When it comes to character design, Joe Madureira can do no wrong. His chunky skull-encrusted warriors are a feast for the eyes, and that feast is what grabbed me about Battle Chasers: Nightwar. Based on the hit 90s Wildstorm comic, this Kickstarted turn-based JRPG brings the style in spades. The five heroes you may or may not remember depending on your age bracket crash-land on an island and quickly find themselves embroiled in the plot of an evil necromancer and her army of wolfmen. Playing out as a very traditional JRPG, there are repeatable dungeons, a weapon crafting system, and even a few secret bosses. Over the course of the game’s long running time, players will have a lot of turn-based combat to enjoy. In many ways, this is exactly what the original backers of the game wanted, which makes Battle Chasers: Nightwar both a boon for hardcore fans and a hard sell for many others.
Don’t get me wrong, Battle Chasers is anything but a throwback. It has an in-depth combat system and brings plenty of new ideas to the table. During battles, using basic attacks will build up “Overcharge”, which serves as an excess supply of mana that drains after the fight is over. This encourages players to always be using their best moves rather than button mashing through fodder enemies on the way to the big baddie at the end. Characters still do have a limited mana pool to tap into for each dungeon when they’re out of Overcharge, so it felt like a smart update of an old strategy. Combined with the full restore characters receive after gaining a level, I never really found myself wanting for the missing mana recovery options.
I was also never wanting for choice when it came to combat. Each of the main cast has a host of attacks to choose from, and you don’t have to pick and choose between them as you gain levels and progress. This opens up the strategy of the game immensely, and fights between even leveled characters are dynamic and interesting even when you’re just up against common enemies. Better yet, the ultimate attacks (complete with Final Fantasy summon-esque cutscenes) operate outside of the normal attack considerations and instead rely on a constantly refilling meter. You can use quick and powerful attacks for a bit of meter or load up for unlockable screen clearing finishers with a full meter. It’s a bit of fighting game fun in your turn-based RPG and adds to the already deep combat.
To add even more genre nods to the mix, every dungeon is randomized every time you enter it, with the idea being that you’ll never have the same experience twice. However, the final product buckles a bit when trying to implement that idea. Roguelikes work so well because the random maps cycle through a huge list of challenges that only repeat occasionally in an ideal situation. Battle Chasers‘ dungeons feature the same puzzle rooms in each randomization. So, instead of being able to enjoyable grind through levels without feeling the repetition, you get all the disadvantages of playing through the same level over and over with that added bonus of always being lost in a new maze of interconnected rooms.
Yes, if the title of this piece didn’t already give it away to you, there is plenty of grinding to do in Battle Chasers if you want to progress. Once you ease in with the first few dungeons, the game throws a huge difficulty spike at you that almost requires going back to the level you just beat at a higher difficulty setting. Want to go back to an earlier dungeon and try it on Legendary for variety’s sake? Too bad! Characters are quickly leveled past the point where enemies from anywhere but the area you’re in give meaningful XP.
Of course, you might want to go back to earlier dungeons with the party members you didn’t use earlier since they aren’t automatically leveled up with the rest of the party. Battle Chasers pretty much forces you to choose a single team and abandon half the roster or play through the same content a bunch of times over and over just to maintain everyone’s competency. As someone who doesn’t play JRPGs all that regularly, I understand that this is traditionally how these games go, but the extreme repetition feels like padding from the outside looking in. The combat is such a fun remix of a stale formula, and I’m disappointed that the developers didn’t try their hand at those same types of changes when mapping out the game’s structure.
For all the problems I have with it, anyone who is down for the grind is rewarded handsomely. I can’t mention enough how pretty this game looks both during battles and the all too brief animated cutscenes. Each character has voice acting for most of their lines, with euphonious tones that pretty much match what I imagined when reading the comics years ago. In addition, each new character, shopkeep, and enemy you encounter is just a joy to look at. There are little visual flairs that demanded further study, and I was always engaged by the presentation on display.
In the end, I found Battle Chasers: Nightwar to be a great game for a very specific group of people that I happen to be outside of. If you’re all in for hours and hours of working through rats and slimes to get to the good stuff, then there’s a lot to love. The game is generous with varied loot drops and has a pair of full crafting systems to dive into. If you’re bored of dungeon crawling, you can challenge yourself in arena battles or seek out some minimal alternate activities. However, the keyword is minimal, and the game just doesn’t have enough variety in its side content to justify the walls constantly being thrown at players who’d rather only experience a dungeon once.