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Monday, August 29, 2022

Symphony of War: the Nephilim Saga

Indie turn-based strategy RPGs that draws cues from other genre juggernauts are relatively common in the modern era of gaming, and Symphony of War is the genre debut of one Dancing Dragon Games.  But does it deserve to hang with the games it's inspired by, or is this one Saga you can safely avoid?

Dancing Dragon Games was a studio I hadn't heard of before this game, but they've been around for a fair while, producing a fair number of RPG Maker content packs as well as several games made in the engine, most of which have gotten quite strong reviews on Steam.  Symphony of War appears to use the same engine (or at the least, a very similar graphical style in its spritework and backgrounds), though its gameplay is drastically changed up, melding together elements of several established strategy RPGs together in surprisingly successful fashion.

Similar to games like Fire Emblem and Dark Wizard, you deploy and command units, slowly advancing across a map and engaging enemies in battle, capturing resources as you go (used to upgrade classes between battles) and attempting to win the battle by overtaking the enemy's fortress.  Certain terrain types can grant advantages - archers that position themselves atop fortress walls or hills will get a bonus to range, while all will be harder to hit from afar when fighting in the woods or in a base.  Roads grant a movement bonus, while rough terrain will be much slower to traverse for all but lightly-armored ones.

Unlike those games, however, you're not moving individual characters, but Squads consisting of up to nine units each.  Similar to Ogre Battle, you position them on a 3x3 grid (or on lines between each grid space), with characters in front protecting units behind them during a clash, and each unit's actions during a clash changing depending on where they're positioned - melee fighters are only useful in the front row, obviously, while a mage class can hit all units for reduced damage from the middle column or full damage to an entire row from the back.  You'll obviously also have to change up your tactics for some squads - Assassins and Rogues are relatively fragile, but can do Stealth attacks (hitting the back row instead of the front) if they attack on your turn, while Gunners do heavy, armor-piercing damage but cannot counterattack at all and die relatively quickly to melee attacks.  The number of units you can have in a Squad at a time is determined by the leader's Leadership (LDR) stat, which goes up as you gain levels.  Units typically cost 10 Capacity each, though some traits can increase or decrease capacity cost.  A common one is "Mercenary", seen on most higher-end purchasable characters -- expensive, powerful, but they have a +2 to their Capacity cost if they're not a Squad leader.  Equipping items grants bonuses to all characters in the Squad, but will also result in a penalty to Capacity that increases depending on their power.

Individual units also change up depending on their elemental affinities and Traits.  Affinities change up a character's stat growth in a number of ways - Earth characters will have more HP, but lower Skill, while Dark characters will have much higher Strength and Magic damage but significant penalties to Loyalty, Leadership and HP.  Traits can also change up your squad's composition and strategy in a number of ways, with a particularly powerful one being "Captain" - reducing the Capacity cost of all units of a particular type for that Squad.  Most of these are fixed at creation or depending on player class, though every unit also gets at least one empty Trait slot you can customize with items.  Various team-wide upgrades also exist in the form of the "Tech Tree", which will help you get more mileage out of all of your units by spending Tech Points, which in turn are earned by gaining Faction Rank - getting high scores in battles and completing optional objectives within them.  

Similar to Fire Emblem, Symphony of War puts heavy focus on its story and characters, with dialog unfolding mid-battle and through cutscenes to tell its story.  Characters can also converse between battles, revealing more about themselves and showing more personal interactions, as well as granting Faction Experience and giving bonuses when their squads fight together during combat.  Classes can also be upgraded as the game progresses through a combination of collected resources and Class Points, gaining more abilities and more powerful as they go; sadly, though, most plot-related characters are fixed in their class and so remain relatively static throughout the game, though they're more than powerful enough to make up for this disadvantage (maybe a bit too much - squads of generic units are pretty underpowered in comparison to ones led by a story character).

As you can see, Symphony of War: the Nephilim Saga proves to be another high quality indie experience.  With a surprising amount of polish in its design and surprisingly deep mechanics (trust me, I've barely scratched the surface of most of its intricacies), it's a game that has a lot to offer, but surprisingly never feels overwhelming.  The game is quite generous with tutorials throughout, and if you ever need a refresher, you can check the camp menu for a list of all the tutorials you've seen and a rundown of every unit you've encountered so far in the game to let you plan out how you assemble your Squads.  It's not the most impressive game on a presentation level - its limited animation and just-alright sound design certainly won't win too many awards - but the passion shines through in its engrossing gameplay and strong writing.  Fans of turn-based tactical RPGs will have a lot to like in this one.

Developer: Dancing Dragon Games
Publisher: Dancing Dragon Games
Platform: PC
Released: 2022
Recommended Version:  N/A