You thought it was turn based, but it was me, DioField
The DioField Chronicle is an odd one among the cavalcade of tactics we’ve seen this year. It’s real-time, rather than turn-based; it’s about tight, compact skirmishes rather than drawn-out battles. DioField mixes wyvern and rifles, swords and sorcery, and even some airships for good measure.
Throughout the 20-ish hours it took me to finish The DioField Chronicle, there are some pretty cool concepts and ideas on display, though they’re not always framed the best. There’s a solid story, but some odd choices in direction. DioField is an interesting strategy game to play, even when it’s not at its best.
The DioField Chronicle follows the Blue Foxes, a mercenary group under the employ of a duke on the island nation of DioField. The island is rich in Jade stones that have magical properties, making it a prime target for trade, subterfuge, and invasion from the nearby continent.
Two up-and-coming warriors, Andrias and Fredret, are the core of the story and are soon joined by errant knight Iscarion and the powerfully magic descendant of nobility, Waltaquin. These four comprise the heart and soul of the Blue Foxes, and much of the story revolves around their rise to power amidst the political intrigue and fighting that constantly besets DioField.
Drama is at the heart of the story, and there’s a lot of appeal in seeing how these four come together and deal with mounting tension as their goals start to differ. The interpersonal drama really clicks in solid moments, like Waltaquin teasing Andrias or Iscarion doubting a plan. Each of the characters has nicknames for each other too, which is a nice little touch.
The broader geopolitical intrigue, however, falters. It was hard to develop a sense of place, as the world is often only shown on the blue-lit briefing board before each mission. Major plot events occur inside narration, alongside still images, even large plot moments. A few major characters are only shown as undetailed portraits.
While Andrias’ story (the player largely plays as Andrias) comes to a pretty good conclusion, the getting-there feels a little hurried. There is a good chunk of world lore in the Blue Foxes’ library back at home base, to help fill in gaps. But I ultimately came to just enjoy the infighting, as the broader political story swept up and over me.
DioField’s focus drives much more towards the action on the field. It’s a real-time strategy RPG, where the player deploys four units to a field (eight with their assist partners) to take on the enemy. The system feels like a mix of real-time-with-pause RPGs and classic tactics, and on its surface, it works.
The gears of The DioField Chronicle’s combat are really solid. Having to adjust and maneuver in real-time often kept me on my toes, and enemies could do a significant chunk of damage if I wasn’t dodging area attacks and controlling the crowd. Elements like backstabbing, surprise attacks, and holding chokepoints feel tactically rewarding. While I would’ve liked to see terrain be just a hair more rewarding, I overall like the main concept.
Off to war
Combat is about the execution though, and that’s where DioField falters a bit. For one, every unit has special abilities, allowing them to do actions like stunning an opponent, rain fire on a group, heal an ally, backstab an enemy, etc. All of these skills are tied to weapons, with some universally available depending on your class.
While DioField is lenient with pause-time, allowing the player to essentially freeze the action anytime they want to issue a new waypoint or use an ability, this leads to a very start-and-stop feeling in some missions. I don’t mind the tension of waiting on cooldowns, but a few battles felt like I was storming forward and constantly stopping to hit the skill button and use abilities, like a car in rush-hour traffic.
These skills are also extremely powerful, at different stages of the game. My experience with The DioField Chronicle’s combat feels best described by a bell curve. Early on, I found that it was pretty easy to clear most early enemies by aggravating them, getting them bunched up. Then I'd rain fire, arrows, and powerful summons down upon them. Easy enough.
In the mid-game, however, new units started to appear. These units had powerful abilities, big AOE attacks that could wipe my crew, and a mix of powerful ranged hitters and bulky frontline troops. Special monsters add in some really neat twists. Salamanders and coeurls have abilities that feel like MMO-style attacks. I'd have to quickly re-position and adjust, balancing how I wanted to use my resources to best burn through their copious health bars.
But near the end-game, I was breezing through fights. Andrias could have probably solo-cleared whole maps by himself. Certain characters have a great mix of abilities and natural talents that turn them into absolute powerhouses by the mid-30s, and I was breezing through maps several levels higher than my party. These feel rewarding, given how much investment has been put in. But the enemies can't seem to keep up with your squad by endgame.
The path of least resistance
The DioField Chronicle has a really cool diversity of options, in its characters and builds. One ranged attacker is more of a hunter, while another is a sniper. One of my magic users excelled at hitting as many enemies as they could, while another could gain health while he healed. Interesting choices can be made on who to deploy and where. These compound as you try to account for having different crowd control effects, auras, and bonuses available for every extra edge you can get.
A lot of that falls away, though, as the game goes on. Cool synergies are nice, but it frequently became a question of how to do the most damage. I don't feel incentivized enough to utilize different troops. The path of least resistance just made the most sense. To be clear, I enjoyed blitzing my way through a map, finishing a map with a par-six minute time in under 60 seconds. But it soon felt extremely repetitious. I could essentially stop caring about the bulk of strategy, planning, and maneuvering in favor of my well-equipped squad mowing over enemy after enemy.
Battles are fast though, which keeps them interesting and concise. The loop can really hook you in, too. Fight a battle, reap some rewards. Go back to home base, spend it on new weapon development or building out the base. Talk to some of your recruited units, get some new insight into their character, and open up a new side mission. Depart, rinse, repeat. I caught myself falling into this loop pretty easily, burning hours in the process.
DioField also looks pretty darn good. The character models are going to be a personal like or dislike, but the dioramic arenas and big, beautiful summon animations are nice homages to the tactical lineage at Square. Lancarse did a good job in making a world that looks distinct, too. The mix of science and magic feels really original, and I like that among many long-running series and remasters, The DioField Chronicle feels like something new and intriguing.
Jade in the rough
The DioField Chronicle feels destined to be called a hidden gem years from now. Despite some faltering and misgivings, I can’t help but enjoy the loop. Sending your units into combat, raining magical power down on enemies as your cavalry charges in and assassin tears up the backline, just feels good in DioField.
It hasn’t hit the heights of other strategy RPG contenders, but The DioField Chronicle shows a lot of promise. It’s different, it’s engaging, and it's got a fast pace that moves from battle to battle. I felt like I got a good, interesting strategy RPG experience out of this first game, and I really do hope there’s more in store. DioField certainly has the space for it.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]