Italian-based studio Stormind Games came onto the scene in 2016 alongside the announcement of Remothered: Tormented Fathers, a decent survival horror game that eventually found its way onto the Switch. After its more critically panned sequel dropped two years later, the studio decided to pivot to another genre with a new project, featuring an original IP the company had more control over. This project is Batora: Lost Haven, an isometric action RPG set in an alien world. Batora launched late last year on other platforms and was met with middling reviews; now it’s come to Switch, and we understand why. Batora isn’t a bad game, but it isn’t an especially good one either.
Batora begins on a post-apocalyptic earth and places you in the role of Avril, a spunky teenager picking through the ruins of London with her best friend, Mila. Suddenly, Avril is whisked away to the alien planet of Gryja by two godlike icons of the sun and moon, who grant her their powers and name her as their champion. Avril is then charged with vanquishing the forces that destroyed Earth (and various other planets), absorbing a bunch of elemental energy from some planetary cores, and restoring balance to the universe. Or something like that.
The story of Batora is passable, but we didn’t find it to be particularly memorable or engaging. It’s the epitome of a bland isekai narrative and it doesn’t make much effort to do anything interesting with its premise. This is worsened by Avril herself being a rather unlikeable character, due to both poor writing and weak voice acting. Her demeanor reminded us of Frey from Forspoken, always sassy and irreverent in a way that feels like she’s trying too hard to sound ‘cool’, while her wooden voice performance outright robbed any emotional moments of the weight they were meant to convey.
The only source of redemption here is the occasional key story points where you’re presented with a choice between a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ option. Some of these are more clear-cut, but many of the decisions force you to pick the lesser of two evils, with the outcomes of your decisions having permanent consequences for the story. In one example, we were taken aback when we were sent on a quest to free a character who was being held hostage. The problem arose when we realized that our choice could force us to condemn a small village of simple creatures to starvation. We let the creatures live, but that meant the hostage died and another character hated us for letting it happen. Moments like these are genuinely great, and we wish that the other 90% of the narrative was worth trudging through.
The gameplay loop in Batora takes the shape of an isometric hack ‘n’ slash with some light exploration and puzzle-solving elements, a bit like Darksiders Genesis. Environments are rather linear in their layouts but there are occasional side paths you can take to find caches of currency and materials you can trade for upgrades. As you progress through the story, you’ll slowly unlock new abilities to expand your combat options and acquire a growing list of equippable upgrades that let you tweak your build. It’s a solid enough system but also feels exhaustingly mundane because it brings nothing new to the table. Guiding a weighted object onto a switch to open a door was an overdone concept in Zelda games ten years ago, and such puzzles here feel like they exist more out of a sense of obligation than bringing something meaningful to the experience.
It’s not all rough, however. Combat is the best part of Batora, featuring just the right amount of variety to keep even basic enemy encounters interesting. Avril has two forms she can take—Sun form is focused on close-up melee attacks and Moon form is based on using ranged attacks—and you’re expected to regularly switch between the two as you battle enemies. Every foe is color-coded to match one of Avril’s forms, and attacking them while in the matching form means that she deals more damage to them and takes less damage herself. As you wail away on monsters in one form, you’ll then build up a combo meter which can be triggered for the other form, granting a temporary boost in damage and a small heal.
Though the animations can sometimes feel a bit stiff, we appreciate how dynamic combat feels. Balancing skill cooldowns on each form while switching between them every few seconds feels great once you understand the basic rhythm of combat. Enemies also apply just enough pressure to make it feel necessary to use Avril’s whole kit instead of just grinding one or two attacks over and over. Boss fights especially highlight these strengths, featuring easy yet engaging gauntlets across multiple phases that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat.
Avril gets stronger up via a straightforward leveling system, but things get a little more interesting when you throw Runes into the mix. Avril can equip quite a few of these and each one typically buffs some stats in one of your forms while incurring a slight debuff to stats in the other. You thus need to be selective with the stats you want to prioritize for each form, and it can be fun to experiment with different load-outs. Adding more complexity is the fact that most Runes have a cost attached to them that’s directly related to your morality choices. When you make a story decision, you’ll get skill points relating to the side that you chose, and there are only so many of these to go around. Every story decision, then, can affect the kind of equipment you can use, which introduces a fun extra layer to the choices you make.
As for its presentation, Batora utilizes a chunky and somewhat cartoonish art style not too far off from Blizzard’s own style. It’s not an incredible art direction, but we appreciate what the team is going for here and think that it complements the gameplay well. The only issue is that playing in portable mode can lead to the visuals getting too fuzzy due to the low resolution, which can make it difficult to read what’s going on in fights when there’s a lot going on. We didn’t notice any frame drops, but we’d still recommend playing this one in docked mode.
Meanwhile, the soundtrack is a notable high point for Batora, featuring tracks composed by Ron Fish, who contributed extensively to the Batman: Arkham and God of War games, and the kind of epic and heroic tone from those soundtracks is present here. The music infuses the action with a grand sense of purpose and adds a lot more weight to the pre-rendered cutscenes especially. The music isn’t worth buying the game over by itself, but those of you who take the plunge will probably be pleased by what’s on offer here.
Batora: Lost Haven is the perfect example of a damningly mediocre experience. The few things that it does well—such as its energetic combat and engaging choice system—are nothing that you haven’t seen done before elsewhere, while the things that it misses—such as its storytelling and puzzle design—really take the wind out of its sails. Batora has its redeeming traits, but it feels like this is one that just never quite manages to pull everything together in a way that feels worthwhile. This is the kind of game that we wouldn’t necessarily recommend you buy or skip; if it feels to you like this is up your alley, then maybe it’s worth the punt if you can get it on sale, but you won’t be missing out on much if you choose to pass.