It’s easy to draw lines between The DioField Chronicle’s sweeping tale of war, magic, and shady politics and those of Game of Thrones or Fire Emblem. They’d have to scrap the entire fantasy genre if the loan was a hindrance, but they’ve yet to figure out how to assemble those parts into something that stands on its own. In this case, it ends up looking like, at best, a generic version of his inspirations. And while its real-time combat system is an exciting twist, the controls are often difficult to work with as you fight through its fast-paced and engaging battles. Even the characters that end up having unexpected or interesting roles in the unfolding of the story end up being a bit boring, though that’s not the fault of the veteran voice cast.
The world of The DioField Chronicle feels like anyone’s first attempt at creating a completely new setting for a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, with an evil empire trying to conquer all. You’ve got corrupt nobles scheming, a fanatical church, beastmen… it’s all good within the Great Book of Fantasy Tropes, but it’s not entirely without charm. There’s something homey about it all, even if it’s pretty predictable..
I have been impressed by all the voice cast that bring this world to life, including the excellent narration by Geralt of Rivia, Doug Cockle. Nevertheless, voice direction leaves a lot to be desired, since many important conversations are marred by rigid and undynamic performances. Although each member of the main cast has a complex and interesting backstory and motivations, the way the dialogue is written is not always very authentic.
The variety of enemies and the diverse design of the encounters prevent two missions from being too similar.
The same goes for combat. The fundamentals are solid: it is a kind of Fire Emblem in real time and paused, with landmark-based movement, lots of interaction with the environment, and lots of diverse classes and abilities to mix and match. When it works well and I blast my way through hordes of enemies using careful positioning and skill combos, it makes me want more. Throughout six chapters and more than 40 hours, it can also offer a lot of new adventures. The variety of enemies and the diverse design of the encounters, which can have you desperately defending a castle gate or facing a multi-stage boss, keep two missions from looking too much alike.
The problem that hangs over all this is the control system, which is a pain. It seems designed for a controller, but it’s actually just as annoying to me whether I decide to play it as well as with a mouse and keyboard. Unit selection is imprecise. You can pause the battle by selecting units, but there is no separate pause button. Some simple actions require more steps than necessary. If I have my knight selected and I press the key to bring up the special moves menu, why does it switch to another character and force me to select it again? I thought that I would end up getting used to this type of frustration, but at most I learned to tolerate them a little more in its final stretch.
I thought in time I’d get used to the frustrations with his control
And it’s a shame, because the number of actions you can perform would have made me wait for each mission. Each of them is quick, between five and ten minutes, even with many pauses, which makes the action intense and the campaign doesn’t stagnate, even if you do all the optional missions, like I did. Mission types that I would normally find annoying, like escorts, become almost like a speedrunning puzzle that encourages me to think about the optimal path of destruction before I even hit go.
Single target damage is pretty hard to come by, by the way. So the flow of a battle usually revolves around lure or forcibly move enemies to a spot where you can unload all of your area attacks on them for maximum effect. Attacks from behind always deal extra damage per ambush, so abilities that allow you to redirect aggression and reposition your own party are very useful. Heading in will almost always kill you, but it’s incredibly satisfying when you manage to line up a cavalry charge, an exploding barrel, a summon ability, and a magical meteor shower to melt an entire army in the blink of an eye. .
Failure is usually not a big deal as the missions are fairly short and designed to be repeated.
Bosses, like the fearsome wolf Fenrir, have multiple health bars that you have to deplete, which changes the pace of some missions in interesting ways, allowing healers a greater chance to shine. And of course, enemy casters and elite fighters have their own AoE attacks that you have to dodge, which made me even more annoyed by the lack of a simple pause button I could press to collect my thoughts. At the very least, the failure is usually not very serious, since even the longest missions are quite short and designed to be repeated to achieve additional objectives. However, some missions include long dialogue sequences that you have to skip each time you replay them.
At first can be a bit overwhelming keep track of all stats: individual characters gain skill points to increase their stats, while each character class can be upgraded with skill points, and your company of mercenaries (and later knights) gain unit XP, as well as ranks in individual facilities such as the shop and the blacksmith. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned that you can spend rare resources to unlock new summons and weapons.
But once I got hold of him, I really enjoyed the level of customization provided by my group of four characters. It’s very satisfying to take a group of swordsmen and turn them into one of the most feared fighting forces on the continent. And the economy is very well balanced, so I never got to a point where I couldn’t find something meaningful to spend my shiny treasure on.
The DioField Chronicle is also quite nice. The lighting and character models aren’t going to blow anyone away, but it shows strong art direction and creates a sense of identity for everyone from the main cast to supporting characters. I may not always approve of your fashion choices: purple boots with a blue uniform, really? But seeing anyone in this world tells you a lot about who they are and what they do.
Having said that, the setting leaves a feeling of “generic medieval fantasy”. Square Enix often puts a nice spin on these tropes in games like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger, but I don’t see it here. Also, although the characters often talk about what they feel, their faces are not very emotional in most of the conversations, which contributes to the gloomy atmosphere. Of course, every time I call upon Bahamut from heaven to shower my enemies with destruction, these concerns are lifted, if only for a moment.
The DioField Chronicle is a respectable, fast-paced tactical JRPG, albeit with a generic sword and sorcery plot, which is let down mainly by frustrating controls and highly animated characters performing an often sketchy script. The shortest and most action-packed missions make it an ideal game for the Nintendo Switch or Steam Deck: something to snack on little by little in your free moments. But even with its deep, multi-layered progression system, there’s not enough weight to make me want to sit back in my chair and sink into its uninspiring fantasy world for many hours at a time.