Project came out of nowhere, The Diofield Chronicle seemed immediately intended for a certain category of players. Those who were able to bear the monotony of a title like Fire Emblem: Three Houses, maybe. Or, in any case, RPG and tactics enthusiasts, capable of embarking on a very serious military adventure, almost never falling into the schoolboy, or even simply into lightness. Unlike many of his peers, it must be said. Now that we have been able to touch it, and even experience its content practically in its entirety, we can tell you: The Diofield Chronicle is a game apart, even in the motley catalog of Square Enix.
What it perhaps owes to the mixture of influences from its developers. Because not content to mobilize a team from Square Enix, a company of recognized makers in the field, rarely disappointing, the title is in parallel developed by Lancarse. A studio little known by us, in Japan also for the rest, to which we nevertheless owe the excellent series of Etrian Odysseyin partnership with Atlus, or the remake of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey on 3DS. In short, two undoubtedly Japanese companies, which do not have much in common on paper, except their love of RPGs. And that’s good, because gender is at the heart of the project that interests us today.
Test conditions: We played the software for a little over 25 hours in its Nintendo Switch version. Mainly on TV, but also on mobile via a Switch Lite. We had to evaluate our playing time ourselves, because a bug (recurring on the machine) prevented the timer from stopping when the console was on standby.
Military conflict and unadorned weft
In The Diofield Chronicle, you play as Andrias Rhondarson. Young mercenary in the pay of a Lord of the island of Diofield, who will quickly grant him full powers over his squad. At the same time decision maker, recruiter and charismatic leader, this talented strategist will set up his own team which he will name Les Renards Bleus. Everything seemed set for the missions to follow one another and look alike, but a conflict started on the mainland is experiencing turmoil on the island territory. Soon, foreign armed forces will land on Diofield, determined to seize its jade stones, containing a powerful magic, real weapons in the wrong hands.
If on paper everything seems relatively ordinary so far, The Diofield Chronicle is nevertheless adorned with a seriousness that surprises. After a rather nebulous introduction, not to say too concise, leaving us in charge of characters of whom we know practically nothing, the title describes in turn an armed conflict in a very factual and realistic way, and the life of our mercenaries, no frills. Not particularly talkativebut what it takes to distill with pleasant accuracy its history and the background of its protagonists, the software tells us a precise story, composed of feats of arms, military cruelty, or even domestic politics.
These are topics that we find in other strategy games on consoles, it is true, such as the recent Fire Emblem: Three Houses (and certainly the next one Engaged). That said, The Diofield Chronicle does not bother with noisy characters, schoolboy humor or thoughtless reversals of situation. On the contrary, everything seems perfectly calibrated, borrowing a seriousness that is found even in the artistic direction, of a certain elegance, despite a little lack of soul it is true. And that’s surprising, since it’s been since Ogre Tacticsand somehow Final Fantasy Tacticsthat we had not been entitled to such an interesting and first-degree story in a strategy game intended for consoles.
To top it off, everything is going very well. The game is addictive, which it owes as much to its simple but effective narration as to its thoughtful and believable background, or to its intelligent pace management. The missions are short, never exceeding fifteen minutes, everything around them takes some time, but not too much either, and the mission briefings, in the form of cutscenes, are never very long. Nevertheless, we can reproach him for a certain hermeticismwhich is likely to dismiss the less patient, but also young players, perhaps more inclined to enjoy a light adventure.
Do real-time strategy and RPG mix?
We had so little information and gameplay videos before the release that we would have been tempted to think that The Diofield Chronicle was only one Fire Emblem with Square Enix sauce (only a few months after Triangle Strategy, certainly). And in a way, there are actually a lot of things that make you think of the Intelligent Systems and Nintendo license. But nothing on the gameplay side! The title is indeed focused on real-time strategy, and focuses its action on a very small squad, consisting of four characters, and four reserve units. His vision of tactics is therefore very different from what we are used to. Especially on consoles, where turn-based is law.
If we had to summarize by comparing, then we would say to you that The Diofield Chronicle is at the crossroads between XCOM 2 and The Eagle of War on Game Boy Advance. Nothing else comes to mind, and that’s normal, since the Square Enix and Lancarse project is separate.
In combat, we therefore control four characters, who can each carry a reserve fighter, giving them the possibility of using their abilities in the field. It is possible for us to lead our units in groups, or to take them one by one, and to determine routes defined by a maximum of two markers to be placed manually. Firstly, it seems quite tedious to move his soldiersespecially since the software bombards us with information that is difficult to digest, with in particular its different key combinations… which we have, for the most part, not requested during our game, for lack of utility.
Everything works quite well, but unfortunately lacks precision.. A shot to take, again. Once the concept and its specificities have been assimilated, the title turns out to be complete, and does not lack a challenge. Luckily, it takes a good two hours before you start meeting resistance on the battlefield. But once this is done, the difficulty will continue to climb to a point where, if you have not taken the preparations seriously, you will not be able to progress, except luckily. But we will come back to that.
A certain routine sets in in combat, once you have mastered the gameplay, and you have formed a functional team. The objectives do not change from one mission to another, almost, in other words we are each time asked to eliminate all the enemies of the map. It’s a bit of a shame, because despite a rather successful and evolving level design, this lack of variety in the missions and their resolution induces a certain redundancy. You quickly get used to a standard process: isolate the enemies, eliminate them, move on to the next ones. All while stunning those who charge a heavy attack, thinking about the placement of our units, back attacks being more painful, and using the ability gallery to the best of our ability.
Wealth and perseverance
Although its strategic aspect reaches a limit in combat, The Diofield Chronicle nevertheless offers a whole management aspect that completes it, and is not to be taken lightly. Between two missions, we are dropped into our headquarters, where we can talk to the different members of our squad to learn more about them, earn money, or unlock side quests. It’s up to us to decide how this place evolves, and therefore what the merchant will offer, for example. Or to set up a refectory with a dedicated cook, which will improve the morale of the troops, which will make them gain more experience in combat.
It is each time a financial choice, quite expensive moreover. Are you going to decide to give money to the merchant to expand his store? Or to one of your companions, who proposes to recover good equipment from arms dealers to which you do not have access? Freedom is not unlimited, but enough to feel involved, and it’s very nice. What is a little less is the cost of each choice, and even of any object in store. We earn quite a bit of money by completing a mission, and it will be necessary to pass the secondary objectives to obtain the resources essential to the improvement of the fighters. However, this requires a certain investment.
This being so, although nothing is fundamentally simple in The Diofield Chronicleit turns out pleasantly rich, without ever lapsing into excessive profusion. You have to think about the use of your resources, and thus always have units equipped with the best parts, while not forgetting to improve the stall of the merchant or that of the scientist. The latter proposing in particular to develop weapons, which will then have to be purchased, or to perfect skills to be used in the field. It also offers the improvement of very powerful summons, which may seem a little too much at the start of the game, but which prove to be essential over time.
The budget allocated to development was not worthy of a triple A, it is obvious, in the same way as for other titles to come from Square elsewhere, like Harvestella. And it feels. The Diofield Chronicle is rich, complete, and entitled to a divine soundtrack, with a delectable sweetness. In return, it suffers from dated graphics, some questionable design choices, rare slowdowns, or even a camera in combat that would require serious optimization. Let’s end on this, to support the fact that it is not easy to get into your adventure, to immerse yourself in it, because the game is intended to be quite austere. Still, it has a lot to offer.
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Test The Diofield Chronicle – A breath of fresh air imagined by Square Enix
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