Title: The DioField Chronicle
Release Date: September 22, 2022
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Square Enix
Strategy RPGs have been in a state that feels a bit dire. Besides Fire Emblem and Disgaea, new big titles had been practically non-existent, with other titles being super low-budget. Triangle Strategy from early this year was an outlier. Still, Square Enix isn’t done because they’ve teamed up with Lancarse for another entirely new IP by way of The DioField Chronicle. A surprising team-up, and with Isamu Kamikokuryo of FF12 fame running character art? This game looks good.
The DioField Chronicle is a rather point-blank title. This is a strategy RPG about the events that occur on the continent of DioField, through the eyes of the small mercenary corp hired by Duke Hende. This corp, the Blue Foxes, is a private group jointly led by four extremely different people. These people, Andrias and Fredert, childhood friends and mercenaries, Iscarion, a former knight who left his position due to abuse his colleagues committed on the job and Waltaquin, the daughter of a prestigious house who lost her family in a conflict between noble faction, if not for the backdrop of a war between the kingdom of DioField and the invading Empire, none of them would be able to agree on anything.
The Blue Foxes can take any jobs they want, with the caveat that any orders from the Duke take priority. As a result, their missions can be anything from bandit removal and animal extermination to assisting the royal army at any given notice. Thanks to the pragmatism of Andrias, the closest the story has to a main character, these missions will most often be whatever will benefit the Blue Foxes the most amid a heated political climate.
Within the home base, Elm Field, you take control of Adrias as he checks in with his allies, those who join him in battle, and those who supply armaments; weapons, accessories, items, and Magilumic Orbs (we’ll get to those later).
Then you can head out on a mission. Each story-relevant mission is preceded by a needlessly elaborate cutscene in which the lead characters discuss and lend their thoughts to the decision. These cutscenes are fun, each adding flair to the main cast and briefing you on the current state of the war or various kingdom power relations that would generally lurk outside your scope as mercenaries.
Combat in The DioField Chronicle is a peculiar blend of turn-based and real-time strategy gameplay. You select up to four units to deploy and give them directions on where to move. If they move close enough to an enemy, they will begin to auto-attack unless you direct them not to. Each character has a couple of skills, determined by that character’s specific class and equipped weapon, which can be used at any time, that cost EP and have a cooldown before the character can use another skill.
While recovering is fairly straightforward, even a single unit can be rather tricky to take down without damage if you want to conserve EP, which makes taking on large swathes of enemies a considerable risk. You’ll need to time your offensives not to risk your unit being overrun. This means that how you direct your units can make things much more accessible or challenging for you, allowing you to become engaged with far too many foes at once or, depending on the objective, skip enemy encounters entirely.
As you fight, you’ll obtain drops that recover HP and EP and increase your TP gauge. Filling up your TP allows you to use your Magilumic Orbs, which are powerful summon spells that can deal damage, inflict debuffs, restore your health or buff your team. For customization, you can append a character to act as support for another, giving that pair access to more battle skills, and you obtain points from missions that can be used to boost their power further while level-ups net character skill points for redeeming personal passives.
It’s a visually impressive game, utilizing the models especially to look like little pieces on a diorama in battle, with skills using fantastic VFX to stand out. Each cutscene has the same vibe as a specially prerendered FMV from the PlayStation 2 era. The title is almost entirely dubbed, and the English dub is notably European to fit the flavor. I immensely enjoyed it. The game could have used a backlog in cutscenes to let you reread or replay voice lines to appreciate it.
Performance is consistently solid; however, now and then, you might notice some drops on the Nintendo Switch when you use a cinematic attack or if you move fast on the menu. It’s weird but largely ignorable.
Notably, one of the selling points was a soundtrack composed by composers who worked on Game of Thrones. The soundtrack is good, but it feels like it bleeds into the background, and nothing stands out when you’re playing. It feels more like a soundtrack for a TV show than a video game; it doesn’t mesh with the medium. On the plus side, you forget the game only has one battle theme because you forget what it sounds like.
As a Square Enix and Lancarse developed game, I had certain musical expectations that The DioField Chronicle would be able to deliver. It did not.
What The DioField Chronicle did deliver on, however, is narrative. The title is deeply impersonal. Characters have little to talk about; every major mission leads to a time skip, the only narration is about the facts of the matter at hand, and the only times you find out what’s going on in someone’s head are when Andrias decides to converse with someone who wants to spill.
You are left entirely in the dark.
This seems bad, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. This game is ulterior motives galore, nearly everyone has an agenda, and there exists an ever-present political pileup just waiting to fall like a house of cards. Your job as the player is to either start theorycrafting or pull out the popcorn as the group begins splintering.
That impersonal narrative presentation allows characters to drop huge reveals like they’re nothing, allowing you to bask in the glory of your correct prediction or let the surprise hit you in the face like a shield bash.
I ended up thoroughly enjoying the entire cast, and more games need to have the sheer guts that The DioField Chronicle has to use their leads like this. Waltaquin especially. We need more characters like her. Sidenote, if you want more character lore and the existing conversations aren’t enough, the library has a bunch of paperwork for you to peruse should you be interested. It’s even got documentation on the continent’s power struggles.
I set my expectations for The DioField Chronicle relatively high, which is a recipe for disaster. However, I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed this game at every turn. This ambitious cast star in a narrative that is running a contest for how much wool they can pull over each other’s eyes, and I am here for it every step of the way.
I’d like some more, please too. A sequel or something in the same world with more political mayhem sounds fantastic. And more Waltaquin.
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