Rondo of Swords
Goodness, where to start. Before Rondo of Swords launched, I was very excited about the new battle system. When I got it in my hands and loaded up my DS I thought I was experiencing the first major step forward for strategy gaming. But like pancakes, this game wore out its welcome long before it was done. It’s sad that a game with so much promise forgot what made strategy gaming so fun: the strategy. While there is fun to be had it is hidden so deep in this title that most will not want to find it.
First things first. Rondo of Swords is not a typical strategy role playing game. It has one major change, the battle system. As battles begin, you get a small snippet of generic story and your characters are placed by the game (none of that pesky strategy in troop placement here). Once the story runs its course you begin taking turns. On your turn you will move each of your characters in an attempt to kill the other guys. Contrary to other SRPGs, moving and attacking are not separate actions, they are one in the same. At first this new mechanic is amazing. Your virtual killing-machine runs through anyone in his path, hacking and slashing until he arrives at his destination, leaving behind a wake of death and destruction. Battle scenes are shown, much like anime (Samurai Champloo and the like), with units running through enemies with no show of pain until your onslaught is finished. Amazing, right? Well, for a little while, yes, but after some time the new car smell starts to turn sour. Melee characters do well in this game as you can sit back, let the lackluster AI line up, then cut through the masses.
Izuna: The Employed NinjaIzuna, another Atlus character makes a cameo in RoS. You may know her from another Success DS title, Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja. Go here to find out more about the game on Wikipedia.Rondo of Swords does address the wily-nilly nature of just running through people by incorporating something called Z.O.C. or zone of control. Z.O.C. is a skill that your heavier units can learn that will stop attackers in their tracks, not allowing your opponents to finish their moves. When I first learned about this, a world of possibilities opened up to me. With six people allowed on the field at once I can take three Z.O.C. equipped troops and three ranged troops and slowly move through battles strategically. Yet again, developers Success fail here and mucks up any strategy to be had. Z.O.C. works fine on paper, but in practice it is a mess. As an enemy unit attacks a unit with Z.O.C. equipped, it is stopped and sent to the nearest empty square. Often, that nearest square is behind your front line and right between the mages and healers. This of course negates the need for strategy.
For the fans of mages, don’t expect to enjoy them here. This is another place where strategy suffers. Most mages in the game move four or five spaces as opposed to melee and archer units who average seven to nine spaces. The limited movement should not be a big deal since mages, in general, are ranged units. Here is where Success really lost their way. Mages can not move and cast, they can do one or the other, but archers can do both allowing them to hit enemies up to fifteen squares away, while mages can hit enemies a maximum of six squares away. So now, Mr. Strategy Gamer, sir, you have mages that must move to a spot, hope the computer either doesn’t move or moves into your range so you can blast them next turn (for the same damage a melee or archer unit can do) or leave mages at home while the big boys do the talking (ie: anyone but mages). Because of these unfair disadvantages mages become useless.
Outside of battle there is a lot to do, though it feels like you have little control. Any unit not going out to war will have the option to either shop, train, or quest. While these work well on their own, you have little control over any of these options. Each character will have different strengths and weaknesses (naturally and skill based) when it comes to out-of-combat actions. When going to shop, you will choose to either buy or sell but not both. The amount of items you can buy or sell will depend on the character. It’s a good idea, but feels a little too hands off. The option to train is nice, allowing you to focus a characters training on certain stats for bigger gains or on all stats for smaller gains. This is a great option for the characters that you choose not to bring to battle. Allowing such units to miss multiple battles but still be strong enough to jump into the fray. The last option for the guys you bench is questing. Questing feels just like shopping in that it is automated and random. Some quests offer rewards, but depending on the success of the quest you may get less items than you expected or, no items at all.
The storyline is similar to a Jay and Silent Bob film: easy to follow and entertaining, but it won’t force you to think or care. I can’t say that I expected more than filler to get me from one fight to another, so this is neither a negative or positive, but with gameplay so weak it would have helped this title out a great deal to have a strong narrative. The characters are generic to a fault: a ladies’ man, a confused but righteous main character, and a shy healer girl are all generic and honestly all cannon fodder. You won’t care to keep them alive through each battle as they come right back after. Serdic, the main character, is the only one you will care for since his death is normally the condition for defeat.
As negative as this review has been, there is some fun to be had in Rondo, it’s just hard to put a finger on why. The battles move quickly and if you have the mind set of this being far from a strategy game, most of what I have said won’t really matter. With average graphics, adequate story, standard music and decent battles you truly end up with an average, run-of-the-mill game. Is it worth its selling price? That comes down to how bored you are. As much as I disliked this game, I still enjoyed some of the time with it. The groundwork that was set here can easily be tweaked for a truly fantastic new series, one I hope will make a second go at it.