Broken But Not Beaten
If you're unfamiliar with the game and on the lookout for another fun SRPG, Rondo of Swords has something quite unique to offer. Rather than simply moving your characters alongside enemies to attack, Rondo uses a pass-through system. Basically, you choose a path through enemies, and once you have your path mapped out, your character runs along it, either attacking enemies in the path or gaining status effects from allies in the path. It's a really cool gameplay mechanic that is both strategic and fun.
Rondo also lets you send out party members on separate errands, such as quests, training, and shopping runs. These errands are executed in the background while your main party takes on whatever mission is lined up next.
To my disappointment, Rondo of Swords hits many snags along the way. There's no mini map for mission maps, so you're forced to scroll around entire maps each time you want to survey the battlefield. Additionally, the tutorials are separate from the main game, making the entire experience feel somewhat disjointed.
Rondo's main offenses, however, are in its unfair difficulty and broken A.I. I like hard games, don't get me wrong. I hate to beat this drum so often, but I've played the heck out of Demon's Souls, so I know a fair challenge when I see one. Rondo of Swords isn't fair. The opposition is overpowered – end of story.
But even the difficulty is something I would be willing to work around if the ranged A.I. wasn't so utterly busted. See, whereas melee units can be agroed into engaging your characters without necessarily passing through them with an attack, the agro area for ranged units is farther than the move distance. This means, you can't agro them without allowing them an opportunity to hit you on their next turn, and they're always too far away to attack before agroing them. Additionally, magic units can only either attack or move but cannot do both in a single turn. It's an impossible situation that breaks a player's ability to form effective strategies.
If you manage to wrap your head around Rondo's gameplay concepts – which isn't difficult to do – you'll likely fall in love with the game like I did. However, you'll also likely put the game down in frustration after delving a bit deeper. I kept coming back to Rondo of Swords because the battle system is just so addictive, but I truly hope Success (the game's developer) someday offers a follow up that fixes this game's obvious problems.
One thing that was never an issue was the presentation. It's a beautiful, little 2D game, and the attack sequences are particularly stunning to look at, with tons of great variety and detail. The voice blurbs get a tad repetitive, but on the whole, the aural elements are equally entertaining. The story and pacing are almost complete clones of the Fire Emblem style, and though the dialogue is often less serious, Rondo still has an enjoyable plot to follow.
If you love strategy gameplay and want something that is refreshingly different, give Rondo of Swords a look. Keep in mind, though, the game is kind of broken. It's pretty to look at and has potential to be one of the most entertaining SRPGs around, but the imbalance and faulty A.I. make it more of a great start than a great finish.