Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
Kickstarter has brought us some gems over the last few years; Divinity Original Sin, Hyper Light Drifter, and Wasteland 2 to name but a few and the list shows no signs of slowing. Enter Battle Chasers: Nightwar, based on the comic of the same name created by Joe Madureira and published by Wildstorm, during the 90s and brought to us by the core minds behind Vigil Games, best known for the outstanding and gorgeous Darksiders series, a gothic action-packed tribute to Zelda which is being resurrected for a third outing in the next year or two. With this much pedigree behind this new JRPG adventure it’s unsurprising that it smashed its Kickstarter goal by around $350k. Two years later and here we are…
The story is threadbare but adequately works to set the tone for the adventure. We join it with Gully, the wielder of a pair of powerful gauntlets as she sets off in search of her missing father. Gathering a party of heroes to assist, Garrison, a growling swordsman, Calibretto, a friendly war golem, Knolan the straight talking wizard and Red Monika, the sexy bounty hunter. As the crew make their way to a mysterious place called the Crescent Isle to find out why mana has been in decline across the region, their airship is shot down and the party members scattered across the land. Cue getting the band back together and finding out what the hell is going on with the island and what is happening to all the mana?
The first things that hits you when playing Battle Chasers: Nightwar are the artwork and the animation. Throughout the entirety of the game you will get lost in the phenomenal, gorgeous character designs which are married with equally stunning environmental designs detailing a range of areas - lush colours, gothic creepy dungeons and fantastic character design light up the adventure. The use of colour throughout makes even the darkest dungeon look quite an attractive place to explore and subtle animations throughout the free roaming and battle sections of the game bring everything in it to life. The look and feel really draw you into the world of Battle Chasers: Nightwar and propel you forward as new, interesting enemies are introduced.
The game is broken up into a series of parts, three in all. The world overview map which you traverse to find core story locations, loot, a whole host of random battles and to find hidden secret areas looks fantastic, and whilst effectively just a simple point-to-point travel system, it gives the player a nice sense of scale when it comes to the size of the adventure. As you move from area to area you uncover the main town of Harm’s Way, filled with vendors and some side quest givers; an arena area is also present which allows you to take part in up to twenty-minute long battles against increasingly tougher enemies for XP rewards and of course loot The world map is littered with random caves and dungeons which when entered, take a very Bastion feel as you navigate your way around these self titled exploration areas. It looks and feels just like Bastion in these areas, if a little slower paced and the beautiful artwork really shines. Gorgeous rich colours and simple yet effective animations fill the screen creating a sense of desire in the player, a desire to explore and see every nook and cranny that has been so clearly lovingly created. Some of these areas are totally harmless and at best you will come up against the odd enemy looking for a fight, but for the most part you will just enjoy the visual spectacle which is married up with often haunting yet at times forceful soundtrack. Dungeons take an identical form but are often far from as laid back as the aforementioned areas. Traps, enemies and loot light your path as you proceed deeper and deeper into each main dungeon and it is within these that all main challenges within the game come to the fore. The final part of the adventure is the battle system and this takes the form of your traditional JRPG. Three characters can be teamed up at any given time and it’s up to you to sync together enough of their defensive and attacking capabilities to get you through each battle.
The battle system is one of the highlights of the title providing Chrono Trigger-like depth and variety throughout. Each of the six available characters has a plethora of standard, quick attack-focused moves as well as a raft of magic-based attacks, the latter costing mana in both low and high quantities. This brings us on to overcharge, the excellent addition to how such games handle mana for special abilities in JRPG titles. Overcharge supplements your mana bar, in some cases meaning you can execute mana heavy attacks and heals without it actually costing any. You see, overcharge is generated per normal attack, therefore if Gully’s standard attack generated +10 then a few of those will be enough to power a free high impact special attack. As there is isn’t a way to regenerate the precious commodity outside of crafted or purchased flasks and resting for the night, during the bigger dungeons this is an absolute godsend and a fantastic strategic addition to the battle system.
As with all games of this ilk, loot, gear and crafting are present, each with varying degrees of success. Loot is relatively plentiful and refreshes in the overworld map upon resting however it’s not until later in the game that you will find the need to use half of the things you collect - in fact often you simply won't, which seems like a missed opportunity. Frustratingly also loot drops randomly for each hero and is level based. This poses two potential problems for someone on their first playthrough as something will inevitably drop for a party member not being used, and in turn as only the three active party members level (an odd choice) then even if you did put them back in the A Team you’d have to grind to get them up to the level needed to wield the gear.
A forced grind unfortunately halts any real forward momentum, particularly midway through when a huge difficulty spike hits and your breezy, “taking it all in and loving it” feeling is slapped away from you. At this point, you soon realise that the game wants you to grind to level up, however, the tricky element here is that it doesn’t present you with many ways to achieve this, reducing you to respawning reasonably easy random encounters or replaying previous dungeons to gain small incremental amounts of XP to try to get your characters up to the point where the next main campaign mission/dungeon stops being labelled impossible and is reduced down to very hard so you at least stand a chance of progressing. Each dungeon boss is always at first out of reach of your current level, sometimes excessively so, which really breaks the flow of the game. When this first happens midway through the game it’s equal parts jarring and off- putting as nothing to this point has been any sort of a real challenge and it feels like the game is done letting you enjoy the ride and is making you do some graft, artificially extending your time with it. Sadly it adds nothing and its only achievement is to frustrate.
Unfortunately as good as Battle Chasers: Nightwar is, the leaps in difficulty along with the frequent performance issues drag it down a notch or two. Throughout our forty or so hours with the game we experienced many random crashes back to the PS4 dashboard with no set pattern, along with getting stuck on scenery and on two occasions not being able to complete actions for one of the characters during a battle. Not being able to choose an action for a character fifteen minutes into the timed arena challenges presents you with a bit of a problem - back to the dashboard you go again. We are aware that there is a day one patch and we played entirely without this applied so hopefully some of these issues will not be seen by your average paying gamer.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a beautiful game that sucks you into its world with its fantastic art style, gorgeous animations and surprisingly deep battle system. Utilising the JRPG template and mixing it with a western fantasy aesthetic works so well, unfortunately the title is held back from being something truly special by some cruel difficulty spikes, a wealth of technical issues and some odd design choices.
Note - The Digital Fix reviewed a PS4 copy, to date we are unable to confirm if the technical issues seen are present on the other formats, namely Xbox or PC.