Battle Chasers: Nightwar pays homage to and builds on old school, anime-inspired JRPGs in the same way Pillars of Eternity did for the top-down isometric Infinity engine games of the ‘90s. There are a lot of familiar ideas in its turn-based combat and diverse, beautifully drawn overworld, but enough fresh and modern ideas are sprinkled in to keep things feeling up to date and interesting.
The environments and characters of Battle Chasers would fit in right alongside classic fantasy anime like Record of Lodoss War and Slayers. Each party member, enemy, and shopkeeper presents a strong silhouette, vibrant colors, and lots of attention to small details. From the troubled, metallic golem Calibretto to the eager and upbeat brawler Gully, nearly everyone with a speaking part is overflowing with personality and ably voiced – though some, like Red Monika and the witch Destra have distractingly eye-roll worthy wardrobes that look like they came from a 16-year-old boy’s anime fan art page. Each of the eight major dungeons and dozens of smaller exploration areas has a distinct aesthetic, prettied up by great environmental lighting, thematic music, and lots of little moving parts that help them come alive.
Mechanically, the influence from late ‘90s Final Fantasy and its ilk is clear, though with enough surprises and new ideas to let it sidestep a lot of retro JRPG problems. Combat revolves around the concept of overcharge, a resource that is generated by weaker attacks and sits on top of your mana bar. It can be used in place of mana, and certain abilities reward you for spending a lot of overcharge at once. It adds an interesting tactical layer to action choices and resource management, cleverly integrating a concept from action RPGs like Diablo into a turn-based system. You have to know when to be conservative and build up overcharge before cutting loose, and when to pull out the stops and burn through your mana to get the job done.
Random battles are thankfully absent, with enemy encounters taking place at clearly-marked nodes on the overworld map. Enemy groups in dungeons are represented by a character model that moves around and can be avoided if desired. You can’t really bypass combat entirely, but it’s rare to be surprised by a foe you’re not expecting. And defeated encounters disappear from the environment, so you won’t be stuck in an endless stream of combats when you’re trying to solve a puzzle.
Encounters reset when you rest at an inn, which I often found necessary since the middle act tends to throw you into dungeons you’re not yet the appropriate level for if you just take the shortest path from A to B. The necessity of grinding for levels in between story beats isn’t obnoxious, but it is one of the only somewhat outdated-feeling elements carried over from classic JRPGs. Most of the time, there are enough optional bosses and side areas with XP to be earned that you’re not simply killing random monsters for hours on end, anyway. And each dungeon does have an easy mode if you just want to get on with it – it’s actually called “Normal,” but I found it to be so unchallenging as to make combat feel pointless, and treated the “Heroic” difficulty as the default. I suspect most RPG veterans will find this to be true. There’s also an unlockable Legendary mode for each that resets the entire area if you die, if you’re a real glutton for punishment.
The options to fill your time outside of dungeons and leveling are admirably abundant. One NPC will present you with Hunts, optional bosses that must be tracked down and defeated for significant rewards. An arena in one of the early areas allows you to challenge waves of increasingly difficult enemies to earn currency that unlocks some of the best items available. There’s also a fully-featured crafting and enchanting system, allowing you to further bolster and customize your party’s abilities on top of the Perk points they earn from leveling up. Add in the search for each character’s legendary weapon, a simple but entertaining fishing minigame, and several secrets that can be found by backtracking and making clever use of text clues you’ll find throughout the main story, and it’s the type of RPG in which you can spend almost half your time on activities not related to strict, linear progression.
What initially seems like a fairly conventional, 40ish-hour fantasy stock plot of hunting down a big, bad magic guy surprised me with some twists and nuance in the final act. However, my biggest criticism, and where Battle Chasers falls flattest compared to its genre influences, is that there are very few moments that present emotional stakes for any of the main heroes. The most you ever even see them interact is in bits of idle banter while resting at an inn. The few character-specific side quests rarely force anyone to change or make an interesting choice, there are no melodramatic anime love triangles, and hints dropped about certain characters’ pasts never pay off. All the party members are likable and memorable, but most are fairly two-dimensional and they don’t really grow, evolve, or face personal adversity throughout this tale.
There’s also definitely room for a bit more polish. I ran into a few bothersome bugs, the worst of which being an infrequent lock-up when a party member was knocked out by a damage over time ability on the last round of combat. I had to force-quit and pick up from my last autosave. I also switched to a controller about four hours in as the interface isn’t especially responsive to mouse inputs.