For its first few hours, I absolutely adored Battle Chasers: Nightwar.
An RPG with its roots firmly set in the past, it echoed everything that was great about early games in the genre: simple exploration, turn-based combat, character development and loot. Hell, there’s even a fishing minigame. Packaged in a gorgeous art style that oozes character and talent, there wasn’t a great deal to dislike.
Unfortunately, my opinion began to sour the more I played the game. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let me start with the good.
Battle Chasers began life in 1998 as a comic book designed by Joe Madureira. It had a short run of nine issues lasting until 2001, when it ended on an unfinished cliffhanger. Madureira transitioned into the games development industry, and some 14 years later, founded Airship Syndicate – a small indie development studio led by a team of industry veterans. In 2015, a Kickstarter was created for Battle Chasers: Nightwar, and two years later, here we are.
I’d never heard of the comic until I’d already played the game, but if you’re a fan you’ll be pleased to know that the story offers some continuation from where the comics left off, featuring the same cast of characters. It doesn’t matter if you’re completely new to the series though – most people will be – and the narrative within the game is perfectly self-contained.
The characters are the stars of the show in Battle Chasers: Nightwar, being incredibly well designed and brought to life through a series of cutscenes. The main character is Gully, a young girl whose father has disappeared, leaving behind a pair of magical gloves that she now wears in order to defeat enemies. By her side is Calibretto, a giant ‘war golem’ who strives to protect Gully, and Garrison, a skilled swordsman. You’ll meet new teammates as you progress and can swap your party as you see fit.
Most of the interactions between your party members are optional as they happen randomly when you return to the inn to rest. It’s worth going to rest often, not only as it will restore your HP and MP, but the short cutscenes showing conversations between the characters are touching and add a great deal of humanity to the proceedings. It’s a shame that these don’t happen naturally, but it’s a good reason to return to the inn.
Each character has their own signature weapon and a unique set of skills. Calibretto, for instance, has a mix of medium-damage attacks and a lot of healing-based skills. Garrison, on the other hand, focuses more on offence than defence. Choosing the right combination of characters may take some trial and error and will depend on your own preferred fighting style. It’s worth noting, though, that only the characters in your immediate party will gain XP and level up, so others will inevitably get left behind.
It’s not just the characters that are well designed, however. The varied roster of enemies are all masterfully designed, with some incredible works of art on display. You’ll see similar designs throughout, but you’ll frequently meet new enemies as you travel to new areas. There’s clear influences from the likes of Diablo and Darksiders — which isn’t at all surprising, considering some of the development team previously worked at Blizzard and Vigil. But as nicely designed as they may be, it’s as a result of the enemies that holes start to appear in Battle Chasers: Nightwar’s gameplay.
When it comes to combat, the game’s difficulty spikes are just too sudden and too steep. Nightwar is pretty linear in its design; there are a selection of enemies to fight on the world map, but mostly, you’re shepherded from one area to the next, with other areas being closed off until you’ve progressed through the relevant amount of story. It means that, for the most part, there’s not really anywhere else to go apart from the area you’re meant to go.
For the first few hours of the game, that wasn’t a problem. Most of the game progression takes place in dungeons – large areas made up of several ‘rooms’, each populated with enemies and loot. Before starting each dungeon, you can choose its difficulty – the higher you choose, the greater the rewards will be. For the first couple, choosing a higher difficulty was no problem. It netted me greater XP rewards, and nicer loot, meaning my characters had more powerful weapons and gear.
Unfortunately, I reached a brick wall very quickly. Moving from one dungeon to the next, with little to do inbetween, the difficulty ramped up considerably. Even on the easiest possible difficulty, enemies were suddenly three levels above me, with attacks that could knock out one of my party members in one hit. I died, a lot. And when you die, you’re taken back to the inn. From inside a dungeon, that means crossing the map back to its location, and then working your way through the maze of rooms back to where you died. Thankfully downed enemies don’t respawn, but it still means 10-15 minutes of backtracking, and when you’re dying very often, that gets tedious fast.
Like most RPGs, success comes from having the best equipment possible, a good stash of potions, and having the patience to put up with a fairly long grind in order to level up. Battle Chasers: Nightwar’s linearity, however, means you’re limited for places to grind. Enemies don’t scale up with you, so earlier enemies will be too low a level to grant any XP at all. Past dungeons can be replayed on higher difficulties, but depending what stage of the game you’re at, most of these – even on ‘Legendary’ difficulty – will still be too low level to earn any XP from.
There isn’t much joy to be found in replaying areas you’ve only visited a couple of hours earlier, either, so unless you have a lot of patience, you’ll likely run out of steam for Nightwar after six or eight hours. It’s a shame, because everything else about the game is wonderful – its art is gorgeous, the act of combat itself is tense and enjoyable, and the story is engaging. Airship Syndicate has almost created something very special with Battle Chasers: Nightwar’s overall package. But those difficulty spikes are just too unforgiving, and there’s only so many times you can be completely obliterated by the same set of enemies before you have to throw in the towel.