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Battle Chasers: Nightwar

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Airship Syndicate
Release Date: Oct. 3, 2017

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PC Review - 'Battle Chasers: Nightwar'

by Thomas Wilde on Oct. 20, 2017 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a classic JRPG where combat meets action-packed dungeons and stylish storytelling.

Buy Battle Chasers: Nightwar

This is a hard game to review. In a lot of ways, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a modern spin on a '90s-era JRPG, with turn-based combat, a party of assorted misfits, and esoteric puzzles in weird dungeons, which you solve so you can get at a bunch of treasure chests that are there for no real reason. It's even set in that old-school JRPG style of world, where everyone's using swords and the society's somewhere around the feudal era, but just enough futuristic technology is lying around that you're going to end up fighting a lot of assorted high-end robots.

Either that's precisely your jam and you're already ordering the game, or this isn't for you at all. The title has a very specific sort of appeal, and how much you like it may depend on how much of the '90s you were around for, and how much of it you spent glued to your SNES or PlayStation (or Genesis, if you owned the later Phantasy Stars).


Like Joe Madureira's last game, Darksiders, Nightwar wears its influences on its sleeve. I usually hate resorting to X-meets-Y descriptions, where you describe something in terms of whatever else it reminds you of, because it's always felt somewhat reductive. With Nightwar, however, it's almost impossible to do anything else, because just like Darksiders, it's a proud combination of everything its designers have ever loved. It's the first seven Final Fantasies, Chrono Trigger, a little Grandia, a little Shin Megami Tensei, maybe some Torchlight, and a lot of '90s anime (Red Monika is actually wearing less here than she did in the original comics), all thrown into a food processor and blended smooth.

Nightwar is set up as a new story in the universe of Madureira's Battle Chasers, his independent comic from 16 years ago, and it's meant as a jumping-on point. Here, the primary characters' airship gets shot down over a mysterious island, courtesy of incredibly thorough aerial defenses that weren't supposed to be there. Three of them – Gilly, a 12-year-old girl who's inherited a powerful set of magical gauntlets from her late, heroic father; Calibretto, a steam-powered magic-using iron golem; and Garrison, a humorless swordsman who knew Gilly's father – land near each other and team up to find their missing friends. In doing so, they end up finding out more about the island than they meant to, and stumble into the middle of an evil sorceress's plans.

The game starts off somewhat slowly. You explore dungeons and various smaller areas in a 2.5D map, and can see enemies coming as they roam around an area, much like in the Chrono games. Unlike those, each character has an active ability with limited uses that you can trigger to start a fight with an advantage, or avoid the fight altogether. Gilly can cause a short-ranged shockwave that makes the enemy team lose its first turn, for example, or Garrison can dash into them and begin his first turn with a massive speed boost.


When combat starts, it's a typical initiative-based turn system like many other JRPGs, but it feels like someone's had the mechanics worked out in their head for quite some time. You have health and mana to burn, much like in any other RPG, but in Nightwar, every character has a couple of basic attacks that generate both mana and a resource called Overcharge, which re- and overfills your mana bar. You spend Overcharge to use more powerful abilities, and most of it doesn't carry over between fights. The idea is that instead of getting through most of your minute-to-minute encounters by hammering a basic attack until your fingers fall off, since you don't want to burn any crucial resources on anything other than a dungeon's final boss, you're constantly regenerating mana or burning Overcharge for "free."

A short way into the game, you unlock access to Burst moves, which carry over from fight to fight and gain power every time you take or inflict damage. Bursts are powerful and useful, but still aren't quite win buttons, and it's not unusual to gain and use several over the course of a single encounter.

In addition to that, there's a heavy focus on status effects. You can use ice spells to slow down an enemy, pushing back its place in the initiative order, or weaken their defenses with debuffs. Since a lot of attacks have an attached cast time, and damage-over-time effects inflict their damage at the start of every action a character takes, you can stack up bleeds, poisons, and ignites in order to drop an enemy right before it unleashes its main nuke against you. It's an intricate tactical process, and it only gets more complex as you recruit more characters and gain access to more abilities.


Because of that, Nightwar doesn't really feel like it has any throwaway fights, especially as you move into the mid-game. A random overworld encounter can be surprisingly dangerous if your opponents can inflict poison or bleeds, or if it's one of the giant spike tanks that does 200 HP a shot. There's a throwaway dungeon underneath the game world's one town that feels like it's there just because it has to be there – you're literally cleaning monsters out of the innkeeper's basement – that still manages to end with one of the toughest boss fights to date. I'm actually not done with the game yet because there was a big difficulty spike, and I think I'm supposed to go back and rerun some old encounters before I can handle the next dungeon in the story.

The dungeons in Nightwar are partially randomly generated, and they have a difficulty toggle that increases both the levels of the monsters and the quality of the loot. In practice, this is there for grinding more than anything else, which removes some of the appeal for me; upping the dungeon's difficulty also resets it, so you have to once again accomplish any random story goals to be found inside. It's a good way to power up, and I'm sure some players have enough fun with the combat system for its own sake that they'll gladly rerun dungeons, but it feels like a bit of artificial padding.

I'd also complain here that it doesn't feel like the characters are adequately balanced against one another. Once you hit level 10 or so, enemies do enough damage that you have to start thinking defensively, and there are two characters that are better at that than anyone else. In theory, you can bring any three characters with you into the field; in practice, your party always consists of Calibretto, Gilly, and whoever else you feel like. Monika has some interesting mechanics that make her into a sort of evasion tank, but it's so random – it's basically a flat percentage chance to take no damage at all, boosted by various abilities – that it can't hold a candle to Gilly's multiple layers of shields and buffs.


It is hilarious that the toughest character in the game is the 12-year-old girl (and that Garrison, the gruff, seasoned swordsman archetype in full armor, is a glass cannon), but it feels like I'm forced to use at least her, and ideally both her and Calibretto, on anything that I'm expecting to be a challenge. In turn, since off-stage characters don't earn experience, it means you're locked into roughly the same party lineup for most of the game unless you deliberately want to handicap yourself.

As long as I'm complaining, I should also note that the crafting system's a bigger pain than it needs to be. You don't buy a lot from stores in Nightwar. Instead, everything you loot or kill gives you an assortment of components, and if you find the right workbench, you can combine them into new equipment or potions. It feels really token and unnecessary, like somebody put their foot down and said that every game in 2017 has to have some crafting, and I'd pay extra for some kind of "classic mode" where I could just buy all the damn potions from a store.

My complaints, it should be said, are relatively minor. Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a good, surprisingly polished callback of a game that replicates a lot of the feel of classic JRPGs without bringing along most of their flaws for the ride. I have no idea how appealing it is to anyone who didn't spend 40-hour chunks of his childhood on Final Fantasy III, but for me, it's a pleasant combination of modernity and nostalgia. That's a tricky combination to pull off.

Score: 8.9/10



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