In 2001, after a mere nine issues ending with an unresolved cliffhanger, popular fantasy comic series Battle Chasers was put on hold so creator Joe Madureira could pursue game development. If recently-released turn-based RPG Battle Chasers: Nightwar is any indication, it was a good move.
The Battle Chasers comic book was pretty huge in the late '90s. One couldn't walk by a comic shop or bookstore without seeing posters emblazoned with bright and colourful fantasy characters wielding giant weapons. Creator Joe Madureira is often credited with bringing the influence of manga art to Western comics, and Battle Chasers felt like a Japanese role-playing game in comic book.
But Joe had trouble getting the comic book out on a regular schedule. Between switching from creator-owned label Cliffhanger to DC and eventually Image, Battle Chasers averaged a whopping six months between issues. The series' cancellation was not unexpected, but it was still very disappointing for fans who'd stuck it through.
Sixteen years after Battle Chasers got put on hold, Battle Chasers: Nightwar gives fans of the series a chance to get reacquainted with the comics' group of stalwart heroes as they embark on a mildly unrelated adventure.
The game opens with sulky swordsman Garrison, hulking golem Calibretto, wizened mage Knolan, wildly irresponsible bounty hunter Red Monika and hard-punching nine-year-old Gully flying their airship over an unfamiliar island.
Suddenly attacked by unknown forces, the party is separated, their airship trashed. Thus begins an epic adventure to bring the band back together, figure out why they were targeted and deal with those that targeted them in spectacular turn-based fashion.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar combines Diablo-style exploration with dynamic turn-based battles to create a clever little amalgam that's quite fun to play. First we've got the overworld map, where players move from point-to-point, battling creatures and harvesting crafting materials and treasure.
It's not the most thrilling way to get around the map, but it works.
Things get much more exciting in the game's dynamically-generated dungeons. The view shifts to something a little more isometric, giving a much more detailed look at the game's lush environments.
When not engaging in battles, players are free to explore and search for ancient texts, rare crafting materials and powerful equipment. There's even a basic fishing mini-game, because no fantasy adventure is so urgent that we can't have fish.
The downside to dungeons is that developer Airship Syndicate tied most of the story's plot progression to events that take place deep within their winding pathways. Odds are if the next step in your quest is to get to a point on the overworld map, there will be a mandatory dungeon between the two points that will take a good half hour to clear.
There are subtler ways to impede player progress.
The dungeons can sometimes feel like little more than filler between battles, but when the battles are this good, I don't mind filler so much. Joe Madureira's signature art system animates beautifully in Nightwar's simple-yet-sophisticated turn-based combat.
It's a finely-honed system that encourages using the parties' complementary skills to maximise damage and efficiency. As battles increase in difficulty, the party is forced to work together in order to juggle buffs and debuffs, healing and damage. Spamming basic attacks is hardly ever the answer.
Plus it's so pretty.
Now that the Battle Chasers video game is out, word is there are more comics on the way. I'm not so sure we need them anymore. Gully and friends feel more at home in Nightwar than they ever did on the printed page.
Battle Chasers: Nightwar is now available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. A Switch version is in the works.