Diofield Chronicle Demo Impressions – Not Just Discount Fire Emblem

When the Diofield Chronicle trailer first made its appearance, the main reaction I remember seeing online was that it seemed like Square Enix was trying to make their own Fire Emblem Three Houses knockoff. The trailer appeared to be a strategy game set in a fantasy world with three main factions: an empire, a kingdom, and an alliance. You could even run around a home base to talk to characters and visit facilities for upgrading your units. At least in the circles I travel, this immediate association as a discount Three Houses seemed to deflate any enthusiasm for Diofield Chronicle. In my case, my own enthusiasm was already deflated by Square’s name on the cover – I still don’t have plans to support the company financially for the foreseeable future due to their flagrant support of NFTs, even in the face of the current crypto crash. That said, I’m still curious about the games they are putting out and what those games are doing – if anything – to advance the medium. So after someone reached out to ask if I was planning to talk about Diofield Chronicle on my site, I decided to check out the demo.

Let’s start with the premise. The Kingdom of Diofield loses its rightful king in a cutscene at the very beginning of the game. Two of the young king’s faithful retainers, Frederet and Anrias, manage to escape the circumstances which bring about his demise. They become retainers at the household of a noble and eight years later, use that position to maneuver themselves into a mercenary company run by one of the duke’s foremost knights. Diofield is on an island, and on the nearby mainland the empire and alliance are deep into a brutal war. Both tapped for resources, they begin to turn their attention to Diofield in hopes of replenishing a much-needed magical ore called Jade, which Diofield possesses in abundance. During the demo you’ll complete a few early game missions which are primarily focused on dealing with local bandits rather than digging too much into the larger war taking place.

From a presentation standpoint Diofield Chronicles looks fine. I tried it on the Switch and didn’t run into any graphics or frame rate issues. Visually it reminds me a bit of Bravely Default II, but without the evocative backgrounds or the unique visual style. This is a matter of personal opinion but I found it all a bit too clean; the character models look good but they do lack notable features to make them stand out, which I think could contribute to the idea that this game is sort of a knock off for those who don’t look beyond the visuals. What I was more impressed with was the voiceover – I anticipated this to be like Bravely Default or Triangle Strategy where I’d want to change the voiceover language to Japanese, but I found the dub for the demo at least to be pretty solid. It does fall into standard JRPG tropes like all the bandits having cockney accents but the tropes are at least well executed.

It’s hard to describe what I don’t like about the look of this game. It’s almost…too polished? So clean as to be obviously artificial, with no character or life to it.

The look, story, and writing may not do much to set Diofield Chronicle apart from other strategy RPGs, but if you come to this game expecting Fire Emblem or Triangle Strategy you’re going to come away surprised. Diofield Chronicle is not a turn-based tactics game but instead more closely resembles a real time strategy (RTS) game. Combat moves in real time except for when you are giving orders. Units auto-attack enemies in their range and can move freely around the field. Now unlike most RTS titles I have played, you don’t have generic units nor do you have resource management. In a way, Diofield Chronicle takes elements of a game like Triangle Strategy – unique hero units with distinct abilities and progression – and combines them with the real-time combat of the RTS genre to do something that helps to set it apart from other games it might otherwise be compared to.

Combat is the primary mode of play in Diofield Chronicle so it’s worth digging into at a deeper level. Units in your army can be commanded en masse or one at a time. When you give orders you can either tell them a location to move to or an enemy or object to target. This can include setting specific waypoints along a longer path, which is useful for moving around terrain obstacles or for picking up small replenishing orbs that enemies drop on defeat. It’s also valuable for setting up one of the key mechanics of Diofield Chronicle combat, the ambush. Attacking opponents from behind gives a damage boost to your attacks, so whenever possible it is ideal to position yourself on both sides of an enemy so that one of your units can hit them from behind. I found the movement controls to be pretty solid – the button presses for selecting a single unit vs. selecting a small contingent of units vs. selecting everyone you have on the field are distinct from one another and give you a lot of control over exactly how you want to issue orders to your soldiers.

When enemies are in range each unit has a basic attack they will perform automatically at regular intervals. Your units also have special abilities they can bring to bear. Some are based on unit type while others are more universal. For example, any unit can use items assigned to them like healing potions, and when you have enough TP from combat any unit can perform a summon that does big damage in a large area. Characters also have class abilities that are more unique, allowing them to accomplish different feats at the cost of EP. These skills have areas of effect, possible status effects, and cooldown times as factors to consider when employing them. For example, Rias has a skill called Assassinate which skips the cooldown phase if it defeats the enemy. Izzy, a young noblewoman in your starting party, can Shield Bash enemies to prevent them from using their own skills against you. These abilities give each character under your control a unique role to play and will probably be the primary drivers of your combat strategies.

Despite how busy the screen can be, it’s good at conveying information, and when you’re not actively making a move the UI is actually relatively clean.

Units have four broad archetypes as well as “classes” of sorts within those archetypes. The archetypes are the soldier, the cavalier, the sharpshooter, and the magicker. Most of these archetypes have two different classes based on the weapon used. The sharpshooter for example could be an archer but the game has guns as well. The soldier class uniquely features three classes, one for daggers, one for axes, and one for sword and shield. Abilities for these characters are unlocked in various ways. Some come from your equipment, with higher quality weapons granting more skills to use, while others come from a skill tree you can upgrade in the laboratory at your base. Individual units also have passive skills that can be upgraded with points you earn upon level up. Most of these passives are mild boosts (3% damage reduction, 5% attack speed boost, etc.) but there are more significant improvements which come at a more significant cost.

These aren’t the only tools for improvement, either. As you complete quests the rank of your entire team earns points and can increase, which allows you to choose from one of five different aspects of your team to improve. Growing the skill tree for example can access higher tier skill upgrades for your units, while upgrading the weapon tree might unlock brand new weapons to buy or earn you extra gold for completing missions. With multiple types of resource points to juggle all for different purposes as well as different potential applications (do I save points for big abilities or make smaller incremental changes?), it seems that Diofield Chronicle will offer plenty of opportunities to build your team the way you see fit. Or at the very least, decide the order in which you want to implement upgrades which may all be in your possession by endgame.

During any given battle only four of your units may be deployed, but each unit also has an adjutant whose abilities can also be activated. The EP cost for the adjutant’s abilities is paid for by the lead unit, and any formation abilities for the adjutant cannot be used. But this allows you to mix and match abilities as needed, adding the skills of a different class to a lead unit to make them more versatile on the field. This becomes particularly useful as the battles become more challenging – having multiple units who can interrupt enemy skills, for example, is crucial when fighting a handful of tough enemies. It also diversified the status effects you can inflict, useful against boss enemies who have multiple health bars as well as temporary immunity to a status after it has been inflicted.

Most of the level up abilities that actually feel like they would make a difference are locked behind multiple layers of requirements.

We’ve discussed combat quite extensively, so what is the game like between battles? Structurally, Diofield Chronicle is broken up into chapters, each of which consists of a number of quests. Chapter one for example has about half a dozen battles to participate in, as well as conversations to be had around the base in addition to new mechanics you unlock in the various facilities. Between battles you can walk around and talk to your units as well as other NPCs at the base. You can also use this time to invest in your team by buying skills for the skill tree, purchasing weapons, spending AP for your characters, and finding subquests to improve your badge rank or your facilities. The base camp activities aren’t particularly extensive but they keep the focus on the game mechanics rather than character interactions or story – if you’re someone who thought there was too much fluff between missions in Three Houses, Diofield Chronicle has a more focused hub that may appeal to you more.

I was worried in the beginning that Diofield Chronicle would be a bit on the easy side, but once you push past the basic missions you can begin to see where the challenge comes from. Boss units with their status immunity and multiple health bars take different strategies than standard enemies, and having to balance your skill usage so that you don’t run out of EP when it is most needed gets challenging when you are dealing with more dangerous opponents. Enemies with big area effect skills get around some of the strategies around aggro management, challenging you to find different ways to avoid their attacks or shut them down. By the end of the demo I was enjoying the difficulty of the combat – I was still completing even the optional objectives on each battlefield but it felt like I really needed to earn it vs. just blowing through.

Overall I was surprisingly impressed by the Diofield Chronicle demo. The use of basic RTS mechanics blended with the more hero focused gameplay you might see in a turn-based tactics game was a nice breath of fresh air that made for some interesting battles. The skill system is relatively simple but there’s enough class variety to give you different strategies, and assigning units as adjutants expands your creative possibilities during battle. I think if you are someone who plays tactics RPGs primarily for story or characters that Diofield Chronicle may not quite scratch that itch, but if you are a mechanics-first player who cares the most about gameplay (and you’re okay with this game not being a full-blown RTS) then there’s potentially something here for you. Now if only Squeenix wasn’t the publisher!

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