the stretch goal bloat that can be a detriment to many projects of passion, so Airship Syndicate definitely deserves kudos there, too. It can be a bit grindy, but with its Nintendo Switch release today, I can see it being a fantastic little handheld time sink. Be sure to give it a glance if you're a fan of the genre, but for fans of Joe Mad and his Battle Chasers universe, it's surely an absolute no-brainer.

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