Despite sharing three quarters of an acronym, the JRPG and WRPG have a lot of differences at their core that set them apart. A JRPG traditionally tends to have a party lined up across the side of the screen for turn-based combat, and a pre-determined story about giant swords and the fate of the world. It’s hard to find games like this that are actually developed outside of Japan, and while Battle Chasers: Nightwar has a heavy dose of western influence behind it, the JRPG gameplay at its core feel like more than just an homage.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar, a game with a name that gives you seven extra belts and a giant glowing dragon tattoo just from reading it, is a continuation of the late 90s comic book series Battle Chasers. After ending the series on an unexplained cliffhanger 20 years ago, the creator is back with a game that serves as a continuation for long-time fans, and a jumping on point for new ones.
If you’re a fan of classic 90s comic art with huge necks, thick lines, and pecs larger than a doorframe, Battle Chasers has it in spades. Remarkably, though, the 3D models and animated comic cutscenes featured in the game take that classic art style and adapt it in a way that comes across much sleeker and more elegant. The faux 2D look of the models and environments casts the whole game in a unique, painterly aesthetic that was a treat to my eyes from the second I launched the game.
The early demo I played starts you off in a top-down world map at a small village, and tasks you with traversing the map to reach an abandoned outpost. As you walk along the board game style map, certain spaces will have enemy markers on them, and walking over them will initiate combat. It’s a neat little world map system, but with the demo restricted to a pretty small play area, it’s hard to tell how it’ll pan out as you travel between full regions. There are fast-travel waypoints around the map, at least, so it seems like backtracking won’t be a huge concern.
The combat itself is where most of this JRPG flavor comes from. Your party of heroes lines up along the left of the screen, while the enemies go along the right and every character acts on their own turn based on speed stats and the like. On top of attacks, special abilities, defensive abilities and item use, dealing damage builds up an Overcharge meter that you can eventually spend to perform ultimate abilities.
I absolutely loved the way the game handled mana management for special abilities. Rather than having to use mana potions, dealing damage with normal attacks refills your mana gauge. It creates an interesting scenario of balancing regular attacks with special attacks to maintain a constant stream of mana, and it added a fun layer to combat.
While the full game promises a variety of characters, the demo provides you with a starting party of 3; a beefy warrior dude with a giant throbbing sword, a little girl with giant magical fists, and a huge and intimidating robot who actually acts as the team healer. Their designs are sharp and eye-catching, and their varied combat roles help create a nicely balanced team. The robot has a unique ability that heals everyone each time they get hit for the next three turns, giving you a good buffer for damage. The girl, meanwhile, has an interesting ability that not only deals damage, but creates a damage-absorbing shield for a teammate. There’s a lot of interesting design work going on with the abilities that make them more interesting than a simple fireball or mega-slash.
Encountering enemies isn’t all you’ll do on the world map, though. A huge part of this game is the dungeon exploration and as you step into a dungeon space on the map, you’re transported into a Diablo style free-movement dungeon mode, with enemies, puzzles, and treasure strewn about the partially-randomized room layouts. You can switch between each of your characters, and they all have unique dungeon abilities like destroying barriers or stunning enemies. Weirdly enough, I couldn’t find any way to simply attack an enemy before they attacked me, which is a staple of a lot of RPGs of either variety. The dungeon exploration is pretty fun, but as my time with the demo came to a close, I found myself far more excited to dip into a battle than to wander through the dungeons.
All in all, Battle Chasers: Nightwar is shaping up to be a pretty unique game. It owns all of its pieces with utmost sincerity, and delivers a JRPG experience that honors and builds on those design sensibilities, while intertwining them with a sharp and heavily Western aesthetic. A few fumbles in the dungeon gameplay hardly ruined the experience, and I look forward to spending more time in this world when the full game launches later this year.