Essentially a protracted series of tactical battles, Diofield Chronicle’s design falls into an early rut from which it is loath to deviate, while its fantasy world mimics the war room politicking of Game of Thrones with a focus on moving things around. chess pieces at the expense of believable character development. Glimpses of progress are seen in their combat, and the occasional voice dares to question a realm ruled by divine authority, but both efforts are ultimately futile, crushed by a grueling and relentless war machine.
As the name suggests, Diofield itself is a holy land, God’s country, where hereditary monarchy is ensured by each new ruler bearing the Mark of the Blessed, a kind of birthmark that looks like a vein of precious gems. However, a fragile king and the assassination of his heir have sparked a succession crisis, with factions forming around various candidates, while neighboring empires seek opportunities to expand their borders. Armies march across a map straight out of the opening credits of Game of Thrones as those in charge hold a sober debate about their next power play. These are serious people making serious decisions, it seems to imply. Everyone involved speaks with clenched jaws and curiously little emotion, a vocal performance that is perhaps meant to indicate the seriousness of the situation but tends to suggest that everyone is a bit bored.
Your perspective on events is through the eyes of Andrias Rhondarson, who is the childhood friend and servant of the murdered heir, now an adult and leading a band of mercenaries in the service of the crown. Andrias is a boring protagonist, unwilling to divulge his inner thoughts, while the heavy, often humorless conversations he has with the rest of the cast do little to familiarize you with his plight, or anyone else’s. . In fairly typical JPRG fashion, few of the main cast appear to be over the age of 18 but they carry themselves, whether debating strategy around the table or pondering the latest mission, with the world-weariness of a pragmatic veteran general. It is somewhat labor intensive and mainly serves to highlight the need for a faster method of skipping each scene.
Between missions, you explore the sparsely decorated fortress that serves as the company’s headquarters, collecting new missions, buying weapons and consumables, and upgrading your party’s abilities. Helpfully, the map shows where quests can be collected and conversations held, as well as whether the trader or research station has new items available, and you can fast travel between locations in a matter of seconds. As you recruit new party members, this core area gradually fills up over time, but despite the presence of side quests to unlock additional features and a new area, it doesn’t feel like home. Not much more than a collection of bland, often empty rooms, HQ is essentially a glorified menu. The return to center must be accompanied by a sense of wonder at what might have changed or developed; instead, it’s more of a tired resignation that you’ll have to jump between hotspots while clicking through a bunch of boring dialogue.
Battles take place in real time and the action stops automatically when you issue a move order or a command to use an ability. This can give the proceedings a jarring stop-start feel, but it allows time to think through each step of the way and, more importantly, make small adjustments, for example telling a character to step aside to avoid an incoming attack. .
The combat seems interesting at first but fails to develop, seemingly content to tread the same ground from start to finish.
The combat seems interesting at first but fails to develop, seemingly content to tread the same ground from start to finish. Surprises are limited to another wave of enemies rather than any attempt to chart new territory. Enemies are narrowed down to two types, ranged and melee, with variations narrowed down to stronger versions and some slightly different attacks. Your party members come in four classes: Soldier (the defensive tank), Knight (mobile damage), Sniper (ranged damage), and Mage (healing and buffs with some ranged damage). These characters require reasonably different tactics to maximize their potential. You’re not just telling everyone to attack that enemy and sit back; it’s vital that you tell your knight to flank the enemy and get the ambush attack bonus, or have your soldier taunt specific enemies to attack her, or tell your mage to cast Sanctuary on the ground that hold your soldier, or have your sniper fire perform a stun shot to interrupt an enemy preparing a special attack.
But as you progress further, the challenge of combat doesn’t increase in an interesting way. Sure, there are a few more enemies to deal with at once. Sure, they have a few more tricks up their sleeves than just basic attacks. And of course, there’s the weird boss with multiple health bars. But there aren’t that many more enemies, those extra tricks aren’t all that new, and those bosses just take longer to kill rather than demand a novel approach. For much of the latter half of the game, I approached every fight the same way, sticking with the same main team and only making minor adjustments when necessary. There was no need to change because the missions did not present me with new challenges. The climactic encounters were handled identically in a way that initially felt satisfying, as if I had solved the game’s combat problem, before I grew bored by the absence of any friction holding my progress to a halt.
On the field, Andrias can be the leader of the group, but you can select any character to form the group of four. Cleverly, you are not limited to your chosen four once a battle begins. In the setup phase, you assign a support character to each main party member, boosting their performance with passive stat bonuses and allowing them to activate the second character’s special abilities. You can even, a limited number of times, swap a character (main or support) in the middle of a fight, a useful decisive move if someone’s health is dangerously low or the situation calls for a specific ability for someone else.
With over a dozen characters vying for battle time (I recruited 14 in my game, though there may be more), it’s also a smart way to ensure everyone is on board. Of course, there’s still a tendency to stick with your favorites, especially since the main group earns more XP, but it eases the burden of grinding missions (you can replay any once completed to score secondary objectives and gain gold and XP) to allow low level characters to catch up.
The rudimentary map design exacerbates the problem. The type of terrain is not a factor, even though the missions take place in cities, farmlands, snowy fields, deserts, and swamps. That water or mud stain on the floor means nothing. You can fire a ranged weapon through or over any obstacle. High ground is no advantage. Everything is so flat that the fighting arenas might as well be blank spaces. Perhaps this wouldn’t be a big deal if the mission objective required more interesting actions, but almost without exception you are tasked with killing all enemies. Sometimes you have to activate a bridge to get to the next batch of enemies, occasionally there’s an NPC to escort across the map and you have to kill all the enemies as you go, and very sparingly there’s a point you have to guard while You kill all enemies.
Even when the story features elements that could offer intriguing alternate paths, the mission format doesn’t change. A nascent pro-democracy movement, born from angry common people, is quickly characterized as a gang of thugs and brutally crushed by your iron fist at the behest of the king. Empire soldiers, demi-human monsters, undead, a bunch of angry peasants; they are all treated the same: Deploy the mercenaries and slaughter anything that moves. Too many nearly identical fights becomes tedious work, and late-game story twists that drag out the end credits only intensify the fatigue.
The Diofield Chronicle probably wants to explore ideas about how power is accumulated and how legitimacy is granted with its stories of warlords and divine rights. But he never really gets involved with them. The characters avoid such problems, expressing tentative doubts about the nobility of their mission before continuing regardless. Similarly, in brief conversations, he points out the possibility of other ways of structuring society, but never really entertains them. With Andrias and his company of mercenaries, the hammer that sees every problem as a nail, it makes for an unsatisfying story arc. However, as you implement the same tactics on what might as well be the same battlefield against virtually the same enemies for the umpteenth time, it’s an effective metaphor for unimaginative, conservative game design.