Comic legend Joe “Joe Mad” Madureira, has been a favorite of mine since his work on Marvel Comic’s The Uncanny X-men series. When I heard that he would be bringing the game Darksiders to the masses, I knew that it was a game that I wanted to play as soon as I saw the reveal trailer. Fast forward a few years after Joe Mad and his friends from Vigil Games opened their own game development studio in Austin, TX called Airship Syndicate to attempt to leave their mark on the video game landscape. Their first outing is poised to make Airship Syndicate a studio to be reckoned with. Battle Chasers: Nightwar is the studios first game release and is one that is very ambitious, doesn’t take itself too seriously and is a blast to play.
In Battle Chasers: Nightwar, you take on the role of Gully, a twelve-year-old girl who is on the search for her missing father who left no clues to his disappearance save for leaving behind a pair of magical gloves. Along the way, you will meet up with a wizard, a warrior, a golem, an Amazon and others as you explore the world in search of the truth to Gully’s father’s disappearance. This game is a JRPG through-and-through while adding its own spin on this classic game genre. This game has a deep and interesting story combined with strategic and engaging gameplay and the most beautiful visuals of any game released in 2017. There is also a very robust battle system that allows the player to pair team members in a way that compliments their abilities as well as a way to craft and customize your attacks to exploit the weaknesses of the enemies that you will encounter.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is based on the Darksiders comic book series that was published by Wildstorm Comics under its Cliffhanger imprint. Wildstorm was initially founded by Madureira with fellow artists J. Scott Campbell and Humberto Ramos way back in April of 1998. A video game set in the fantastical Darksiders universe seems inevitable to me as the story is prime for a deep and exciting adventure. Making the game as an homage to those JRPGs that captured so many imaginations in the past was a stroke of genius, in my opinion. In order for the game to be attractive to gamers, the characters would need to be interesting as well and I think that they have definitely hit that mark.
Fans of Japanese role-playing games will enjoy how Airship has stream-lined the process of traversing the very large over-world map. When making your way from place to place in the over-world, you follow paths that have been carved by the many denizens of this world so that you don’t waste time exploring nooks and crannies that are just empty areas that hide no secrets, equipment or items. There are nodules along the paths that randomly generate different types of enemies which you can see by a floating enemy icon above that particular nodule. As to be expected, certain enemies only appear in certain areas of the map and once you raise your level to where it is sufficiently higher than the enemies in that area, you gain the ability to choose to fight or to just walk on by without getting into a skirmish. In addition, the game will also generate items along the paths that you can grab to fill your pouches such as minerals, ingredients for potions or even weapons and armor.
Dungeons in the game are set on a grid and are in three-quarter isometric view. Rooms are usually square and may have one or multiple entrances and exits as you make your way to the dungeon boss. Along the way, you will encounter enemies to fight as well as merchants to barter with, chests to crack open to see whats inside or even watering holes packed with fish that you can actually catch and use for crafting healing potions or other items. While the dungeons are of varying sizes, there is usually warp stations in two or more of the rooms so that traveling from one side of the dungeon to another is quick. Being that you will have to revisit certain dungeons in order to clear out all of the fishing tasks, having that warp ability comes in handy.
While the world of Battle Chasers: Nightwar is big and beautiful, the turn-based combat is where this game really shines. The game sports a very robust battle system that allows the player to craft battle tactics for getting into and out of sticky combat situations. You can have up to three members in your party at a time so it’s a good idea to choose those members that will compliment your style of play. Having a healer to help out when health gets low, a warrior to dish out physical punishment and maybe a wizard for ranged attack spells will position you to be able to fend off just about any enemy that you may face.
Each of the characters that you will come across will have a large repertoire of actions and abilities that can be harnessed in order to come out of the other side of a battle as the victor. There are three layers of actions and abilities that the party members will start with as well as a plethora of others that you can open as you level up. There are basic attacks that can be used when you just need to do a low to moderate amount of damage. If these attacks land, you build Overcharge on your MP meter allowing for conservation of your natural MP as well as making the abilities that you use the Overcharge on even more powerful so they land harder than they normally would. Finally, as you are opening multiple cans of whoop@$$ on your opponents, you are building up the Burst! meter that will allow you to cast even more powerful healing or attack spells.
The visuals in Battle Chasers: Nightwar are absolutely amazing, which isn’t very surprising coming from Joe Mad as he was one of the preeminent comic book artists in the business until his departure from the industry in 2015. The arcanepunk setting is very interesting to look at and gives the game a unique aesthetic that sets it apart from many other games that have released recently in this genre. Colors are drab and earthy when out in the over-world but are bright and vivid when you are deep in the dungeon keeps. The character designs are very detailed and set each of the inhabitants of this world apart from each other quite nicely making for a more believable experience. It is obvious that a great deal of effort and forethought went into the designing of all of the art assets to create an extension of the Battle Chasers comics that is worthy to be included.
The only gripe that I have about how the game is designed is one that just about all JRPGs are guilty of and that is the non-progression of team members if they are not in your immediate group. You can switch out team members at just about any point in the game, but while they are “on the bench,” they are not gaining any experience. This can put you at a serious disadvantage if you should need to switch out a member who is at a lower level than the other two members who currently occupy your team. Your only recourse is to grind and grind until you get that character to a level that he/she can handle themselves in the more difficult areas of the game. This really took me out of the adventure and made for some sections that seemed to drag because I was forced to grind in order to ensure that my team was strong enough to continue the game.
After all of the great shooters and action games that have released over the last twelve months or so, Battle Chasers: Nightwar was a breath of fresh air. The music is absolutely fantastic and the combat is some of the most imaginative that I have played in a long time. Joe Mad and his team have crafted an adventure that is a pure joy to behold and even more fun to play. The story is top-notch and carries on where the comic book left off, sort of. The game is available now on Xbox Live Marketplace for $29.99 and is worth every penny and will go to help funding the next game from Airship Syndicate which I’m sure will be something awesome.