Hands-on: The DioField Chronicle is a surprisingly fresh strategy RPG

The DioField Chronicle

The DioField Chronicle feels like a mixture of RTS and RPG, and it works

Tactics fans are not left wanting this year. From re-releases and remasters to brand-new titles, there hasn’t been a shortage of good strategy options to go around, and Square Enix has been at the forefront of it. Because of that, I was left wondering where a new IP like The DioField Chronicle would fit in.

The answer, as it turns out, is that it doesn’t. The DioField Chronicle, from Square Enix and Lancarse, isn’t a classic turn-based tactics game like Tactics Ogre. It’s not turn-based at all. It’s a real-time strategy RPG, and those two flavors meld together to make a surprisingly interesting and novel concept that stands out all on its own.

We got some hands-on time with the demo for The DioField Chronicle, ahead of its release. And it doesn’t take long to get started; right out of the gate, there is intrigue, assassination, and peace broken by sudden acts of war.

The story of DioField doesn’t stray too far from the usual tactics fare. After the assassination of their friend, Andrias Rhondarson and Fredret Lester set out to become notable mercenaries and create change in the world. They join up with more characters as the demo goes on, forging a reputation through every battle.

Some of the names are, quite frankly, exquisite RPG fare. Iscarion Colchester, Lorraine Luckshaw, and my favorite Waltaquin Redditch are all so elaborate that they become endearing. (They also allow the characters to fondly nickname each other, which is a fun bit.) As these characters get to know each other, there’s an air of intrigue and deception around everything. Who’s playing who, and where does the real power in the land lie? All the while, a larger war looms overhead.

Taking the field

Once the battles commence, The DioField Chronicle is, essentially, a real-time strategy game. Your party of units and the enemy’s act in real time. This is a different feel from other tactics games right from the jump; action can happen fast, and a battle can swing in mere moments.

It isn’t quite a Command & Conquer-style slamming-together of armies, though. Micromanagement and positioning is key. Enemies have vision, which you can navigate around to set up sneak attacks or ambushes. Aggro can be roughly reset by having one unit retreat and forcing in another. Environmental hazards, like explosive kegs or barricades, provide interesting nuances to the playing field.

For my demo, I played on the PlayStation 5. I’ve got some experience playing console RTS games, like Halo Wars. And The DioField Chronicle manages to make the action feel at-home enough as it is. The action thankfully never escalates too far, as the demo tends to focus on localized fights on small maps rather than massive battles. But even within those, I find DioField feels solid enough to micro-manage my units around in, though I am curious to see how a mouse and keyboard fares.

And on top of this, there are many RPG elements. Every unit has special abilities they can employ to swing the tides of war. Fredret is an effective frontline cavalry, able to charge through enemy lines and disrupt their position. Iscarion, meanwhile, is an archer. His role is largely to hang back and rain fire. But one of his moves lets him continuously rain arrows on one area, which can really cause damage at a chokepoint.

Enemies have skills too, requiring you to quickly move out of their forecasted danger zones or interrupt them with a good Shield Bash or Stun Arrow. Creating a strategic advantage through terrain or character positioning often made these abilities feel more rewarding, and they also gave me a few aces for handling overwhelming odds. The peak of these trump cards is essentially a summon attack, which you can use after collecting enough energy; in the demo, it let me call on Bahamut to rain doom upon a small area.

It reminds me a bit of Dawn of War 2 or Warcraft 3 in its hero unit focus, with a heavy tinge of Tactics Ogre on top. The art helps The DioField Chronicle feel very unique in its own right. Characters have a distinct and stylized 3D appearance, and maps have a diorama look that’s reminiscent of Triangle Strategy’s excellent level designs. Add in the interesting mix of magic and science at the heart of DioField‘s “Modern Magic,” and it’s a bit like Ivalice and Arcane‘s Piltover had a meeting of the minds.

Home away from the battlefield

Between missions, the player can return to a home base that will surface some Garreg Mach Monastery vibes for any Fire Emblem fans. Here, you can build up your base and improve your different stations, while also spending resources and points to empower the units under your command. Even early on in the skill tree, I was unlocking some cool new abilities or neat upgrades for existing ones.

It all has a good flow, making it easy to get lost in the rhythm of “just one more battle.” While the story has yet to really grab me compared to other options, I am enjoying the world itself; DioField‘s world feels like a powder keg waiting for a spark, and looking for where that will first start off is compelling enough at the moment.

Really, it’s the combat and base management loop that’s got me more eager for the final game. With each new battle, I’m discovering cool new ways to approach battles, and being forced to adapt in increasingly difficult situations. I’m interested to see if the arenas themselves add a few more strategic twists, but I’ve already seen a few defense maps and interactable hazards that have my hopes high.

The DioField Chronicle is a mixture of two genres, RTS and RPG, clicking together incredibly well. If nothing else, it promises to be a different and interesting experiment. It might have been easier to make this a turn-based tactics affair, but doing so would have robbed DioField of the things that make it worth checking out. We’ll see if the whole affair can come together on September 22.

Eric Van Allen