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May 2021

Battle Chasers: Nightwar

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Airship Syndicate
Release Date: May 15, 2018

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Switch Review - 'Battle Chasers: Nightwar'

by Andreas Salmen on May 16, 2018 @ 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

While retro-inspired JRPGs are hardly a rare occurrence, it's difficult to find western developers that can successfully create their own take on a genre that is so beloved. Developer Airship Syndicate is trying to revive an old and incomplete comic series in JRPG form with Battle Chasers: Nightwar by incorporating nice visuals and an interesting battle system in a decent take of a western-influenced JRPG. The game was originally released on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, and the recent Nintendo Switch release is a portable, feature-complete and slightly improved version.

You may have never heard of Joe Madureira's comic, "Battle Chasers," which launched in 1998 and concluded in 2001 after nine issues and a cliffhanger ending. Its creator would eventually go on to create several video games, including the beloved Darksiders series that has a similar visual style. Nightwar tells a story in the established comic universe but doesn't require you to be aware of its background story. If you're interested, you may be pleased to hear that the comics are due to be continued following Nightwar's release.

In Nightwar, the main story arc revolves around Gully, a young girl in search of her father. She has powerful gauntlets, and she's joined by several companions who protect her while they travel through this fantastical world. The party includes all of the classes that we've come to expect from a JRPG:  a healing golem, a mage, a rogue and a swordsman. While traveling over an unknown island, their airship is shot down, and everyone is scattered across the island. Starting with a party of three, we eventually reconnect with everyone and try to understand why the island contains so much mana. Of course, we also have to contend with an evil sorceress and monsters.

A fleeting look at Nightwar and its mechanics won't reveal anything unexpected. There are buffs and debuffs, character development, crafting, loot, a traversable overworld map, and turn-based battles. If not for its art style, it's not distinguishable from other games in the genre.

When traveling on the world map, we can only travel on predetermined tile-based paths, where we encounter enemy skirmishes, intel, loot, shops, and side-quests. The story progresses through character interactions and dungeons that bring us closer to the truth about the mysterious island. Upon entering dungeons, the game changes from a 2.5D view to an isometric view, akin to Diablo 3. While our party always consists of three members, we can only control one of them in dungeons. This gives us access to a few special abilities that may help us traverse a dungeon or start battles with special buffs and debuffs.

It's not a game-changer, and it sometimes feels like a criminally underused mechanic, but it's far from useless. Dungeons are fairly varied and offer replay value since they're tile-based and can slightly change between playthroughs. While not extremely significant, the variety is especially appreciated when grinding. Dungeons can be tackled in three difficulties, and the tougher ones offer more prestigious rewards and experience points.

Like any JRPG, the heart of Nightwar is its statistical round-based battle system. Upon entering a battle, we attack in a certain order based on the haste stats of everyone involved. Our protagonists can then perform basic or mana attacks, with the latter draining the mana bar. Mana is incredibly limited within the game, with few options to replenish it beyond using potions or finding special stones and wells within dungeons. The game rectifies this with a feature called "overcharge." Your overcharge meter fills up when you use attacks that don't require mana, and the meter can be used instead of mana to launch special attacks. This means you can build up overcharge and perform less powerful attacks to save up for a more powerful strike. Overcharge is usually not carried over between levels, so it has to be used by the end of a battle. There is also a burst meter that's filled by the whole team and does carry over between battles to enable certain special attacks. The attacks rarely end an enemy, but it can give you a slight upper hand if things get messy.

Apart from overcharge and burst, Nightwar emphasizes elemental status effects that damage enemies over several turns and can stack over time. The most powerful attack is not always the best choice, especially when we can stack attacks that cause bleeding over several turns and grant another ally an attack bonus. It's not novel by any means, but it goes beyond some of the superficial battle systems we've seen in JRPGs over the years. It creates an appreciated layer of depth to what otherwise would have been a rather uninspired affair. Even with these rather deep mechanics, the game still feels very familiar; it comes with the territory of using a familiar battle system in a genre that's almost as old as the medium itself.

Outside of battle, there is loot en masse and a decently executed crafting system that rewards you for collecting as many things as you can. Over time, you collect recipes to craft or enhance items that can be done at special locales across the game world. You don't necessarily need all ingredients to successfully craft an object, and throwing more objects into the mix might even enhance the resulting item. When crafting an object with fewer materials, the success rate will go below 100% when you're crafting an unusual item. Using more materials than needed, on the other hand, increases the percentage to 300%, making it possible to create epic gear from extra material. It's a cool take on crafting that doesn't make collecting the same resources as redundant than other titles.

Apart from crafting, there is also an extensive bestiary to help us determine how to approach certain enemies. When first facing any new type of enemy, we will be confronted with an ocean of question marks concerning its name, health, attacks, and weaknesses. The more of them we face, however, the more we collect information about its name and statistics, enabling us to find the best ways of defeating them quickly in combat.

By completing dungeons and battles, we also receive experience points to level up our characters. With every increase in levels, we receive points to level up two skill trees per character and learn new attacks and skills for battle. It has to be noted that characters only level up if they're part of your current party. This isn't unheard of but increases the times you need to go grinding in case you want your characters to be equally strong. The original release of Nightwar required a lot of grinding due to demanding difficulty spikes, which are less apparent (but still existent in some places) in this release. The other updates seem to have made their way into the Switch version, making it a lot less grind-heavy, even if it's still far from grindless.

The greatest asset of Nightwar is the visual presentation and execution. Characters are beautifully animated and drawn, as are the enemies, NPC characters, and the world itself. It has a strong sense of style that carries over to all aspects of the game. While it is beautiful to look at, animations lack some variety. Enemies, while beautiful to look at, sometimes feel too similar to other games in the genre. Just like its battle system and overall approach, the presentation can't hide the fact that its underlying base is a very familiar one.

The story, while interesting, presents little to make us really care about its characters. Voice acting is sparse and writing can be hit-and-miss, although the final hours of its 20-plus hours campaign hold some surprises and make it worth sitting through to the end.

Overall, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a solid port on the Switch with a great presentation and familiar gameplay mechanics. The gameplay is solid, and the environment has changed up just enough to warrant another look for fans of classic JRPGs. If you haven't yet had the opportunity to play Nightwar elsewhere, you'll be pleased to know that it looks just as good on the Switch, with little compromises in visual presentation. The loading times, however, are noticeably longer, especially when first booting up the game and changing battle locations. While not a deal-breaker, the game's full $40 price tag may make it a tough sell, especially when the console versions are already available at a discounted price.

Score: 7.3/10

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