Developer: Airship Syndicate
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Release date: October 3, 2017
Available on: Macintosh, PC, PS4, Xbox One (reviewed) (the game has been delayed for the Nintendo Switch)
Classic feeling, turn based RPGs have been making a comeback of sorts in recent years, with titles like Ubisoft’s Child of Light and Square Enix’s I Am Setsuna. Adding to that list is Battle Chasers: Nightwar from developer Airship Syndicate, which is made up of some of the creative folks behind Darksiders. The game is based on the 90s comic book by Joe Madureira and Munier Sharrieff that was published by Wildstorm and Image Comics. The opening cinematic looks and feels like an anime inspired Saturday morning cartoon, and the characters are fairly well voiced and quite likeable. The story is your standard fare, with a bad person trying to unlock an even badder entity for nefarious reasons. The story will take you through six regions across the Crescent Isles as you make your bid to stop the witch Destra. You’ll put a fair amount of time into the game (expect to get around 60 hours, if not more, depending on how much you explore and grind) conquering seven major dungeons. There are of course side quests to tackle, hunts to do, and even a fishing mini-game to spend your time with. It’s not all necessary to complete the main story, but it does give you a variety of things to do.
You’ll play as six characters, with three of them making up your party. There’s Gully, daughter of Magnus (who’s disappeared but doesn’t figure into the story) who uses powerful gauntlets in combat. You also have the wizard Knolan, the war golem and self appointed caretaker of Gully named Calibretto, the swordsman Garrison, the rogue Red Monika, and the mysterious and somewhat vampiric Alumon. You level up by gaining experience points in battle, though only your party will level up. To keep everyone on an even keel you’d have to constantly swap out party members which you can do at the inn in the village of Harm’s Way or at the entrance to any dungeon. Once a character reaches level 6 they will unlock hero perks. These perks are split into two trees- one more combat focused and one more healing/special abilities focused. You can assign perks as you wish, and can redo them to fit your play style as the game goes on. Each character also has burst abilities- powerful attacks or buffs that come in three stages. The first two will unlock as you progress. The third requires you to do character specific side quests. For example, for Calibretto you’ll need to find another war golem and defeat it in battle, or for Alumon you’ll need to take on a powerful vampire lord. These third tier bursts are very powerful, and can do a great deal of damage to an enemy.
Combat is turn based, and you can see who is coming up next on the left side of your screen. Certain buffs, like Haste or Stun, will change the order, so you need to pay attention. You have standard attacks or defensive moves that you can use immediately that are called Actions. Abilities use Mana, and take time to cast, usually two turns. You can also use items for healing, reviving team members, or giving out buffs like increased strength or the ability to have attacks set your foes on fire for a specified number of turns. The burst meter is shared with all three party members, and drains when one party member uses their burst ability/attack, and fills as you land successful hits or defend yourself. The burst meter remains constant through battles until you choose to use it. This adds a bit of strategy to the game, and using your burst wisely can be the difference between victory and defeat.
You’ll hit difficulty spikes from one region to the next, and some dungeons will most certainly require you to do a bit of grinding to get to the proper level. Enemies are always visible on the map, so you can choose to fight them all or find a way around them if you can. Know that as you level up, you’ll be overpowered for some enemies. These you can just skip over or fight for materials and a minuscule amount of gold. You won’t gain any experience points once you’re beyond their level. Even those around your level can be stingy with EXP points. EXP is split between all three party members, and levels are in increments of 100. Each time you hit a new level, you’ll start all over at zero again. When you’re receiving less than 100 EXP for most fights, you’ll need to do quite a bit until you reach that next level. There is the Tolkas Arena that can level you a bit quicker, but even there you’ll need to make back to back trips. Unfortunately, that’s the area, at least for me playing on the Xbox One, that tended to make the game crash. Over 50 plus hours the game crashed on me seven times. Adding to the frustration are the ridiculous load times, especially when you first boot up the game. I’m talking time to go make yourself a sandwich and eat it load times, and you can hit them after dying and respawning in the village, entering a dungeon, or even entering battle. There are times the game will load quicker than that, but for the most part the load times are slow.
You have your standard menus to access to outfit your characters with equipment or perks. Note that every new piece of equipment you find will not necessarily be an upgrade to what you have. Stats are displayed on the right hand side of the menu, with upgrades in green and downgrades in red. Most items will be a combination of the two. In that case, you need to see what you wish to boost in your character. Do you want increased Stamina, which gives you more hit points? Or do you want to increase your Bonus Damage, making your attacks stronger? Other stats can allow you to evade attacks easier, or increase your defense against magic. It does give you the freedom to build your characters as you wish. You can only assign equipment or perks to those in your party. For the others, you need to swap party members out. It’s a bit of a clumsy system, and that, along with the large amount of grinding, feels like unnecessary padding. In your menus you can also find your stats for your gameplay in the world and in the dungeons, as well as your bestiary. Defeating an enemy enough will reveal their number of hit points, as well as grant you perks that can aid in combat. Completing the dungeons on Normal difficulty will then unlock a Legendary mode, which can give you enhanced gear, but stronger enemies. You can choose to just continue a dungeon should you leave or get booted in defeat, or you can reset it every time. Continuing means all enemies you defeated stay dead. resetting repopulates the dungeon. Following the final boss fight (which just nets you a bunch of gold and has the credits roll), you can continue to explore, wrapping up side quests or hunts, or you can jump into New Game +, where enemies get even harder.
For the most part, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a fun game, a nice turn based RPG that has a classic feel. The story may not be anything to write home about, but the six main characters are nicely done, and the battle system is layered and allows for a nice amount of strategy. Burst attacks are generally satisfying, and beating the more difficult enemies does offer a good dose of satisfaction. There’s a fairly deep crafting system as well, should you choose to use it. Sadly, the game is marred by a number of flaws. Long load times can prove quite irritating, especially if you fall in battle and just want to get back into things. Technical issues, like frame rate slow down or outright crashes, pop up more than they should. And then there’s the grinding, which can get to be a real chore and it makes the game seem like it’s never ending. The difficulty spikes feel unfair and lead to cheap deaths, especially since they force you to grind, sometimes for hours on end. As of this writing a patch that is said to address some of these issues was hitting for PC players, and it should be landing on consoles as well. There’s a lot to like in Battle Chasers: Nightwar, and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth out of the game. A shame that the flaws make it, at least for now, a bit harder to recommend picking up at full price. Hopefully, down the road, Airship Syndicate can fix these issues. But they have done enough right here, and hopefully that will mean their next game will be much improved.