For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been playing Battle Chasers: Nightwar, a title based on Joe Madureira’s unfinished comic book and from his latest video game development company, Airship Syndicate.
I’d heard of the Battle Chasers comic in the past, just didn’t know about it being unfinished, still I jumped right into Nightwar hoping my lack of knowledge of the comic wouldn’t leave me confused with the characters and plot.
I needn’t have worried. While the game is based on the comics, and acts as a sort of follow up to the adventures from the unfinished story arcs published up to 2001, it’s set so far along in the future of the characters compared to where the comic book leaves off that there is no worry about them being related. In addition to that, the game spends its first few minutes giving you the rundown on the characters and their relationships.
While this form of shotgun exposition is a bit clumsy for video game storytelling, it immediately lets you know what the relationships are like, swiftly setting up the status quo that will drive the personal stories of its characters.
But the cool thing is that those stories further develop in the cleverest of ways. Sure, in story moments as you explore the land, fight monsters and complete dungeons you see these personalities come through and interact, but the biggest and best moments are optional, as they happen when your characters rest at the local in. Every moment you do so has a small sequence where you understand more about the characters, their relationships, ideals, hopes and fears and it’s absolutely brilliant.
The cast of Battle Chasers, the main party, centres around Gully, the little girl wielding her father’s artefact gauntlets, which grant her near invulnerability, heightened strength and who knows how many abilities. The cast is her surrogate family and each has their different approach to how they help her. Garrison is all about training and preparing her for a time when they might not be around. Calibretto worries about her safety and health, often overbearing but always tender, perhaps even more human than his flesh and blood counterparts. Knolan the old wizard has seen it all and has lots of advice and knowledge to share with the little girl and the rest of the party, often in the form of harsh sarcasm. And lastly, Red Monika is the trickster of the group, one minute there and the other gone, but deeply loyal despite what she’d have the rest believe.
I didn’t get those descriptions from the starting exposition or even after reading the 9 issues of the Battle Chasers comic, but by witnessing these optional interactions, laughing at their humour and taking in the darker moments, those where they let slip some of the deep secrets and memories that haunt some of the characters.
I like it, the stories and truths you can only uncover by looking for them, there for players to find if only they remember that the inn is there to use. Most players, myself included, would normally just use the inn occasionally, if I was in town and needed to refresh my characters, so maybe once after every dungeon. But if you do that, you’ll only get a glimpse of these personal stories.
But as I decided to grind a few levels to make some of the progress easier on me, and then later decided to grind some more to bring one of my characters to a higher level—characters not in the active party don’t get any experience, which I hate as it discourages party experimentation—I went back to the inn repeatedly, and had the pleasure of watching these stories, and I recommend you do the same.
It’s definitely worth it.
I’ve mentioned grinding and that’s something I’m usually against with games. I complained heavily about it in my review of Bravely Default, but you know what? I don’t mind it with Battle Chasers. Fights aren’t generally that long, and the more enemies of the same type you fight, the more information you uncover about them, filling up every bit of your bestiary, but most importantly, I find the combat exciting. The main reason for it is how much impact every move has.
When characters in Battle Chasers hit their enemies, no matter which weapon they use, you can feel it. Calibretto’s Gut Punch feels like someone’s gotten hit with a sledgehammer. Garrison’s sword attacks feel like they have weight behind them, like he’s really just impaled his enemy with a giant broadsword. And this extends to every skill.
Think about most RPG’s you play, in how many would you say the combat has weight? In how many do the characters merely wave around their weapons or make feeble slashes that suddenly deal enormous amounts of damage? Take Final Fantasy games and even Kingdom Hearts titles and the number of games and instances where you can feel through the animation and sound that a heavy blow’s been dealt are very few and far in between, which is why I find Battle Chasers: Nightwar’s combat so refreshing and unique.
Battle Chasers isn’t a perfect game by any measure, but between its clever personal storytelling and how great the turn-based combat feels, I just can’t get enough of it and I’m not even halfway through the game and the main story, which is shaping up to be pretty damn epic!
When I finally get through it, you know I’ll be reviewing it and if the game keeps up as it’s been so far, it’s probably getting a high mark!