IGN Review of Rondo of Swords
If you interviewed a handful of self-proclaimed "hardcore gamers," we're sure you'd find that the majority of them all agree that games have long since lost their punishing edge. Sure, you get a few titles here and there that really push gamers, but for the most part the industry seems to have evolved beyond the "man vs. game" approach, and more towards the "man purchases game, and is thus entitled to 1,000 achievement points" view of gaming. Shame on you, industry. Atlus spits in your face.
Not every game needs to be a no-breaks stress fest, but every now and then we're down for a real challenge to keep our old school skill honed, and that's exactly what Rondo of Swords is. Taking more than a few notes from Fire Emblem, Atlus's latest turn-based strategy blends the oh-so-classic medieval era with a story of betrayal, war, and resurgence. The king is dead, a land is all but destroyed, and only a small merry band of soldiers can defend what's rightfully theirs.
The story goes deeper, but we'll spare you the details for a hopefully more interesting synopsis of what Rondo of Swords is really about, which is the battle system. Yes the game takes inspiration from Fire Emblem, and in that sense you'll certainly get a "more of the same" kind of feeling when you first boot the game, hear the somewhat generic musical tones, navigate the very basic menu systems, and find yourself face to face with a handful of nights, mages, and swordsmen. It's to be expected, as there are approximately 4.7 billion games set in the midlevel genre.
Go beyond that, however, and you'll find what we found, which is that Rondo of Swords has a really compelling gameplay hook to it. Rather than positioning troops alongside enemies and attacking in the classic strategy RPG style, you'll make use of the "Route Maneuver System" which has players attacking by running through enemies. We've touched on this before in our hands-on coverage, but the overall gist is that you can attack as many enemies as possible within your path, can run over allies to gain special boosts for stats that turn, or even stomp enemy attacks with blocking units that shove them back. It sounds simple, but when you get into the game and realize that every advancing move you make is potentially setting someone else up for a multi-hit counter, you think twice about moving units so carelessly. We're not sure if the RMS is really the way to go with all strategy games from here on out, but it's certainly a nice change of pace from the norm.
And while we're on the subject, Rondo of Swords is very, very punishing. From the very first moments of the game you'll be running for your life, fighting piles of enemies that vastly outnumber you in every way, and waging war on maps filled with baddies that you swear is unbeatable after a few trial and error attempts. Yes, the game is punishing in its difficulty, but it's also the first strategy RPG that's really made us think in a long, long time, and it's nice to worry every step of the way that you're being too sloppy, moving too fast, or wasting too much time on your attack. On the flipside, it's rewarding to finally smash defenses with true tactical prowess. Call us masochistic if you must, but the pain makes us feel alive; it really does.
We're a fan of the overall design, but it's also very apparent that – just like in thecase of difficulty – Rondo of Swords may not appeal to everyone. The errand system, for example, is very unconventional, allowing you to send characters off on quests and training missions to gain levels away from the main story, even bringing back spoils of war you wouldn't otherwise get. Something as simple as shopping is even a bit odd as well, requiring you to assign a "shopper" and send them to pick up items, allowing only for a few inventory slots to carry things back. It's got almost an Etrian Oddesy feel to it, if for no other reason than it's Atlus-made, and really niche feeling, but we're both interested personally, and worried that others won't be at the same time. Much like most other Atlus games, those that enjoy it will have a blast despite it's shortcomings, but there'll be a crowd out there that simply doesn't "get it" too.
That feeling of "undeniably niche" doesn't end with gameplay either. It's worth mentioning that Rondo of Swords isn't going to have the polish or visual appeal as some of the more impressive DS titles out there, and that may turn some players off. Along with the simple interface and storytelling (scrolling text and character portraits abound), the in-game animation is very simple, and there's nothing here that couldn't be done on GBA. That isn't to say the game looks bad by any means, but it does have a very simple style, and it's mostly centered around few-frame animations, key poses, and sliding characters. It isn't the "Fire Emblem Killer" experience, but it's a fun strategy game to sink some time into just the same. VO is also limited, but what's there certainly breaks up the monotony.
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