Beauty and Brains
When Airship Syndicate’s Battle Chasers: Nightwar was released on mainstream systems, it was a great game. On mobile devices, Battle chasers, with its lush visuals, detailed, immersive gameworld and feature-rich gameplay, constitutes a seminal RPG.
Battle Chasers started life as a popular series of comics in the late 90s created by artist Joe Madureira. Madureira produced nine issues over several years and ended the series on a cliff-hanger before he left the comic industry to become a game designer. The background here is relevant mostly because the game features Madureira’s superb art. Like the comic, Battle Chasers: Nightwar features gorgeous hand-drawn comic art both in-game and in its intervening animations and splash screens. In terms of hand-drawn art, we rarely see games this pretty on mobile devices, which really would mean little, if it weren’t for the fact that Battle Chaser’s engaging underlying systems have been fine-tuned and threaded together to create a very satisfying RPG.
A Lush Gameworld
Battle Chasers’ game world is as lushly detailed as its artwork. While traveling about the map, you can go on beastie hunt quests, enjoy a fishing mini-game, scope out hidden dungeons, engage in a plethora of crafting or just unload your frustrations on the local fauna. A central town, Harm’s Way, serves as the impetus for much of the above as well as the game’s story, such as it is.
When you enter one of the game’s dungeons, Battle Chasers: Nightwar switches to an isometric overview that’s plays out like Diablo with JRPG battles. Unlike the overland map, dungeon baddies are not in a fixed place and will chase you down. Though dungeons are generally more challenging, you can sometimes thin a monster herd by using a baddie’s agro to separate it from its pals. To further counter the increased difficulty of its dungeons, Battle Chasers provides each character with a dungeon skill that more often than not provides a boost for an impending battle.
JRPG Battles Par Excellence
The JRPG-style battles are strategic and satisfying. Leveling provides your characters with three types of battle skills, most of which are worthwhile and play out in-game in dramatic animated flourishes. What’s especially cool is how the game’s three sets of battle skills play off both each other and the standard RPG resource management paradigm. Most battles begin with the player prodding the enemy by way of actions skills, which are your basic meat and potato skills.
Action skills cost nothing to use and usually offer overcharge points. These are essentially extra mana points that can only be used in the current battle. Because you have to carefully administrate your dungeoneering resources, players will naturally be more careful with their ability skills, which leach mana but are more powerful than actions. Lastly, you have burst skills. As you whup monster behind, the burst meter in the corner of your screen fills. Once filled, you can unleash a devastating burst skill. It sounds more complex than it is, and the combination of skills offers some pretty intriguing tactics, where players have to at once gauge their opponent’s strength, conserve mana expenditures and, for the tougher battles, properly mix up offensive and defensive skills so as to properly lay down the burst skill smack down.
A Sometime Slog
While we don’t remotely have a problem with long RPGs, the challenges of the game’s later acts occasionally necessitates some grinding to get your party up to snuff. What’s more, you too often have no choice but to engage in battle with low-level cannon fodder. Here, the game’s usually lively battles and animations become a drag.
The other major nit is the game’s storytelling. For a game that is in many respects a JRPG, the storytelling falls a bit flat. While we enjoyed some of the lore, and the quest stories are not bad per se, the game’s characters, who are in some ways interesting (the game’s heavy-hitter is a 9-year-old girl and your healer is a huge but gentle mechanical golem), they are ultimately a bit flat. The game does not offer the player either meaningful story arcs or meaningful player choices, elements that players at this point expect in a high-end JRPG. That said, the gameworld, with its beautiful visuals, cool world-building concepts and background lore is pretty storied and intriguing in and of itself.
To be sure, we are not suggesting that Battle Chasers: Nightwar is in any way a mixed bag. While, it would be a better game if the characters you are tasked with controlling were richer and more three-dimensional, it is a minor flaw in the context of all the brilliant visuals and gaming that Battle Chasers: Nightwar offers. It’s the kind of richly-detailed RPG that players find themselves happily lost in for hours on end, and is hands down the best RPG we’ve seen on mobile this year.
Is it Hardcore?
Aside from some flat storytelling elements, Battle Chasers: Nightwar offers up a beautiful looking game wrapped around a fun and nuanced RPG.