Square Enix has created a wide range of RPGs over the years, but they have rarely ventured into the realm of tactics and strategy games. A few big names come to mind, the most obvious being Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre if you count their PSP remake of Quest’s SNES original, and most recently Triangle Strategy on the Switch. Other than that, however, everything is a bit barren, which is why the real-time tactical sword swinging of their upcoming strategy RPG The DioField Chronicle is such an interesting landgrab for them. To say they are pushing into new territory would be an understatement.
Fortunately, judging by the game’s first major chapter (currently available to play for free on Steam until the game’s release on September 22), it’s clear that Square Enix and their development partners at Lancarse have made a lot of smart decisions. here. With its focus on individual hero characters rather than nameless military units, mixed with the magical pizzazz and flashy summons of its Final Fantasy games, The DioField Chronicle might just be the Fire Emblem-shaped hole gamers PC were looking for.
The real-time nature of its top-down diorama battles naturally gives The DioField Chronicle a slightly different pace to the long, drawn-out turns of recent Fire Emblem games, but when you’re constantly pausing the action to direct your units where to move, attack and what special moves you’d like to deploy, its similarities go deeper than you might think. Probably the closest comparison is Final Fantasy VII Remake, which mixed real-time and turn-based chunks with surprising style, giving players plenty of time to think and make decisions while maintaining the rhythm of battle. at a high rate.
So it’s here in The DioField Chronicle. In classic RTS style, you can drag and drop your mouse to select all four units at once, or you can click on them individually to relay specific commands. The action is paused while you do this, the screen going into a dull monotone to help differentiate its “tactical pause” from the main action. In this mode, you can also see enemy vision circles, range of explosive barrels, and other handy environmental cues you might want to consider taking advantage of as you move through its largely linear play spaces.
However, not all enemies are displayed at once, with a lot more mid-mission beams as you reach checkpoints or capture outposts. For the most part, I found this helped keep battles fresh, as it meant you couldn’t easily predict how they would unfold as you progressed. That said, there were still a few rug pull moments here and there that, had I known they were coming, I might not have wasted my big Bahamut summon, for example, or I would have maybe put more effort into sticking some of the remaining HP and ability point crystals scattered around the battlefield. Still, those moments were rare in the three hours I spent playing that opening chapter, and I felt better able to react on the fly rather than dread the onslaught to come.
It also helps that the battles are short and sharp. Most are completed in five or six minutes, with some missions even rewarding you with extra gold for getting things done and dusting quickly within a particular time frame. The extra end-of-mission gifts don’t stop there, either. You can also earn extra skill points to unlock abilities or upgrade existing ones in its intimidating skill tree ensuring none of your heroes fall in battle, and you can also collect extra treasures by stopping to open treasure chests.
Most missions have mini-objectives along this type of line, but that doesn’t mean you’re constantly replaying the same type of five-minute battles over and over. Sure, The DioField Chronicle’s opening chapter features some pretty heavy tutorials in its first set of missions, giving them a natural sense of variety as it showcases all of its various concepts, but in those first few hours, I had done your classic ‘eliminate every enemy on the map-type mission, defended a mansion from the undead, captured turret towers to unlock drawbridges and open new areas of a map, escorted a car through a dangerous mountain path and fought three bosses.
Admittedly, bosses might be the weakest part of The DioField Chronicle, as they’re essentially just massive HP sponges, simply requiring you to hack multiple health bars until they’re dead. For their defense, they have slightly more flamboyant attacks than your regular infantry goons, but when their areas of effect are clearly telegraphed with large red danger zones that get angrier and angrier the further they go closer to enactment, simply moving your warriors away or stunning them with a shield attack (like you would any other enemy type with an AOE attack) is about as “tactical” as it gets. these encounters.
That’s not to say positioning is completely unimportant, though. Generating aggro so some of your warriors can attack from behind in deadly “ambush” attacks is key to dealing damage quickly, as is managing your characters’ special abilities during a mission. These can range from equally devastating AOE attacks to one-on-one sword dances, but others with status effects can create particularly powerful combos to help you manipulate the flow of battle. Frederet, my tall knight on horseback, for example, has a big frontal assault charge, which not only hits multiple enemies in a big straight line, but also knocks them back in a nice clumped group, leaving them open for my archer Iscarion to perform concentrated covering fire in the area which they will use to rush towards the rest of my squad. I know they’ll be running around here too, because my swordsman Andrias just put up his defiant shield barrier. The finishing touch is often a big fiery meteor spell from my healer mage Waltaquin, setting the ground on fire as they continue to run blindly forward.
However, each character only has so many EP points to dish out these kinds of attacks, so another part of The DioField Chronicle’s strategy layer is knowing when to bring out the big guns, so to speak. Items can be used to refill characters’ EP bars mid-battle, but money to buy new ones is reasonably scarce on this war-torn island (even when completing mini-objectives to increase EP). ‘gold), especially when you also need to balance those funds. with upgrading weapons, armor and stat boosting accessories for your warriors and upgrading your various merchant stalls at your mercenary HQ.
As such, you’ll want to make sure a character’s EP bar lasts for the duration of a mission, so you’ll need to balance them with their regular auto attacks. It’s actually very Xenoblade in some ways, as each skill also has its own cooldown before it can be used again. That’s probably a big reason why I love it so much, though I’m willing to admit that this hero-driven RTS style of combat is likely to be divisive among traditional strategy fans.
Indeed, at first I felt like I was navigating through battles, and that this seeming over-reliance on flashy big abilities would make The DioField Chronicle too easy; that, really, it was more of an action RPG than a true strategy game. But as that first chapter progressed, the combination of tougher enemies and those limited funds for just a few prime gear upgrades meant that I definitely started to feel the limits of my characters’ EP bars. when the missions were coming to an end. Likewise, a few missions required me to split my unit into fours as threats poured in from different areas of the map at the same time, and making sure they were positioned correctly without biting the dust in the process was thrilling, heart-pounding stuff that got me in the choke-point juggling mindset of my recent foray into Company Of Heroes 2.
The DioField Chronicle is a simpler type of RTS, no doubt about it, but it’s also one that feels energized with its bite-sized missions and wonderfully animated screen capabilities. Heck, I was even slightly intrigued by what’s left to discover in the still partially enclosed rooms of Blue Fox’s mansion-like HQ, which you can roam between missions like Fire Emblem’s High School: Three Houses. Alas, there aren’t any students or other mercenaries to bat an eyelash (although there are character quests to dig deeper into their individual stories), but how you can upgrade its various rooms to get Better Things has a slight whiff of XCOM to it, and I loved being able to walk around talking to my teammates, finding new side quests, and turning this revamped stately home into a proper base of operations.
As a place, it’s definitely a more contrived feeling than the Three Houses academy (seriously, which puts up iron gates on the inside their house to keep people from climbing stairs?), and yes, there were parts of his story about warring clans fighting over ancient and valuable resources that felt like reheated remnants of an abandoned Final Fantasy plot . But its central protagonists have made a winning quartet as RPG nights go by, and its mix of aristocratic subterfuge, ancient sorcery, and Final Fantasy-style summons makes me want to linger a little longer in its halls to learn more. know more. I wish I had more Square Enix strategy epics on PC, so hopefully the full game doesn’t disappoint when it releases on September 22.