Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review (Switch)
Are turn-based RPGs dead? This is a hotly debated topic amongst many RPG communities. They are still being produced, sure, but the quality and, in a way, mainstream appeal is somewhat lackluster in today’s climate. Fortunately, Battle Chasers: Nightwar does turn-based combat with a level finesse that isn’t seen enough anymore. While the game as a whole isn’t entirely free of faults, it gives me hope that future titles will release with this classic combat style, simply because it clearly can still be done well.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is an extension of the comic book from the late 90s that it borrows its name from, which I had no idea even existed until now. Characters, locales and certain lore points may overlap, but to my knowledge is a separate piece from the direct comic book lore (don’t know if it’s canon or not). You follow a band of widely varying individuals, who are shot out of the sky only to crash land on an island that just so happens to be wrapped up in some pretty crazy stuff. Although separated initially, you regroup and find yourself heavily invested in a story revolving around vampires, demonic powers, and human-infused demon vampires that betray their masters about as frequently as I’ve mentioned the word “demon” here. What do you expect? Demons are textbook bastards after all. Oh, there are also bandits. Lots of bandits, and they are terrible too.
To say that the atmosphere of Battle Chasers is grim is a severe understatement. Pretty much everything you come across on the isle is bleak, almost as if it were taken right out of something from the Diablo series. Then you also have a handful of bandit-controlled zones that would fit right into a Borderlands-turned-CRPG (I would TOTALLY play that). These individual locations have a decent amount of lore excerpts scattered about, waiting for you to discover as well. These give you a better idea of the local history, and are written well enough. Each area’s aesthetic and lore combine to really drive home the constant sense of dread that the story draws upon heavily.
While there are a few moments of comedic relief present, they are uncommon. I don’t necessarily believe that an abundance of comedy would fit into Battle Chasers though. Occasionally, I have issues with world-building engagement when a plot takes itself too seriously. That is often driven by various other factors, none of which are necessarily in the game at hand. Regardless, the developers (and their comic book source material) did such a fine job of establishing the “why” behind the setting via artistic direction, lore, and dialogue, that I’ve grown very fond of what they’ve built here. The story and characters aren’t shiny and new, mind you, but are executed well enough to be an overall enjoyable experience.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar boasts an impressive art design. Although some people may dismiss it for not being next-generation quality (we are talking about a game on the Switch, folks), you can’t deny its strong and unique sense of direction. High definition graphics can be a waste if it lacks purpose. This game knows what it wants to be, and proves it at every angle.
Fans of comic book-esque motion illustrations are really going to love the cutscenes especially. Each of the various locations you uncover have a distinct look, and nail that underlying sense of uneasiness laid out within the story. Whether it be delving into a ruined castle or traversing a floating junk city, they can easily immerse you into the world. Combat graphics are superb, despite lacking in overall asset variety. You will see a lot of reused enemy graphics (or slightly altered ones), but their animations more than make up for that gripe. Character abilities are fluid and satisfying to use.
There are some graphical problems though. The top-down field of view covers a wide range of terrain, which is a good thing in theory. But it makes the entire game uncomfortably small, regardless of whether you are playing it on a TV or in handheld mode. I would have much preferred a more zoomed-in view, even at the cost of a smaller environmental window. Certain elements of the UI, including most of the text within it, are also on the small side. As someone with clinically perfect vision, I was shocked that this was even an issue for me. Alas, I found myself sitting closer to the TV and holding the tablet closer than normal. Consider this a friendly advisory, as it may or may not affect every player.
Exploring the overworld is handled in a grid-based fashion, almost as if your characters are animated pieces of a board game, gliding across the individual points. This aspect can feel a little restrictive at times, but makes up for it with offering multiple, albeit streamlined, paths. These avenues often lead to gathering materials and both optional and story-specific locations that yearn for exploration.
Along the way, you are likely to run into random encounters, though not of the classic flavor. At any point, you can clearly see what enemies populate the map, and can choose whether or not to engage. The only outlier to that is a Zeppelin mini-boss that can patrol almost any section of the world. They can actively chase you if you come into their range, but are easily avoided should you be paying attention.
There is a lot of tracking back and forth between different places, and luckily you are rewarded the option of bypassing trivial enemy encounters should your current level vastly outclass theirs. Actual fast travel points exist as well. Ultimately, even though the overworld has the outward appearance of linearity, there are a decent amount of options for you to partake in at any given point.
Exploring the numerous dungeons of Battle Chasers is definitely the meat and potatoes of the game. Each dungeon offers three difficulty settings, increasing the level of the enemies within while upping the chances for rarer loot. These dungeons can be revisited at any time, and are randomized for each new run. If you are expecting Diablo and/or rogue-like levels of randomization, you may be a little disappointed though.
The main objective of each dungeon run remains the same, regardless of randomization. But the path to get there varies across each run. Each room in a dungeon is filled with enemies, loot, traps, lore pieces and the occasional “choose your own adventure” inspired side content. The specific locations of these things, as well as the loot and monster placement themselves are randomized each run, but you will begin to recognize terrain patterns as early as the second run. This isn’t a huge issue due to how the dungeons are tiered because you can technically out-level a dungeon with a single run or two and wouldn’t have a huge reason to go back anyways. That said, I do appreciate the randomization for those times when you want to go back through in hopes of improving your gear before pushing through a challenging spot elsewhere.
I believe that the difficulty of Battle Chasers has the capability of catering to a wide audience. Those looking for an increased challenge can opt to limit experience gain by avoiding a large portion of enemy encounters, skipping dungeon revisits, and perhaps limiting items made through crafting. The highest difficulty of dungeons also force a complete reset of that run should your party be wiped out. Have fun with all of that because I found certain parts quite challenging without really seeking it out. I did not do a ton of grinding though. The first time I mistakenly took on the Zeppelin mini-boss, I was sorely unprepared. But the victory 10-15 minutes later was all the more rewarding because of it.
My issue with the difficulty is the somewhat questionable balance around the end boss. There is a steady progression of difficulty throughout the game until you hit the end boss, especially if you are not level capped. Grinding isn’t necessarily an issue for me, but party variation/composition (or lack thereof) is of slight concern when it boils down to a single encounter.
Characters outside of your active party do not gain a share of your experience, leading your “main three” to be leaps and bounds ahead of your reserves at end game should you not swap out frequently. Ridiculous “faceroll” strategies exist for the end boss, but only with key individuals present. Sure, it can be completed with any composition, but there is a wide variance in each strategy’s ease of use. Balance in games with a selection of party members will always be an issue, but I think that it could have been executed a little better in the case of Battle Chasers.
A lot of the potential challenge is due to the well crafted enemy design and the counteracting (but complementing) player portion of it. For the most part, Battle Chasers is far from a button mashing fest (though there is that when you out-level opponents, of course). Even basic enemies have abilities that can put heroes in a pickle depending on the situation. Boss mechanics vary widely, and almost always have a gimmick that should be abused to ensure the smoothest encounter possible.
Battles play out in a traditional turn-based fashion. You can see the command order at any time, which helps better facilitate your plan of action. This order can change dynamically depending on factors such as individual unit haste, attack/ability specific speed, and debuffs, such as stun, etc. Speaking of debuffs, those of the damage-over-time nature can become absolutely brutal due to them being stackable. Unlike most games that treat debuffs as merely nuisance-ridden flies on the battlefield, they can quickly add up in Battle Chasers. This encourages the use of various cleansing abilities or restorative items, which is a worthy change to your typical test case.
The overall usefulness of abilities in Battle Chasers is one of the best executions I have seen so far in any title to date. Each ability has its own purpose and set resource cost (whether it be mana, the time it takes to cast, or both). You will find yourself using pretty much every ability at some point or another. It is refreshing not to see a “Ice 1, Ice 2, Ice 3”-ish progression (though those have their place), but instead have a wide toolkit for each character to select from depending on the situation. It is even more refreshing when your entire skill set gets play time rather than only one or two abilities. Sure, there are many instances where you will default to only using certain actions, but the usefulness (even if only situational) of each and every skill is what impressed me the most in Battle Chasers.
Central Hub – Harm’s Way
Harm’s Way serves as the central hub for your heroes. There are various NPCs that sell everything from flasks to weapons, food to crafting recipes, and everything in between. Crafting equipment, enchanting your gear, and creating flasks is possible in town after certain milestones are reached (before then, their respective tables show up randomly within dungeons). Initially, the main story quest will bring you through most of the points of interest in Harm’s Way. Afterwards, side quests will occasionally pop up there as well.
Most of the vendors can be upgraded multiple times over the course of your adventures. This typically increases both the size and quality of items they will offer you. Their stock will frequently change, usually sparked from completed dungeons. In addition, some items will go on sale from time to time, so it is always worth checking out each vendor every time you come back to town.
Hunts & Shadow Coins
Hunts are a form of side content in Battle Chasers, which often leads you to defeating specific bosses scattered across the world. These bosses can prove to be challenging depending on your party mix and your level in relation to theirs, but are all feasible. For your efforts, you will receive experience, loot, and special items that can be converted to an in-game currency called Shadow Coins. A vendor in Harm’s Way sells an impressive selection of items for these coins, which can also be collected from non-Hunt bosses and from the Fishing mini-game.
Hate it or love it, fishing exists in Battle Chasers. If the thought of fishing doesn’t excite you, don’t fret. While it does give you a steady source of Shadow Coins, it isn’t necessary in any way to progress the story. The mini-game itself is fairly bare bones, but interesting enough to help break up the dungeon grind mid-run.
You can cast your lure out, and most fish will make their own way to it. When you get a bite, “reeling” them in by moving in the opposite direction of the fish is key to success. From equippable fishing gear, you have rod strength and lure attractiveness stats, which do what you would guess. If you get to a spot where fish are uninterested in your lure or often find yourself losing catches, it is time for an upgrade. Therefore, it is important to keep both stats up for an optimal fishing experience.
I really like the crafting system in Battle Chasers. For most gear, there are three qualities of output. Having the exact amount of items available for a craft will result in a 100% success rate, while less than that will increase the chance of a crafting failure. On the opposite end, you can INCREASE the amount of materials for your selected craft to improve chances of a higher quality item. 200% and 300% will result in rare and epic quality equipment respectively.
Alchemical crafts work in a similar fashion, with the addition that you occasionally will proc additional items from a single craft. The usefulness of crafting as a whole will vary widely depending on your party setup, your luck with dungeon loot, and the amount of grinding you do. Even so, it is a nice system and works wonderfully when you need to fill some gaps in your gear or flask collection.
Performance is spotty at best with Battle Chasers and, honestly, one of my biggest beefs with the game. Loading times aren’t much of an issue, as they are pretty sparse. But the overall framerate is borderline atrocious. I experienced frequent framerate hiccups, as well as general slowdowns throughout my playthrough.
The biggest offender of all, however, were the unfortunate crashes. Several times, I lost the ability to interact with objects in a dungeon. This often led to a complete crash, forcing a reload of the game. Not a huge deal in most cases, but auto-saves are a thing in Battle Chasers, which can complicate the matter a bit. For example, I traded a weapon to an object within a dungeon, which disappears and reappears elsewhere with an upgraded version of the same item. One time I did this, and the interaction bug happened, but I wasn’t aware of it until after I changed maps.
A map change initiated an auto save, and my game crashed, leaving me with lost progress AND a missing weapon. Outside of that, a handful of other crashes did happen, and each time you’d have to go through the lengthy intro cinematic (which isn’t immediately skippable for some reason) and wait times from save game data population. Crashes typically don’t phase me when they are not overly obstructive and/or rarely occur. In its current form and without patches, I can say that this game gave me the most trouble performance-wise (specifically crashes) out of any Switch RPG i’ve played to date.
Due to these issues, I wonder how other console ports have fared, and even the PC version. I would find it hard to believe that the game would run this way on the other systems, but I could be wrong. My fear with the Switch’s popularity is that developers will cut corners on the performance end to cash in for a quick buck, especially with ports. I am not saying that is the case here, but it makes me wonder about it regardless.
Performance issues aside, Battle Chasers is still a great experience. Some may question the price tag on the outset, but the actual content delivered more than pays the price in my opinion. If you are still skeptical, picking this up on a sale would only sweeten the pot. At its core, the game offers quality combat, satisfying dungeon diving and more loot than you can shake a stick at. I do hope that a performance patch of sorts is in the works, or at least possible, for later on down the road though.