Square Enix has had an incredible year so far, full of surprise hits like Triangle Strategy, Stranger of Paradise, and The Centennial Case. It’s been a year of smaller, more unique titles and the next step in that is The Diofield Chronicle. As a brand new strategy title, from Square Enix, it’s easy to see how expectations could be high, but the lengthy demo for Diofield Chronicle makes a bit of a mixed impression. It’s a game that’s clearly going to be a slow burn and shows a lot promise. But I’m worried all the elements might not come together.
The setup of Diofield Chronicle feels very reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics. It takes place world locked in a conflict between two massive nations, the Trovelt-Schoevian Empire and Rowetale Alliance. Apart from these warring countries is the Kingdom of Alletain, which rules over the resource-rich island of Diofield.
The core cast of characters works for a mercenary group within Alletain, called the Blue Foxes. The roughly three-to-four-hour demo spends a lot of time on worldbuilding and detailing the political situation within Diofield. It was only after a few hours that it felt like the story was finally starting to move forward, which is exactly how the combat and gameplay felt as well.
Combat in Diofield Chronicle uses a real-time system that feels similar to a real-time strategy game. You take a four-person party into each battle and move characters around the map in a sort of isometric style, similar to XCOM. While things play out in real-time, you can pause the action to issue commands to your units, or use abilities.
There are a lot of layers to combat — positioning is especially important, boosting your attack damage when you hit an enemy from behind. Characters are grouped into four different classes, all of which have a different focus. For example, Soldiers should prioritize drawing enemy aggro and soaking up attacks, while Magickers act as both support and special attack units. Each class can have different skills depending on their weaponry. You also have access to summons via Magilumic Orbs, letting you call on the aid of devastating creatures like Bahamut when a TP gauge fills.
Between each mission, you’ll be able to explore the Blue Fox’s home base and improve your army in a variety of ways. You can purchase equipment and accessories, use AP to teach characters new skills, invest in your compound to improve your army, and more.
There are certainly a lot of options in combat, but the issue I had early on is that the maps simply didn’t feel engaging or challenging enough. Early on missions are simply run up to enemies, beat them, and move onto the next. However, things do start getting a lot more interesting near the end of the demo, once bosses and a more dynamic map are introduced. Bosses present a tremendous challenge, with special skills you need to avoid or interrupt. The two boss battles I played made it vitally important to position my units right, and properly manage each character's skills and SP pool.
The final mission of the demo sees you escorting a carriage through a narrow mountain pass, forcing you to split your forces between enemies to the front and enemies pursuing you from behind. You also need to properly budget your resources, as the mission ends with a huge boss battle. This one mission is exactly what I was looking for from Diofield’s combat, but it was preceded by a string of rather dull ones.
The visual presentation and overall style of Diofield Chronicle is also a mixed bag. Missions are highlighted by narrated segments on the world map, presented with gorgeous 2D art. The actual 3D graphics of the game, however, look very stiff and a bit awkward, almost like watching a diorama play out. Though may not have the biggest budget out there, the voice acting and writing hit a high bar.
Diofield Chronicle has a lot of interesting ideas, but I find myself worried that the full experience simply won’t be able to deliver. The combat system is completely going to hinge on how smart the game’s map design is, and if missions can continue to feel unique. Meanwhile, the story spends a lot of time world-building, but I hope more characterization finds its way into the plot. At the very least, The Diofield Chronicle feels quite different from anything Square Enix has done.
The Diofield Chronicle comes to PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Steam on 22 September 2022.