Strategy RPGs aren’t nearly as abundant as genre fans would like, which is why you can’t help but take note of promising-looking new releases, especially when they’re coming from a heavyweight like Square Enix. Co-developed by the Japanese giant in conjunction with Lancarse, The DioField Chronicle is a decidedly unique new twist in the genre, in that it offers a gameplay experience that veers off from genre norms in key ways. At the same time, the classic medieval fantasy setting and the story full of political intrigue are very much firmly in line with what one would ordinarily expect to see in a strategy RPG such as this one. Sure enough, it’s a promising game, and many of its aspects do show their qualities time and again throughout the relatively meaty runtime. But this is also a game with several notable flaws that collectively mar the experience in ways that are not always easy to look past. What you have is very much a diamond in the rough- and at times, the very rough.
The DioField Chronicle is set in a medieval fantasy world that, after having known nothing but peace for several generations, has suddenly been plunged into widespread conflict. The mainland is consumed in the war, and though the titular island of DioField has been left largely unscathed and on the sidelines, it has its own troubles brewing within, thanks to a conflict over the kingdom’s successor following the murder of the former heir. Suffice it to say, things are looking very hair everywhere. Amidst all this, you play as Andrias Rhondarson, a soldier and former friend of the aforementioned dead prince, who, along with his band of companions, joins a mercenary unit and finds himself embroiled in the many conflicts of the wider world.
"The DioField Chronicle is a promising game, and many of its aspects do show their qualities time and again throughout the relatively meaty runtime. But this is also a game with several notable flaws that collectively mar the experience in ways that are not always easy to look past."
If you’ve played SPRGs before, the narrative experience is a familiar one, at least in terms of its tone and what it’s trying to achieve. There’s plenty of political intrigue, lore about factions and the world and its history, new conflicts and alliances arising out of different needs, and the like. To its credit, The DioField Chronicle does a solid job of doling out intriguing bits and pieces of lore and the political machinations of the story, complete with the occasional twist and turn, and even though none of it is very original or groundbreaking, it consistently does enough to keep you engaged at least on some level.
The biggest problem with the game’s story, however, is its characters. The DioField Chronicle introduces a sizeable cast of characters that join your party member throughout the experience, but not a single personality in the entire story – not the main cast, not the supporting crew – makes any sort of an impression. People are either mind-numbingly stiff-lipped and dour, or relentlessly one-dimensional. The end result is a cast that’s full of characters who are ultimately just bland. The cookie cutter writing and monotonous, emotionless voice acting don’t do the game much favours on this front either.
While The DioField Chronicle is all too happy to tread a familiar path where its world and storytelling are concerned, on the gameplay front, it does do some unique and interesting things, admirably enough. Chief among them, of course, is that this isn’t a turn-based and grid-based experience, but a real-time strategy RPG. Combat plays out in real time, which all units on the battlefield – friend or foe – auto-attacking enemies when they are in range. There is a pause-and-play element to proceedings though, because every time you command a unit to do something, the action pauses until the command has been issued.
Though units auto-attack, your focus during battles lies primarily on controlling their movement, managing health bars, and deciding how to split up your units to deal with different threats at the same time. Positioning is king in The DioField Chronicle, and which of the four classes your units belong to – soldier, magicker, cavalry, and sharpshooter – is an equally important consideration. Ambush attacks when enemies have their backs to you deal greater damage, so tactics like flanking and having some units evade enemies’ attention also comes into play. A tank soldier can draw an enemy’s attention and take the hits while the cavalry unit circles around them and charges them down from behind. A unit might use an ability that draws aggro from foes, and from a distance, sharpshooter can launch a volley of arrows on them when they come into range. Meanwhile, battles also allow you limited uses of magical orbs that can summon mystical beasts that unleash high damage-dealing attacks.
"While The DioField Chronicle is all too happy to tread a familiar path where its world and storytelling are concerned, on the gameplay front, it does do some unique and interesting things."
Putting the real-time twist on strategy RPG battles certainly makes things interesting in The DioField Chronicle where the moment-to-moment action is concerned, especially as you try to get your units into the best positions and make them combine to use their unique strengths in the most optimal ways. Combat, however, seems to rely on this aspect a little too much, because a lot of what you’d expect to see in a strategy RPG of this sort is missing in this game. There are no terrain advantages, battle objectives have very little variety and quickly become repetitive, while enemy variety is equally lacking- very rarely do you come across foes who challenge you in different ways.
What that means is that The DioField Chronicle’s central hook – though a strong one – isn’t strong enough to carry the game all by itself, because there isn’t enough going on around it. Yes, the game has progression mechanics to engage with in terms of unlocking new skills and equipping your units with more powerful gears, which certainly gives you a reason to care about what you’re doing a little more deeply. But the actual battles eventually wear themselves out and begin to feel repetitive, because the game seems to feel no need to change things up in many meaningful ways once it’s settled into a rhythm.
It also doesn’t help that The DioField Chronicle can be a bit too grindy as you progress further into the experience. At a time, you can have four characters on the battlefield, and those four can each have a support character tagging along as well. Support characters can use their special abilities, and a limited number of times, can be swapped with the main unit, though at the end of the battle, the support receives less XP from the fight. Given how many characters the game throws at you, as well as the fact that equipping them with the proper gear can also be very costly, it becomes apparently relatively early on that replaying battles to grind out additional cash and XP is almost unavoidable at times.
Outside of battles, you periodically visit your HQ, which serves as the game’s location, though it’s quite bland as hubs go. You can talk to NPCs, visit the shop, upgrade your units, and take on missions and side missions. There isn’t too much interesting going on here though. The visual design is bland, there’s very little incentive for exploration (even when new rooms open up), and the characters you can talk to aren’t very interesting. It feels like a severely underbaked aspect of the game, which is far from ideal, given how many times you come back to HQ throughout the experience.
"The DioField Chronicle’s central hook – though a strong one – isn’t strong enough to carry the game all by itself, because there isn’t enough going on around it."
Visually, The DioField Chronicle is a mixed bag. Battles are set in diorama-esque environments, but outside of the game’s hand-drawn art (which pops up in mid-mission cutscenes), there’s very little personality in how it looks. From a visual perspective, it feels like it has no discernable personality, no striking element that might stand out in memory.
The DioField Chronicle is an exciting proof-of-concept, and it has to be commended for its real-time tactics ambitions and for its story, which is, at the very least, enjoyable, if not wholly original. It’s a game where there’s definitely fun to be had and things to be appreciated. But it feels underbaked in more ways than one, and even the pats of the game that are good are often marred by significant flaws. For hardcore genre fans, The DioField Chronicle might be worth looking into, but keep in mind that many probably might not have patience for its considerable flaws.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Solid worldbuilding; Story is consistently enjoyable at least on a superficial level; Real-time battles are a fresh break from genre conventions; Managing units and their positioning can be engaging.
Extremely dull characters; Battles eventually get repetitive; Not enough variation in mechanics, enemies, and objectives; Underbaked hub location; Visually bland.