Published by Square Enix and developed with assistance from Lancarse, The DioField Chronicle looks and feels like most tactical RPGs out on the Switch in many ways, but with everything just slightly tweaked. The characters are all undeniably stylised, but never quite as much as Fire Emblem: Three Houses. The politics are front and centre throughout the game’s story, but don’t feel as overt as classics like Final Fantasy Tactics. The game’s take on war feels more reminiscent of Valkyria Chronicles than anything else. The DioField Chronicle borrows liberally from other gems of the genre without feeling like a carbon copy.
The game follows the story of a rising empire in the east that threatens to overtake the rest of the continent. As a response, the remaining nations banded together, creating a conflict between the Empire and the Alliance that provides the backdrop to everything else that unfolds in the story. Most of the story takes place in the nation of Alletain on the island of DioField, which is rich in the mineral that powers magic in this setting and therefore is a prize both sides of the conflict covet. Most of this backstory is delivered in a shotgun blast of information that hits the player in an opening crawl. As we mentioned above, the setup feels very similar to 2008’s Valkyria Chronicles, though with a focus on magic rather than technology. It isn’t complicated, but it doesn’t need to be to get the point across.
The story might not be the most unique, but the art direction of the game is gorgeous. The DioField Chronicle is beautiful, from the opening cutscene that evokes the opening to Game of Thrones to the reveal of the various bosses your party fights. From the almost watercolour aesthetic of the character portraits to the fluid way they move in cutscenes, there is so much style on display in this game. The characters look like they’ve been pulled out of a Final Fantasy XIV cutscene, complete with the overly smooth skin textures and giant armour builds. And the setting is primarily medieval fantasy, though there is the occasional top hat on a character’s head, sometimes very small and sat at a jaunty angle, to remind us of the game’s steampunk influences.
The DioField Chronicle takes the usual tactical RPG format and gives it a slight twist. Gone are the squares or hexes to show how far characters can move, as battles take place largely in real-time, with the action only stopping when players issue commands to their units. Once they are in place, they will continue to attack enemies that get within their range until they are told to do something else. It is a satisfying twist on the usual micromanagement that usually happens in tactical RPGs, making the battles feel more chaotic than most games in the genre. It isn’t a complete overhaul of what has worked before, but it is a fun wrinkle that means players need to keep a close eye on character health and position as the battles rage on.
Characters come in four classes, though different equipment and builds can influence how they behave in battle. Soldiers can use daggers to be more like rogues, axes to inflict heavy damage and statuses on enemies, or a sword and shield to serve as tanks. There are similar builds for each class, but it never becomes so overwhelming that you can’t manage your resources or tactics. It is scaled back in some ways but just robust enough to keep from being boring.
Combat gives players the chance to unleash some fun spells and there are moments where taking advantage of the terrain can deal some bonus damage, but the game largely relies on positioning your units correctly and letting them fight it out in melee. Many of the most powerful spells, including summoning Bahamut in a visually satisfying explosion of fire, aren’t enough to finish off most enemies. You’ll need to send in your melee units to mop up for you. It undermines the awesome visuals of these attacks when they fail to kill even a single archer.
The biggest issue with combat, though, is the way things scale so quickly. Having even one character lower than the recommended level for a mission can result in a complete wipe, meaning that you’ll have to spend quite a bit of time grinding to keep everyone at the same pace as your main party. The cost of items and equipment also means that you’ll spend time grinding for money if you want to deck your team out in the best gear.
The characters of The DioField Chronicle have some charm to them, but most of them lack enough depth to keep you interested past their initial reveal. The gritty nature of the story Square Enix is trying to tell means that there are too many stoic, brooding types in the cast. Those who don’t fit into that category are sadly very one-note. The cast doesn't develop much across the course of the game, despite some fun late-game reveals and twists. No one is completely abrasive and no one really shines, making it all just a bit bland.
There is also a bit of a quirk controlling the game on Switch. The DioField Chronicle feels like it was made with mouse and keyboard controls in mind. You have to move a cursor across the screen to select options rather than pushing the joystick rightward to select the next item. It is a small thing but it makes things like shopping and levelling feel like they take longer than they do. Otherwise, the Switch version of the game plays fine, with fast load times and beautiful graphics.
For all of The DioField Chronicle’s flaws, it is an ambitious attempt to try something different with the tactical RPG genre, so we can forgive its shortcomings. If Square Enix wants to develop this game into a series, there is the potential there to do so. More work on the story elements of the game would make it one of the best in an increasingly competitive genre.
Despite its shortcomings, The DioField Chronicle is still a solid tactical RPG experience with enough JRPG tropes to interest fans of both genres. The unique gameplay provides plenty of challenge, though it can require a lot of grinding to keep pace with the difficulty curve. The art style is beautiful both in and out of combat but the characters and plot fail to live up to the same standard. In this case, its ambition outstretched its means and it fell just short of where it wanted to be.