|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Success||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Atlus||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 15, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
a Standing Ovation
by Joseph Catalanotto
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.