Battle Chasers: Nightwar looks like it leapt from the pages of a comic book, which is fitting because technically it did. But the reason I'm saying that is because, of the many games I saw this year at E3, Nightwar's visual aesthetic has stuck with me since then. Sometimes I just think about how amazing Calibretto, the sentient war golem, looks on screen. If nothing else, Nightwar is going to be a visual treat.
But I doubt the visuals are going to be the only thing it has going for it. Now, I'm not familiar with the original Battle Chasers comic book that this new game was based on. To my shame, I sat down for my demo not even realizing it was based on a comic book at all. But that's actually okay because Nightwar sits right in the middle of being a game that both fans and newcomers will enjoy. It's an entirely brand new story using the same Battle Chasers characters, which gives Airship Syndicate Entertainment, the developer, a good chance to catch people like me up to speed.
What's more interesting than its comic-book-turned-game roots is that Battle Chasers is also a return to a very fundamental form of Japanese role-playing game. It's all about turn-based dungeon exploration—a kind of callback to the days before early Final Fantasy games began to change the landscape of Japanese game development. And yes, that's a good thing. Battle Chasers looks amazing, but it also looks fun as hell.
You crawl through dungeons with a party of three characters, though one is only ever represented on the screen at one time. There's no random enemy encounters either, instead monsters wander the dungeon just like you, giving you plenty of opportunities to engage or avoid fights as you please. There's environmental puzzles to solve, things to read, and monsters to fight. But that's all pretty typical for the genre. Fortunately, Nightwar isn't just content to replicate the JRPGs of old, it also brings new ideas to the table.
Most of those ideas center around combat, which is probably a good thing since that's what I'd imagine you spend most of the time doing anyway. One small concept I really love is called Overcharge, which grants you a temporary stack of mana points when you land enough of a certain type of attack. Because Battle Chasers has a big emphasis on rationing out items and abilities in order to complete the dungeon—for example, characters have special abilities they can use outside of combat but only a limited number of times—there's a definite compulsion to save your mana until the end boss. But with Overcharge, the extra mana you earn will disappear after a fight is over, effectively incentivizing you to spend it on some spells rather than let it go to waste.
There's also Battle Burst, which in itself is a pretty standard idea among JRPGs. Each attack you do fills the gauge and eventually will let you trigger a special attack. One twist is that, unlike Final Fantasy's Limit Break, the Burst Gauge is filled up by attacks from the entire party but can only be used by one hero before needing to be recharged. Each hero has their own burst ability, meaning you'll need to understand how to use it properly given the situation you're in. For example, Calibretto's Battle Burst is a massive team heal that could save your bacon in the right situation.
That kind of decision-making extends to how you decide to tackle enemies as well. At one point we encountered a large war golem in a boss battle, and the developer had to explain that defeating him requires a pretty specific tactic. Essentially, once this war golem hits 50% health, he begins using his own Battle Burst ability every other turn kind of like an enrage mechanic from an MMO raid boss. The idea is to get him as close to 50% health as possible, spend a few turns buffing your party up with various abilities, and then push hard into the final leg of the fight.
I love that bosses can be designed with these types of strategies in mind, but I do have concerns that trying to figure these out on your own could be really frustrating. There was no contextual clues or dialogue to hint at how you should approach the battle, which could very well mean your first attempt is a total bust as your party crumbles beneath the waves of attacks once the golem enrages. I think failure as a learning tool can be really effective (looking at you, Dark Souls) but I do have my concerns because it needs to be used appropriately in order to be fun. That said, right now it's a minor concern at best and didn't spoil the opinion I had of Battle Chasers in the least.
And finally there's the art—my god, the art! Nightwar is gorgeous, but it's hard to get a sense for that while roaming around the dungeon. I mean, it looks pretty there too, but being an isometric-ish view, the details aren't as apparent as they are when on the battle screen. Once in a fight, however, the aesthetic becomes striking, and there was a good portion of the demo where I missed what the developers were saying because I was just so focused on watching the animations of each character on screen.
Nightwar effortlessly blends 2D environments and 3D character models, but makes them both look like such a natural fit. The animations for each character are expressive and smooth, but what's more is each one looks exquisitely hand-crafted. Fighting monsters is as much a treat for the eyes as it is the brain.
There's much more to Battle Chasers than I was able to cover or to see, including a crafting and alchemy system and what you'll do in between dungeon dives. But the combat and exploration alone are enough to indicate that Battle Chasers is something I'm going to be looking forward to. It's just a shame that it isn't due out until next year. Oh well, I guess I can always read the comic books in the meantime.