Japanese tactical role-playing games may not be as popular as regular old JRPGs nowadays, but this isn't preventing Square Enix from attempting to begin a new era for the genre. Earlier this year, the Japanese publisher released the excellent Triangle Strategy on Nintendo Switch, and in November, it will bring back one of the best tactical role-playing games ever made, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, to modern hardware with improved graphics and plenty of gameplay tweaks.
While very good, the two tactical RPGs mentioned above aren't particularly innovative in gameplay. Sure, they do feature some unique gameplay mechanics that set them apart from other classic series like Shining Force, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Fire Emblem, but, at their heart, are still the same turn-based affairs that fans of the genre love. With The DioField Chronicle, however, Square Enix is setting out to spice things up considerably, changing one of the genre's core mechanics. Doing away with a turn-based system with a unique system that combines real-time elements with turn-based ones could be a controversial decision, but series like Valkyria Chronicles proved that this approach can work quite well. And after a few hours with the game, I can say that developer Lancarse knew what it was doing, as the system not only speeds up the battle pace quite a bit but also doesn't take away the depth tactical role-playing games are known for.
Labeling The DioField Chronicle as a real-time tactical game would be extremely reductive, as it doesn't paint the whole picture. Sure, players can give orders to units like the assassin Andrias, the mounted knight Fredret, and the archer Iscarion and see them performed in real-time, but gameplay actually halts when issuing out commands, allowing players to plan ahead without risking getting overwhelmed by the enemy. Movement and positioning in the game are extremely important, as all units take more damage when attacked from the back, so using a tanky unit to draw aggro and moving the other units behind them to deal higher damage is a rather valid strategy. Units themselves come with a wide array of skills with the most diverse of uses. Andrias, for example, has an AOE skill that also lets him reposition on the fly to avoid getting hit by enemy skills. Fredret, on the other hand, is capable of taking advantage of his horse to break through enemy lines and move instantly in a straight line. All characters' skills are expanded via a simple Skill Tree that lets players enhance known techniques and learn new ones, including extremely useful Formation Skills. While all this is generally standard fare for tactical role-playing games, The DioField Chronicles' real-time approach makes everything quite enjoyable, forcing players to adapt on the fly to any change on the battlefield while also giving them tons of flexibility.
Solid tactical gameplay features would mean little with a bad map and combat design, and The DioField Chronicle feels like it will mostly deliver on this front. Map design is quite varied in the first couple of hours, with all missions having different main and side objectives. Side objectives are completely optional, but completing them will award players with an additional SP which can be spent to learn and improve skills in the Skill Tree. Main objectives are standard fare in the first few missions in the game, including objectives like defeating all enemies or protecting a certain location, but interactive elements, such as lowerable drawbridges, suggest that battles further in the campaign could become more complex. One issue that is difficult not to notice is the enemy AI, which isn't that good at the moment. Many enemy units are stationary or move along set paths, and they do move against the player until a unit gets into their field of vision, which is highlighted when giving commands to units. During an early mission where the player has to defend a certain location, however, the enemy was far more aggressive, so it could just be an early game problem.
With unique visuals, a story that seems quite complex, involving many different characters and factions, good combat design, and solid tactical gameplay that attempts to do something different, The DioField Chronicles is definitely a game that fans of the genre should keep their eyes on. Some issues, enemy AI in particular, may prevent it from being a masterpiece, but things are definitely looking up for the game developed by Lancarse and Square Enix.
The DioField Chronicle launches on PC, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on September 22nd worldwide. A playable demo is out on August 10th on all formats.
PlayStation 5 version tested. Demo early access code provided by the publisher.