The DioField Chronicle Review
Contributed by DJMMT
First things first, story wise DioField is very par for the course for Square Enix. It’s a JRPG about a made-up land that’s split into three factions, with two of them currently at war and one of them gearing up for getting pulled into that war whilst dealing with internal conflicts as different members of the aristocracy fight for power and influence. It’s basically a carbon copy of every fantasy RPG they do at this point. You could easily lift that plot right out of Triangle Strategy. To be clear, that’s fine. The overarching formula for the story works, which is why they keep using it.
In this particular game, you play from the point of view of a lower nobleman whose family home was attacked when he was a boy. He took refuge with another noble family and cast off his name to hide his identity. The game focuses on how the main character and his two best friends work together to take over a band of mercenaries and rise to prominence in the country. But they clearly have a hidden agenda that isn’t expressed fully in the demo. The story is fine. The setting is basically Victorian England.
Playing on PS4, the graphics were OK. I definitely didn’t have a problem with them. The game was absolutely playable and didn’t lag. The loading times weren’t particularly bad. But it was clear to me that you almost certainly get a much more impressive visual experience on a next gen console. Truth be told, this was another one of Square Enix’s AA budget games. The art style has a more dated look like back in the days of Final Fantasy XII. The difference is that FFXII was released 16 years ago. There are some cinematics, but many of them are cutscenes and done with what appear to be hand drawn still images and overt narration. I’m sure this was to save budget, but they work fine for what they’re used for.
The DioField Chronicle is described as a strategy or tactical RPG. That’s a good summation of what it is, because it’s really in the middle gameplay wise. It’s definitely a tactical game, but it’s neither turn-based nor real time. It reminds me a bit of Dragon Age: Origins. You have a party of up to four members and you command them rather than control them. They move at their own pace to execute your orders. Each character has their own style of attack, range, special moves, weaknesses, and advantages. Really, it's like running a simulator that you can alter aspects of while it’s running. The game is split into story-based missions. At the start of the mission, you pick your party members, confirm your equipment and skills, and then you’re placed on a battlefield. Once you complete all the objectives on the battlefield, the mission ends. You are given multiple optional objectives that net extra rewards when completed.
The tactical nature of the gameplay is definitely there but feels limited. A large part of this problem comes from how well balanced the game is. This is an RPG with individual levels for each character, gear, and class based skilled trees. The enemies have levels as well, and those numbers accurately predict the combat outcomes a majority of the time.
While the game is balanced, you have four party members on the field at once. Much of the time, enemies don’t attack you until you’ve engaged them first. Meaning that in most scenarios you aren’t going to get overwhelmed as long as you play intelligently. Basically, you just make all four party members attack one enemy or cluster of enemies together, take them out, and then move on to the next one. Once you’ve added the white mage to your party, which is part of the story and can’t be missed, you can even heal your party between enemy encounters. So the tactical nature of the gameplay kind of gets thrown out as a result. Especially if you take the time to grind.
Another major part of the combat is special moves. Each character has a list of special moves that change depending on class, equipped gear, and skill tree development. You can use special moves whenever you want, provided you have the EP required to use it. EP refills during the course of a mission, but not automatically. It comes from killing enemies, finding EP pickups, and can be refilled with potions. Special moves really can change the game, when used effectively. Special moves can include mass healing, quick healing, raining down magic on groups, doing massive damage to a single enemy, stunning an enemy, and so on.
In addition to special moves, you also have summons. These are pulled right out of Final Fantasy. The first one you get is literally named Bahamut. And yes, it’s a flying dragon type monster that fires a huge blast from its mouth. What I really liked about DioField was that any party member could use any summon at any time, provided you had the summon meter charged. You charge the meter by killing enemies.
Truthfully, tactics only really come into play in two situations. When enemies are in large groups and when enemies are at higher levels than your party members. Larger groups aren’t too common and when handled intelligently can be dealt with pretty easily. Especially if you have a summon going into the encounter and some AOE special moves equipped. Higher level enemies, on the other hand, were a real problem. This was one of my major complaints about the game. Each mission tells you a recommended level before entering. The demo made sure that I was always at or above this level with each new mission. But you can replay past missions as many times as you want to acquire more XP and gold. I did not need to use this feature to complete the demo. Yet several missions had bosses that were much higher than the recommended level. So you go through a level and then get to a boss fight that you really aren’t strong enough for.
The idea behind these boss fights was that these are the moments where you really have to make use of your tactics. Honestly, without very specific maneuvers, I wasn’t able to beat one of the boss fights. It took me multiple tries. It wasn’t even the final boss fight in the demo. What I appreciated though is that the game has checkpoints in the mission, so if you die you can continue from your last checkpoint. And the checkpoints are actually well placed. There are several in a single mission, and you can choose which checkpoint to continue from, even if you’ve reached multiple checkpoints after the one you want to return to.
Ultimately, the gameplay feels boring to me. Not badly made so much as uneventful and repetitive. It’s more accurate to say that the real tactical play takes place outside of the missions. The party you build, for instance, requires strategic thinking. You get to choose four party members but will eventually have at least eight to choose from. What I really liked was that you could equip four party members as assists to the four your take into battle. This allows you to make use of two characters’ special moves even if only one of them was in your party. An example of how I took advantage of this was that my archer was very good at dealing damage with special moves, but because I wanted to keep my white mage on the field for healing and didn’t want two ranged party members, I equipped the archer as an assist on one of my short-range characters that had terrible special moves but great basic combat. This allowed me to retain healing, distance attacking, archery special moves, and strong fighters all at the same time. Assist characters also get XP at the end of missions, but at a slightly reduced rate. It’s a pretty good system for party management, all things considered.
Things like managing your equipment and skill tree are other examples of where tactical planning really comes in. You get gold and skill points from completing missions, but the drop rate is atrocious. Gear is not cheap in this game and skill points are pooled between the entire party. You upgrade skills for whole classes rather than individual party members, which is admittedly an interesting system. But when you have four or more classes to manage skills for and only get one skill point per mission it becomes a real hassle. I couldn’t even afford to buy equipment for the whole party by the end of the demo, because I just didn’t have enough gold. Nor could I afford to get the best items for a single party member. Now of course you could grind for more gold and skill points by replaying old missions. But generally speaking I’d prefer not to have to do that in a mission based tactical RPG.
The best way I can describe The DioField Chronicle is that I don’t love it and I don’t hate it. It’s a game I could take or leave, but I don’t have any genuine excitement to play it. By the end of the demo, which consists of the first chapter of the game, I was happy to have finished it, mostly because I was happy to be done with the demo. I can’t see myself buying this game, because it would end up joining a large pile of JRPGs I already have that I just don’t have time to play. That’s the major issue with this game. It’s not bad, but it in no way stands out as something I feel excited to play. It definitely wouldn’t be able to skip to the front of my backlog.