Review: Battle Chasers: Nightwar is an aptly named RPG that challenges your patience just as much as it does your skill
Save wiping game crashes and slothy grinding bring down what is actually a good battle system.
Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Switch
Developer: Airship Syndicate
Publisher: THQ Nordic
At first glance, it’s easy to be drawn to Battle Chasers: Nightwar. It’s characters and environments are colorfully rendered and look like something out of a 90’s Saturday morning cartoon. Even if you aren’t familiar with the comic that has been defunct since 2001, the fact that it aims to emulate the battle systems of JRPG’s past (like any Final Fantasy before 7) is enough to make the ears of any RPG fan burn.
Unfortunately, the adventure doesn’t live up to the promise, as its characters serve as little more than window dressing. The story leans heavily on their familiarity rather than attempting to establish their roles and relationships to potential newcomers, and it’s not nearly enough to win over any new fans. But, at the same token, not everyone plays games for the story, and there’s something to be said for that, even if we are talking about a genre that is known for leaning on it.
Whether that something that appeals to you is a matter of taste, but understanding that there isn’t much of an “adventure” in the traditional sense is worth knowing before you dive in. What’s also important to know is that Battle Chasers: Nightwar has some serious game crashing issues.
That said, here’s what you need to know about Battle Chasers: Nightwar.
Hopefully, you didn’t come for the story.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a ludologist’s RPG, and what I mean by that is that the game almost entirely foregoes any serious effort to tell a story, and instead puts its Battle System at the forefront of the experience (hence the name, Battle Chasers). The game takes its design cues from SaGa, a series infamously known for its emphasis on grinding levels and difficulty curve, while whatever narrative there was played a distant second fiddle as context for your actions.
You start off as a young fisticuffed girl named Gully, who possesses a pair of magical boxing gloves as her weapon of choice. Your airship crash lands on a mysterious island, and you gradually regroup with your team which consists of the War Golem and healer, Calibretto, the Warrior, Garrison, the 500-year-old wizard, Knolan, and a voluptuous bounty hunter rogue, Red Monika.
On the surface, you would think these characters have all the makings of a memorable adventure, but it never comes close. The dialogue is written in a way that makes the characters look personable in the sort of paper-thin veil you’d expect from a traditional Hollywood hero blockbuster, but all of them lack substance and the story just sort of expects you to fall in line with their camaraderie without establishing much of anything.
What you come for is the Battle System.
There’s a sort of irony to the name Battle Chasers: Nightwar that’s hard to tell if it was intentional or not, but it is definitely present. You’re going to engage in a lot of battles in Nightwar; so much so that the game practically leans on them as the core of the experience. It’s almost Final Fantasy XIII-esque how frequently you enter a fight, and it can grow tiresome as the rewards you get back for doing don’t always move the needle for player progress as they should.
However, the thing I was drawn to the most about Nightwar’s battle system is how it handles Mana, and it’s something that Turn-based RPG’s need to take into consideration going forward. Battle Chasers utilizes a system called Overcharge, which is a boost to your character’s mana pool for performing basic attacks. In games past, players would traditionally dip into their mana pool sparingly on longer journeys in between Inns/Towns/Safe Zones, resulting in battles that were little more than random encounters of “Press Attack to win.”
Battle Chasers: Nightwar appears to have solved that design flaw, as Overcharge naturally encourages players to use their fancy ability sets on a frequent basis, as they essentially earn extra mana for using basic attack functions. Now your standard attack sets up bigger and better combos with higher damage counts, which are also much more rewarding to see in action, all without feeling like you’re giving up something.
That’s not to say that this system makes the game easier; Nightwar is anything but. The game compensates for this with a high difficulty curve, making managing your Overcharge properly a necessity simply for survival.
This game has some serious performance issues that need to be addressed ASAP.
No matter what kind of RPG you are into, one thing everyone can agree on is that save-wiping game crashes are no fun for anyone. I have had to restart Nightwar three times since I fired up the game for the first time, and for a game that relies so heavily on the feeling of rewarding the grind, that’s pretty close to a death knell. It’s one thing to commit to the grind; it’s another to commit to the grind and have it all be for nothing and then have to do it all over again.
It’s worth noting, that I am playing the PC version, and that playing the game in Safe Mode seemed to eliminate the save-wiping part of the crashes. That said, the game still crashed a few more times after that, and Nightwar is not a game built to tax anyone’s hardware.
There was also a visual bug where a fade-in transition failed to load on several explorable areas, leaving the environment looking blurry while the UI and Pause Menu remained in focus. What compounded this issue what that I had to undertake an entire dungeon with the blurred screen, which took about 45 minutes to an hour to complete.
Here’s a screenshot of what that looked like:
In the technical sense, I could make out well enough what was around me and battles remained in clear focus, but that still shouldn’t have to be a thing for players to contend with.
The grind is real.
As mentioned previously, Battle Chasers: Nightwar leans heavily on its battle system; so much so that it relies on difficulty spikes from dungeon to dungeon to pad its hour count. Or at least, that’s one way of looking at it. In my experience, I tried to do everything I could during and before a dungeon to make sure my levels were properly padded. This included battling each foe in the overworld map, even if they were weak compared to me, as well as every enemy in the dungeon while taking on said dungeons at the highest possible difficulty (you can initially choose from two before unlocking a third, Legendary, upon completion). Even with all of that, I would still encounter a massive difficulty wall where the next dungeon was labeled by the game as “Impossible” to complete with my current party.
So doing everything you can possibly do on the first run through, isn’t enough to make consistent progress in Battle Chasers: Nightwar. This in and of itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it would just help if the content available to players to help you grind weren't so sparse. Upon returning to the dungeons that I had unlocked the “Legendary” difficulty for, I found that I was actually overpowered and the experience and gear that I got for doing them, didn’t help my party progress much at all. Sure, I sold the stuff I didn’t need, but gear in Nightwar is locked by level and if you aren’t gaining the experience necessary to don the better gear, then what you have is a balancing issue.
It’s just odd that a game that so deftly relies on difficulty at many junctures can just as easily get too easy when you need it to be difficult.
As far as grinding, leveling, and the lack of a serious narrative, that is all dependent on what your tastes are. If you’re looking for a Final Fantasy-type experience, you’re not going to find it with Battle Chasers: Nightwar. If you are the type that gets a sense of catharsis from the repetition of turn-based battles and grinding for bigger and better loot than you’ve come to the right place.
This is all assuming of course that the game doesn’t crash and wipe your save on you, which can put a serious damper on the whole experience. Playing dungeons that are more or less a giant blur doesn’t help matters either, but it’s fortunate then that these things, as well as the balancing issue, can be fixed via patch. So as it stands right now, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a game you should probably wait before diving in on.