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The DioField Chronicle’s main cast of characters, Andrias, Fredret, Iscarion, and Waltaquin, in the game’s stylized cover art

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Square Enix’s The DioField Chronicle is 2022’s sleeper RPG hit

Square Enix’s experimental year continues

Image: Lancarse/Square Enix
Mike Mahardy leads game criticism and curation at Polygon as senior editor, reviews. He has been covering entertainment professionally for more than 10 years.

Some friends and I have a saying about video games: “Less talk-y, more do-y.” It’s an extremely broad (and sometimes refutable) criticism aimed at the fact that, more often than not, video games are better when they let their gameplay speak for them. The DioField Chronicle is the latest champion of this sentiment.

Released last week, The DioField Chronicle is yet another in Square Enix’s wealth of 2022 releases. Billed as a tactical RPG, it eschews the turn-based grid combat of a Fire Emblem, XCOM, or Final Fantasy Tactics, opting instead for real-time battles on freeform maps. As Oli Welsh pointed out in August, it plays sort of like a MOBA. My own playthrough unfolded like an A-Team training montage as I swapped between party members, activating their respective special abilities while those of their teammates cooled down.

I fully expect DioField to go down as one of 2022’s “hidden gems,” and that’s OK. It’s not the boldest tactical RPG, and it’s not trying to be. Its dialogue is sparse, its plot points contrived, and any semblance of emotional gravitas is thrown out the window in favor of shoving me toward the next battle with a surprise horde of zombies. And herein lies DioField’s greatest strength: It gets to the point.

Andrias, Fredret, Iscarion, and Waltaquin battle two boss-type enemies in the snow in The DioField Chronicle Image: Lancarse/Square Enix

In March, I wrote about my disappointment with Triangle Strategy, a game that could have been truly great if it had only gotten out of its own way. Its turn-based battles and base-building strategy systems were excellent, and they led to some fantastic emergent storytelling. But they were separated by monotonous, overwrought cutscenes about political subterfuge and geopolitical strife, some of which took longer than 20 minutes to finish. By the time each exploration or combat scenario rolled around, I was too frustrated to truly enjoy them — no matter how compelling these interactive sections actually were. There’s a wonderful, hypothetical version of Triangle Strategy that relies on its gameplay to propel its narrative forward, but alas, this was not that game.

DioField, on the other hand, tossed me into combat mere moments after I left the start menu, as I defended a toppled carriage from a bandit ambush. The carriage’s passenger, an important member of a nearby mercenary group, was so impressed by my skills that she immediately invited me to join their ranks. I arrived at the company’s base, the timeline jumped several months, and I was soon buying new weapons, upgrading my skills, unlocking new characters, and planning for the next battle before jumping into the fight. This rhythmic pace repeated for the next 15 hours. There were volcanoes, weaponized meteor showers, and giant wolves. And the zombies. We can’t forget the zombies.

I don’t remember… well, any of DioField’s major plot points — but I don’t care. It’s refreshing to play a game that understands its strengths (entrancing tactical combat, flashy character abilities, and a streamlined yet flexible progression system) and doesn’t strain to be the next Iliad. “Show, don’t tell” is one of the oldest maxims in storytelling, and video games are particularly well suited to practice it. But it’s still an altogether rare occasion when that actually happens. The DioField Chronicle is a “do-y” game, as my friends would say. What it lacks in literary ambition, it more than makes up for in brevity, energy, and forward momentum.

The DioField Chronicle was released on Sept. 20 on Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch. The game was played on Switch using a pre-release download code provided by Square Enix. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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