Battle Chasers: Nightwar is one of those RPGs I've had my eye on for years but could never quite find the time to actually sit down and play. Fortunately, its arrival on Xbox Game Pass for PC means I now have no excuse, and goodness, it really is quite the looker. Based on Joe Madureira's comic book of the same name, this super stylish RPG dungeon crawler scratches a lot of retro itches, combining the turn-based battles of ye olde Final Fantasy games with Diablo-like dungeon looting to great effect.
After an explosive opening that sees your party of five get separated across a vast island where dark magic and foul deeds are afoot, you'll spend the game's early hours rebuilding your crew while unravelling a deeper mystery that threatens the entire island. It's classic fantasy RPG stuff, with talking golems, evil sorceresses, beast tamers and wise-cracking mages all part and parcel of this wonderfully realised world.
When you're not stomping around its gorgeous cel-shaded overworld map, you'll be bashing your way through procedurally generated isometric dungeons to further the game's story, unearthing new weapons, lore extracts and crafting materials as well as tackling the odd light puzzle between fights. It's much slower paced than your average Diablo-like, if only because each new enemy encounter throws you into a big turn-based battle arena where you'll duke it out with up to three monsters at a time.
Battles can be lengthy affairs, too. Despite enemy HP bars never reaching the same dizzying heights as your typical Final Fantasy game, most of your attacks are relatively modest in size and those that do hit hard can often shift you back several places in the game's turn order. Smaller attacks, meanwhile, let you attack instantly, and also help to restore your all-important mana bar that you'll need to unleash your more powerful abilities. It's this trade-off that sits at the heart of Battle Chasers: Nightwar's combat system, and for the most part it's an engaging dance of risk and reward that in its best moments calls to mind Square Enix's excellent Bravely Default games on the Nintendo 3DS.
It's stunning to behold, too. Everything from basic attacks right up to powerful 'Burst' abilities are beautifully animated, your party and enemies alike, and simply watching these battles play out onscreen is a joy unto itself. Of course, the flipside of that is that all those lovely animation frames do eventually add up, and even taking down single enemies several levels below you can sometimes take an inordinate amount of time - especially compared to the increasing number of JRPGs with fast-forward buttons, Bravely Default included.
This might be less of a problem if Nightwar took more risks with its turn order. Whenever I see a bar like this in a game, I want to be able to disrupt it and turn it to my advantage - a bit like how you can 'crit' enemies with pre-emptive strikes in the equally stylish (and also on Game Pass) Star Renegades and push them back down the pecking order. If Nightwar does possess such a system, I've yet to encounter it in what I've played so far, and I think it would have given its battles a real sense of spice and momentum to make up for the time you spend idle.
Still, there's a lot to like here despite its shortcomings, and I'm glad I've finally made the time for it. Its gorgeous art style does a lot to paper over its various flaws, and the comradery between its cast of lovable rogues makes them a fun bunch to hang out with - aided in no small part by the excellent and surprisingly large quantities of voice-acting. There are plenty of perks and skill trees to dig into as well, and the way it rewards you for defeating large quantities of enemies is a welcome touch I'd like to see more of in other RPGs. Indeed, if you've got Game Pass and are at all intrigued by Battle Chasers: Nightwar, then you should definitely give it a go while you can. Otherwise, it's £25 / $30 on Steam.