Comic book fans from the 90s have probably seen the work of Joe Madureira floating around. His distinctive art style got around, even being showcased in THQ’s Darksiders games.
More importantly, you may know him from his criminally short-lived and unfinished comic book Battle Chasers. You’d be forgiven if you are unfamiliar here, there were only ten issues (Including issue #0), published through Cliffhanger and Image, and it ended back in 2001. Luckily, you don’t need to be a massive Madureira fan to get into Battle Chasers: Nightwar.
The game is quick to bring prospective fans up to speed on the bare bones of what’s going on. There’s a kid, Gully, with an absent father and an item of raw but questionable power. Surrounding said kid is the raggiest tag group of shady characters all with tenuous connections to her, her past, or each other, and all with some flavour of darkness haunting their history. Now that you are all caught up, you can forget it all because Battle Chasers: Nightwar is a self-contained story that has little to no impact on the overall story of the series. It’s dandy for newcomers to jump right into things, but frustrating for long time fans of the comic, so it’s a give and take. In fact, the story feels a little generic, the group is out and about looking for answers and generally adventuring when their airship is waylaid and everyone needs to escape to a nearby island to avoid the whole dying thing. Once they get there and reunite it becomes clear that this island has got its own problems with bandits and monsters and ancient slumbering war golems that they’ll have to navigate before they can return to their own quests. The whole thing feels so generic that it could be any game rather than one set in an existing franchise. It’s a good thing the art makes up for all of that and cements that the game definitely earned its license.
This game is absolutely gorgeous. Not only that, but it is gorgeous in the kind of way that a game based on Battle Chasers should be. Intricately detailed static character portraits feel like they’ve been ripped straight from the comic and their 3D rendered counterparts bring them to life in loving detail. I’ve seen a lot of franchises stumble when trying to transition from 2D to 3D and end up with an ugly mess, but that’s not Battle Chasers. This game has got its visuals down, music too. The soundtrack perfectly complements the visual style and the action on screen. Boss encounters don’t just look epic, they sound epic, making the whole thing feel epic.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is simultaneously a love letter to its material and to the old school Japanese RPGs of the era. You’ll spend a lot of time with a group of characters on one side of the screen navigating menus to fight stuff on the other side of the screen. Good news, though, Battle Chasers knows that you can’t get by solely on nostalgia and makes improvements where it can. While older games made players want to save their magic attacks and special techniques to deal with bigger bads so to effectively manage their resources, Battle Chasers rewards players with a resource called overcharge, which is essentially a mana bar used only for this fight that is filled by using other attacks. It makes your abilities feel less precious in you standard overworld battles, allowing you to use your favourite abilities much more freely. Additionally, you’ll still be able to tap into your actual mana gauge when it actually counts. The fights themselves are visually enjoyable and the smooth animations and stylish attacks give everything a real sense of weight. Not only that, but buffs and debuffs make a real difference in a fight. Punches have impact, poison hurts; important life lessons.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar has a few glaring issues that keep it from reaching its full potential. The generic feeling story hurts a lot, and there’s a crafting system that feels tacked on and pointless. Everywhere else you’ll see a massive amount of polish from the stunning visuals to the thrilling music. Battle Chasers: Nightwar won’t be the best game you play, but it’s probably not going to be the worst one either.