Being a comic book geek in the 90’s was a mixed blessing. On one hand, I had access to some of the greatest comics of all time as they were being released. Amazing, life-changing books like The Maxx, Bone, and Spawn. On the other hand, it was also a dark time for comics: the origin story of many geek stereotypes that we’re still trying to shake off. I read those, too. Comics that didn’t age quite as well as we’d wish, like Gen13, anything by Rob Liefeld, and Spawn.
I read it all, and as the years have passed, it’s never surprised me too much to see how that source material gets adapted to later endeavors. Bone had a video game made by a very young Telltale Studios, Liefeld’s creation Deadpool has turned into a full-on pop culture nuclear warhead, and now, after being out of print for 16 years, the cult classic Battle Chasers now has an RPG of its own.
Wait: Battle Chasers? Holy fucking shit.
I enjoyed Battle Chasers in high school: it had an incredible art style and a fun, if standard fantasy adventure storyline full of legendary artifacts, talking robots, and warriors with mysterious pasts. But I’d be a liar if I expected that it had any sort of rebirth set up for its future.
And I was wrong in a big way: because not only is Battle Chasers: Nightwar a fun continuation of the comic’s memorable characters, it’s a pretty stand up video game in its own right.
The story follows a team of adventurers as they find themselves stranded on a strange and mysterious island filled with lore and danger around every turn. You spend the game recollecting your original party and fighting your way through dungeons and dozens of colorful baddies as you search for a way to escape this gruesome continent.
The gameplay is based around that classic JRPG style, with turn-based combat and an isometric overworld that contains a ton of enemies, secrets, lore, and all the loot that you expect when you’re dungeon diving. It even has an option to choose whether a dungeon should be standard, or if you’d like to turn up the difficulty for the chance at a better reward in the end. This Heroic mode is bog standard when it comes to MMOs, but I don’t see it very often in single player games, so that stood out for me. There’s a crafting system, and lots of cool weapons and armor to try out on your party. There’s even a fishing minigame. Each character has a unique system of abilities and perks that unlock as you level up. It’s all pretty standard for anyone who’s familiar with that classic RPG style.
However, one thing that did catch my eye during the gameplay was the Overcharge mechanic. Your party members have Hit Points and Mana like you’d expect, and while healing can be easy to come by, recharging your mana is not. So during fights, certain abilities will add Overcharge in addition to any other effect they have. Overcharge is essentially temporary mana during a battle. So even if you get caught in a fight that you’re not entirely rested up for, there’s still the chance to build up enough power to get you through. It’s a nice touch that adds more strategy to Battle Chasers’ combat system.
If the mechanics themselves aren’t terribly unique, the art direction absolutely is. Battle Chasers: Nightwar is filled with beautiful locations, and some really fun character models. I loved seeing the different bad guys I would get to fight as time went on. There is something so cool about seeing how individual and lovingly crafted each hero or bad guy is. It’s a perfect combination of action comic books and that colorful attention to detail you see in modern JRPGs. And the music. The music is perfect for this game. It’s big and bombastic one minute, and then calm and mysterious the next. You can actually hear a lot of influences in there, as well: from a standard movie theme orchestral style to a more delicate, Eastern-influenced sound. It adds a really nice touch to battles and the overworld in general.
Just like the comic, Battle Chasers has some great characters. And while they might still fall into the usual fantasy archetypes when it comes to the story, I will say that the developers had fun with switching it up when it comes to gaming roles. Your main character Gully, for example, is a nine year old girl wielding enormous gloves of incredible power that once belonged to her father.
This tiny little girl is your party’s tank.
And a pretty good at that. Her enormous war golem friend Calibretto, on the other hand, is a particularly effective healer. Those kinds of curveballs, along with the strength of how well written these characters are is what ultimately kept be glued to this game. Things I’ve seen before don’t matter when you’ve put so much heart into the finished product.
I will say, however, that no matter how pretty it is or how engaging the characters are, at its heart, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a JRPG, and that brings with it all the assorted crap that comes with any game of that ilk. If you’re not drawn to this game for its background as a comic and you’re not a fan of near-constant wandering, grinding, and one battle after another, this is yet another one that you can skip.
Battle Chasers as a comic didn’t exactly bring anything new to the table. Gentle gigantic robots, warriors with a dark past, a young protagonist learning about herself and growing into the role of a hero. But the care and artistry that was put into the book made it stand out, and gained traction with a lot of readers. And Battle Chasers: Nightwar is very much cut from the same cloth. The JRPG mechanics, the combat style, the levelling system: all of these individual pieces we’ve seen before. But because the developers at Airship Syndicate took real time and care to make this game as beautiful and engaging as they could, it stands out as a truly memorable experience. It might not be for everyone, but fans of classic RPGs and classic comic books should have Battle Chasers: Nightwar on their radar.
Review is based on PC code provided by publisher. Battle Chasers: Nightwar was released on October 3rd, 2017 for PC, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.