There’s something to be said for a well-built role-playing game -- even better if it’s one with a visually pleasing aesthetic that communicates everything it needs to. Too many RPGs these days find themselves buried under menus and woefully implemented combat mechanics, or repetitive dungeon-diving.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar feels like the rare RPG to sidestep all the bluster and bulk for something entertaining and at least mildly fresh. Based on the original Battle Chasers comic by Joe Madureira (also known for his work on Uncanny X-Men) and developed by Airship Syndicate (comprised of former Darksiders developers), RPG fans of any stripe should get a kick out of this action-packed world.
I got a hands-off demo of Battle Chasers at E3 2017, where the developer took time to show off the world and combat systems. Taking place an undetermined amount of time after the original Battle Chasers comic left off on a cliffhanger, players can create a team of three (from a total of six optional characters) to do battle with vicious creatures and loot randomly generated dungeons. There’s Garrison, a swordsman with a tragic past, Gully, a nine-year-old girl who inherited a pair of massive, magical boxing gloves after her father disappeared, Calibretto, the iron giant war golem with a heart of gold, and more.
The first thing players might notice is that despite Battle Chasers decidedly JRPG-esque nature, it’s characters play off of old tropes for inventive combat and character building. Instead of the lumbering, mechanical Calibretto acting as the team’s tank, it’s Gully’s magic gloves that provide the massive damage, and Calibretto’s intrinsic ties to nature that provide healing spells.
Though each dungeon will be randomly generated, players will have to strategize before ever stepping foot into one. Each dungeon has different difficulties to choose from, modifying the number of enemies, traps, and the layout you’ll find, but also affecting the size of its reward. Once inside, players navigate an isometric layout filled with beastmen, animated skeleton warriors, and worse. Players can give themselves an advantage by luring enemies into the dungeon’s ancient traps before battle, shaving off a few key health points. Once in battle, characters take turns dealing damage or casting spells, with a queue on the left hand side telling you who will go during the next several turns, all based on stats like speed and initiative.
Characters share a single “overcharge” gauge that essentially acts as magic fuel for special attacks. This gauge can be accrued over time, and each character has three separate levels of overcharge attacks so you might want to save it for a boss or particularly rough group of enemies. Garrison can unleash a devastating series of sword strikes on a single enemy, for example, while Calibretto is focused on damaging multiple enemies with his massive chaingun arm.
Each character will have unique abilities they can use only a set number of times to solve puzzles or advance deeper into a dungeon, such as Garrison’s dash move or Gully’s punch, which allows her to knock down walls hiding secret areas. Every step taken begins to feel like a measured one, weighed against risk versus reward dilemmas. Players can locate treasure chests with rare loot inside, or opt to teleport it deeper into the dungeon. You’ll have to find it again, and the loot will be twice as beneficial, but you’ll lose it if you die before reaching it. Rare gear can also only be crafted within certain dungeons, giving players another incentive to take a deep dive.
Amidst all of this, Battle Chasers possesses a striking art style, and not just thanks to Madureira’s illustrations. Even as they’re awaiting their turn in battle, characters bob and weave with an animated feel that helps bring them to life in a way few RPGs of either hemisphere achieve. This is especially apparent during attacks, when the weight of each character can be felt in their motion. Calibretto, the hulking mass that he is, barrels down on enemies with a decimating right hook, smoke billowing behind his trail, and enemies bouncing back with appropriate force. Even enemies get in on the action, with monsters similar to Dark Souls’ mimics (beasts that impersonate treasure chests for a sneaky bite attack) lashing out their engorged tongues with wicked style.
It’s unclear how closely Battle Chasers will stick to the original comic series’ lore. Developers at Airship Syndicate say the plot will follow the party’s adventures in a world being sucked dry of its mana. After being shot down from the sky by pirates, the group will have to adventure across a massive island, finding themselves roped into a war against an evil vampire lord bent on conquering the world. Battle Chasers certainly isn’t shying away from the cheese of its inspirations.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is due out October 3 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and the Nintendo Switch for $29.99. A Steam sale currently has the game listed at $26.99, though it’s unclear how long that will last.