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The DioField Chronicle Preview – Strategy With A Side Of Jank

Square Enix’s The ValKyria Chronicle

I’ve been on the telephone with Square Enix HQ a fair amount this year. They’ve fed me a few lines of bullshit about NFTs being a terrific way to recoup some of the forecasted losses from their expectant Dookie of the Year contender in Babylon’s Fall. I said, “Look here fellas. You’ve got a potentially winning new franchise in Triangle Strategy. If you want to grease those consumer wheels, you’ve got to keep the strategy titles coming. You’re running out of tiddies to milk, and restoring some good faith would go a long way.”

Lo and behold, The DioField Chronicles appears out of nowhere in the March Nintendo Direct showcase (and more recently, Tactics Ogre Reborn!). I was immediately brimming with excitement for what I mistakenly assumed was a graphical remake of Final Fantasy Tactics. Pleasingly, the art and presentation are flattering enough to earn such a comparison. On the other hand, this is not a turn-based tactics game in the publisher’s typical fashion. What we have instead is Square Enix’s answer to Sega’s seemingly dormant Valkyria Chronicles.

The peaceful island of DioField and the growing conflict on the neighbouring mainland is presented as a tabletop diorama, not dissimilar to the Game of Thrones opening. DioField exists on the periphery of a war brewing between two nations on the mainland, but we only follow a band of forgettable mercenaries on the waterlogged landmass. Players spend the included four hours of the demo’s first chapter disconnected from any of the power players or consequences of this conflict. Instead, your ridiculously named and personality-devoid party just play medieval cops-for-hire doing escort missions and bandit clean-ups on the otherwise peaceful island.

This is like every Fire Emblem of the last decade

The demo’s playable party initially consists of Fredret Lester the mounted Knight, Andrias Rhondarson the assassin, and Izelair Wigan the tanky knight. Their names are ridiculous, as is every successive character introduced. Without the story opening with a character-driven focus, it is too early to say how memorable this cast may yet be. As two more ranged characters are introduced to the party, there is still no opportunity given to delve into their motivations, backstories, or why you should even attempt to register their barely legible names. Character interactions are presented as little more than chance encounters of convenience that happen immediately before or after a battle occurs. Speaking to the inhabitants of the empty and shallow home base that can be explored with little purpose between missions yields little more than a generic line of dialogue where somebody points out the weather or some shit.

Combat reminds me somewhat of Dragon Age: Origins and classic RPGs, with their tactical pause necessary to micromanage combatants every second and optimise for those critical strikes from behind. Enemies won’t go down without a fight and can endure attacks for a considerable time – meaning strategies must change and adapt lest one of the valuable party members take too much damage and fall incapacitated. With only four party members on the field at a time, potentially dozens of enemies to clear in a mission, and only two potion slots for the entire party, difficulty ramps up quickly and mistakes are fatal. Luckily enemies telegraph their field-of-view and destructive charged attacks, inviting interrupting abilities and further repositioning.

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The hub area is a shallow imitation of the social areas from Fire Emblem: Three Houses

In a stroke of genius, the tactical pause is initiated each time you select a unit and assign their movement or skills, meaning that players won’t have to toggle the pause and are always encouraged to take a moment to consider their best approach. Unlike the aforementioned Valkyria Chronicles, players can switch between any of their units on the fly and there is no turn-order dictating active combatants. Skirmishes also take place entirely from a top-down perspective rather than the more cinematic, over-the-shoulder perspective. 

Characters kind of float about the terrain as they move, but this seems more a concession of being able to map out pathfinding quite freely and not get snagged or suffer awkward animations when the AI plots movement to a given destination. The party can be formed up on the perimeter of an enemy’s field of view in planning an assault. Like Valkyria, it is likely that this will lead to puzzle-like scenarios where players effectively stealth their party around garrisoned enemies in order to pick their battles effectively, as damage is not easily recovered and unnecessary exposure is best avoided. 

Something I doubt will be resolved before release is the lacklustre ranged AI. If your units are in the close vicinity of an enemy, they will engage. The exception is your ranged units, who can be in the midst of a battle and just stand idle unless they are being attacked. When in the thick of a fight, players are required to manually ensure ranged fighters are facing their enemy to engage. If the facing position of their attack cone is even slightly off, they stand idly by. The problem is, there is no easy way to manoeuvre the facing direction of your units without making them move to a position and often hope for the best. Even more frustrating, picking off weaker ranged enemies is an important strategy, but players can only choose the direction of their ranged unit’s attacks – not who they focus on among a group! As the millennial manchildren say, “Epic fail!”

Boss fights will stretch your party and skill to its absolute limit

Another uncomfortable question I was left with from the demo was with regards to the downtime between scenarios, where the story and side missions often play out. We are treated to some nicely animated cutscenes with full voice acting that does the typical soft-spoken exaggerated fantasy Brit bit (if using the English rather than Japanese dub), but when returning to in-game dialogue, the voice lines offer annoyingly brief pleasantries instead of a dub of their lines. Rather than express aloud her diatribe on Magilumic Orbs (DioField’s version of summons), Lorraine – who employs our mercenaries – just utters “Hmm very interesting,” and the like instead. A waste, as players will find themselves skipping through the seemingly empty dialogue due to the lack of substance and the random assortment of contextless chortles and gasps that aggravatingly plays with each new line on-screen. 

While Square Enix should be commended on their continuing trend of offering demos that are effectively the unabridged opening hours of their full title, The DioField Chronicle leaves more questions than answers. From the story to the combat, and the exploration in-between, everything seems a bit undercooked on first impressions. However, there are plenty of locked menus and a whole world that has barely registered a mention. The scope for an epic rival to the brilliant Valkyria Chronicles is there, but DioField has no personality to speak of in its early hours. Worse still is the thought of constantly having to micromanage the rather woeful AI amidst slow combat for what will likely take players a couple of dozen hours to wrap. 

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Well planned assaults dissolve into a satisfying eruption of effects

‘Mixed feelings’ summarises the impressions left from this substantial, yet unambitious, demo. When it works and the four active party members start stacking abilities upon one another in a glorious combo shower of effects, I am given confidence for the strategic chops that lay in wait. Nevertheless, I am excited for a new strategic RPG franchise from those geniuses of the genre at Square Enix. 

The DioField Chronicle demo is available now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series S|X, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC. All saved data will transfer to the full game when it launches on these platforms on September 22. 

Previewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Written By Nathan Hennessy

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