This Rondo Deserves
a Standing Ovation
As much as I love strategy role-playing games (SRPGs), there is one rather fatal flaw with the genre that prevents me from enjoying a lot of these games: they’re all so similar. Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics have become the basic template from which most other SRPGs are created. Of course there are exceptions, but all too often SRPGs I try to enjoy are devoid of fun simply because I feel that I’ve already played them. But all this changes with the release of Rondo of Swords.
I’ll say it right now: Rondo of Swords is a great game and is a must-buy for any fan of SRPGs. What makes this game so great, and why am I recommending it so heartily? The answer is simple: because Rondo of Swords breaks the mold that so many other SRPGs follow and instead tries something very new, very different, and very fun. And thankfully, it all works quite well and ultimately allows for a deep, satisfying strategy experience on the Nintendo DS.
Rondo of Swords adds a lot of new ideas to the basic SRPG formula, but certainly the biggest innovation is the way in which moving and attacking have been dealt with. In most SRPGs, you move and then attack, using items or whatever else that specific character can do on that turn. In Rondo of Swords, however, this has been done away with, and moving and attacking are now combined into one action. That is, moving is attacking. On your turn, you tap on one of your characters to select them, and then draw a path for them through the map according to their movement allowance. The character will then move along the path you’ve given them, along the way attacking any foes that happen to be on that path.
I’m sure you can already see the incredible potential this game has for some really strategic battles. For one, placement of your units as you navigate the map becomes incredibly important. Spacing out your units makes them vulnerable to being ganged up on, but keeps them isolated and therefore reduces the risk to your other fighters. On the other hand, keeping units near each other allows them to support each other in battles and wipe out foes quickly. At the same time, though, you’ve got to keep in mind that when your troops are crowded together, it’s possible for the enemy to attack all of them on a single turn, potentially dealing some devastating damage. It’s also important to strategize with your movement points — is it better to attack two enemies and possibly kill them both or to just attack one and then move back into a more easily defendable position?
While this is the crux of the gameplay system in Rondo of Swords, the title also adds a lot of new content to the traditional SRPG formula. A number of new features keep the game fresh and fun. For example, the Momentum Counter awards units MC points for attacking and killing enemies. If given the choice between two units, the computer will almost always attack that with a higher MC value. It’s based on the concept that “the more you give, the more you get” — so if enemy soldiers are beating up on one of your characters, just get them out of the action and bring in some fresh, stronger soldiers. Having them get in on the combat will increaser their MC and draw attention toward them rather than your vulnerable unit. There’s also the Errand system, which allows you to send out characters to go on errands or quests and thereby gain experience and level-up on their own.
Aside from little innovations like this, however, Rondo of Swords shares a lot of basic features with such games as Fire Emblem. You select your soldiers and go out to battle (though there’s no map management, which is a slight disappointment). Each chapter has a specific goal, and goals often change throughout the course of the battle. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Rondo of Swords is unique in that the level design is actually quite good, and the environment in which you fight really dictates the strategy that you need to use. For example, some maps are huge, sprawling environments just teeming with enemies. Here, you’ll have to use hit-and-run tactics; however, in a small map with a number of choke points, it’s a better idea to rush the enemy head-on. While Rondo of Swords lacks some of the micromanaging aspects of Fire Emblem or Final Fantasy Tactics, it certainly makes up for that in terms of great gameplay.
That said, Rondo of Swords is not a game for the weak at heart, it’s really, really tough. And I mean it — it’s probably the hardest game I’ve played on the DS to date. Even in the first level, there are probably thirty or more enemies on the field. Oh, and your own army? A mere three soldiers. You’re forced to flee, and you’ve got to make sound tactical decisions to come out on top. As you progress, the game only becomes more difficult. You’ll be faced with massive groups of soldiers and be asked to wipe them out with your severely outnumbered group. The enemies are no pushovers, either — they’re often at higher levels than your own units ,, and they move and attack intelligently. It can make the game somewhat frustrating, however, as oftentimes the strategy needed to win is only found through trial and error. Still, this will be an appreciated aspect of the game by hardcore SRPG fans.
Holding this innovative gameplay mechanic together is a disappointingly weak plot. Serdic, the king of a peaceful nation, is killed during an enemy attack while attending his father’s funeral. A double for Serdic steps in for the deceased prince and leads a small band of soldiers on the offensive against the attacking country. In traditional RPG fashion, there are tons of groups and factions and alliances and individual characters, and keeping track of them all can be a bit confusing at first. Still, the plot itself is fairly predictable and the writing lacks much life or originality.
Visually, the game is actually pretty interesting — screenshots just can’t do this title justice. There’s certainly a very distinct art style in this game, and chances are you’ll either love it or hate it. There are character portraits a la Fire Emblem, and the combat animation actually shows your characters — far preferable to seeing boring, repetitive character models copied and pasted. Still, these animations will get a bit boring after a while — luckily, the developers have included the ability to skip over the scenes and just see the outcome.
Rondo of Swords is a really excellent SRPG and probably the best game of the genre on the DS to date. Admittedly, it’s certainly not for everybody; in fact, this game is clearly geared toward hardcore gamers. It’s not a good introduction to the genre for casual gamers, thanks largely to its huge variety of gameplay implementations and its really punishing difficulty. Still, if you’re looking for a fun, innovative, and rewarding DS title, then Rondo of Swords should not be missed.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.9 Graphics
Very stylized character images and engaging battle animations — still, they’ll become monotonous after a while, and you’ll just end up skipping them. 4.1 Control
You can use a traditional button configuration, but drawing out paths and tapping out commands for your soldiers works really well. 3.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Fairly basic “epic” music — it’s certainly fitting for the premise and plot of the game, but at the same time it’s nothing very new or exciting. 4.7
A deep, rewarding, and challenging battle system coupled with multiple endings and tons of different characters ensures that you’ll be enjoying this one for a long time.
4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.