A gang of bandits on horseback chase a carriage down a dark forest road.
The bespectacled blonde woman inside pleads with her driver to hurry up. She does, only to crash directly into a fallen tree. His horses break loose and flee as the cart screeches to a halt in a clearing. The now inert driver inexplicably disappears as the outlaws lunge at the woman, who remains motionless, one hand resting on her chin as if she is lost in thought of her. Her coat, her blue, her sky, is the only hint of color in the entire scene.
She bears the same name as my grandmother, Lorraine, in a game full of weird and unreal names like Rickles, Izelair, and Umarida. “Maybe you should try running, Grandma?” I wonder.
Suddenly, a heavily armored knight on a brave but also dark horse leaps 30 feet into the air. The man plunges a jousting spear into the chest of an outlaw, jumps a more modest 20-foot height, and then slams the poor man’s body to the ground with a crash.
This opening scene of The DioField Chronicle It shows all the strengths of the game, but it also exposes the biggest shortcomings of the experience. The heroes are badass, the scope is epic, but much of the world and character design lacks color. Engaging progression and combat systems elevate this solid, but not outstanding, strategy RPG that makes some perplexing decisions. What happened to the valet? Why didn’t Grandma run?
Because I am here?
Our story takes place on DioField Island, where the Kingdom of Alletain has peacefully ruled an aristocratic society for 200 years. But a rising empire from a nearby continent that wields modern magic threatens what could be the entire world, especially since DioField is rich in the precious mineral jade, which is crucial to any kind of magic, modern or otherwise.
Amidst the growing chaos, a group of elite mercenaries form a company called the Blue Fox. You play as the calm and confident rogue named Andrias, whose old friend Fredret is the brave knight with the righteous spear that Yamcha’d that poor bandit. They call each other “Rias” and “Fred,” and that’s about all the levity you get in this game. Along with the knight-errant archer Iscarion and the noble mage Waltaquin, leadership roles were divided.
Though Chronicle of DioFieldThe story of is slow, wasting no time in its opening chapter to get to this hugely important core dynamic: Andrias, Fredret, Iscarion, and Waltaquin are allies constantly at odds with one another over their principles. This core dynamic is refreshingly novel, but much of diocampoNarration elsewhere feels generic and confusing. Important plot beats are sometimes boiled down to a single hand-drawn image as part of a scene, and often silly diagrams on a map over-explain political dynamics for characters that you’ll have a hard time caring about.
Twice in the opening chapter, we are told that an important person was shot by a stray arrow. If we can see a scene of Fredret throwing an unnamed thug to the ground, why can’t we see these important moments depicted? Weird choices like these routinely undermine the game’s sense of immersion, as do naming conventions like an actual place called “North Central Field.”
The DioField Chronicle it continues a trend for developer and publisher Square Enix that leans toward dark fantasy. I like it Triangle Strategy and the next Final Fantasy XVI, the world is dark and full of political tensions that herald open conflict. Instead of slowing down to focus on developing charming characters and investing in moments of levity to balance the tone, diocampo try too conspicuously to be like game of Thrones — especially with the diorama approach to combat environments and many cutscenes and the excellent score by veteran GoT composers Ramin Djawadi and Brandon Campbell.
A better kind of battle
diocampoThe saving grace of is its “Real Time Tactical Battle” (RTTB) system, a novel approach to combat that feels like the middle ground between real-time strategy like Age of Empires and smaller, more tactical experiences like Fire. Emblem.
Solo encounters usually involve surprise enemy spawns and some interactive set pieces. Maybe you’re lowering a drawbridge or capturing a castle, but the expansive nature of these maps always encourages sneaking up on individual opponents to take them out. Or maybe you draw the attention of a large group and lure them into a bottleneck where you can hit them with magic and arrows. Attacking enemies from behind also deals bonus ambush damage, adding an extra mechanic to consider.
Although you have four characters on the battlefield at any one time, each can have a helper assigned to them, allowing them to use that other character’s active abilities. Functionally, it feels like you can multiclass in a wide variety of ways to suit your playstyle. Factor that in alongside ultra-powerful summons like Final Fantasy classic Bahamut, and you have a wide variety of ways to approach encounters.
The menu design is not very intuitive, but diocampo it juggles several different progression systems and upgrade trees that all feel satisfying. Even the pacing of the progression feels perfect. You don’t need to do a ton of grinding, even on normal difficulty.
If the overall execution of Chronicle of DioField offered more, then the excellent match would be the feather in his cap, instead of the only thing that keeps me playing.
A violent puppet show
diocampo it expresses a myriad of aesthetic contradictions. Some are puzzling. Others are irritating.
Character designs are exquisitely drawn by Isamu Kamikokuryo, who also worked on final fantasy x, XIIY XII. The bright and elegant styles of Final Fantasy are here in hand-drawn character portraits with a delightful amount of detail in the hair. However, the moment-to-moment gameplay animations outside of battle don’t quite reach the levels of brilliance achieved by Kamikokuryo’s art.
Things go wrong between missions when you spend time at Elm Camp, a central hub where you can talk to characters, invest in upgrades, and most of all, wonder why Elm Camp even exists. The DioField Chronicle doesn’t do social interactions between its cast members particularly well, particularly compared to recent standout SRPGs like Fire emblem: three houses. Most of the time, the characters don’t have much to say. Stiff animations and wooden character models make it difficult to generate much sympathy for these characters, or their targets.
Perhaps worst of all is the way diocampo engage in dialogue.
The voice actors give excellent performances, but the game’s repeated use of “all-purpose” one-liners quickly becomes maddening: a dialog box pops up, and the characters repeat one of perhaps a dozen different lines. Maybe it’s a laugh or a gasp. Maybe it’s a confused “What!?” followed by an angry “Hey!” Close your eyes and listen only to the snippets, and it will start to feel like a fever dream.
“How could this happen!?” Iscarion gasped at one point. I opened my eyes and read: “History is a long history of selfish nobles who ignore the plight of the common man.” Then I had to go to the Elm Camp library to read about how DioField’s nobility has defined the continent’s society for centuries. Yuck.
Boring trips to the library aside, I’d rather have only vocal work during scenes and have to read most of the text than put up with the endless string of groans and laughs, or worse, Waltaquin’s crazy laugh. If you skip most of the dialogue, pay vague attention to the story, and focus on the intensely enjoyable combat encounters, then the game’s 25-hour runtime is well worth it. The combat itself is good enough to serve as the foundation for an entire DioField franchise if Square Enix is so inclined, and memorable enough for this game to become a cult classic.
Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d rather be flirting through Fódlan than fighting on the island of DioField any day.
DioField Chronicle is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. Reverse played the Switch version for review.
REVERSE ETHOS VIDEO GAME REVIEW: Each Reverse The video game review answers two questions: Is this game worth it? Do you get what you pay for? We don’t tolerate endless fetch quests, clunky mechanics, or bugs that dilute the experience. We care deeply about game design, world building, character arcs, and storytelling. Reverse it will never hit down, but we are not afraid to hit up. We love magic and science fiction in equal measure, and as much as we love experiencing rich stories and worlds through games, we won’t ignore the real-world context in which those games are created.