Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rondo of Swords: First Impressions

I am suffering a bit of Persona 3 FES burnout, so I have been playing a few other games lately. One of these is a game I just bought: Rondo of Swords, an unusual tactical RPG for the DS. I have only cleared the tutorials and first mission, so I am not sure how good the game is yet, but there are two things I can say about it: the first chapter and tutorials are hard, and the interface is severely lacking.

It is rather unusual for me to fail the first mission of a strategy game three times before I succeed (and even when I succeeded I lost a character, which may make the next mission even harder while I wait for him to recover). It is even stranger to have had to retry a few of the tutorial missions a few times because I kept failing them. Partly, this is because the game pretty much just throws you into the system head-first without a lot of direct guidance. Even some of the things they explained were a little... vague (how does facing matter, exactly?). Another problem is that the first mission involves a group of enemies far beyond your level chasing you down a street, so if your units get hurt by the weaker enemies along the way they can't take the time to heal (since you can't both move and use an item in the same turn). I think it was a mistake to add that kind of difficult complication into the very first mission, when the player is still trying to figure out the unusual and creative game mechanics.

Even more problematic the very large number of clear flaws in the game interface, ranging from minor annoyances to crippling omissions. Since there are so many, I may as well make a list.

1) It takes too many button presses or stylus taps in order to get anything done. In order to just open a characters status screen, you need to double-tap the character, tap the menu that shows up in order to get a cursor to appear (which is really unnecessary), and then tap (or was it double-tap?) the "info" choice. It is jut as annoying trying to cancel out of a selection, too. Far too often I try to select a character in order to look at their status or make them move, only to find that I accidentally left something selected elsewhere and need to go back and cancel out of that in order to do what I want.

2) The skill menu in the status screen doesn't do enough to separate the different kinds of skills. Passive, active, and support skills are all used in different ways and apply to different situations, but there is no way to quickly look at the skill list and see what is what. Magic skills are differentiated nicely with a different color, but nothing else is given that treatment. This is particularly a problem when examining an enemy's skill list.

3) Information about many skills and accessories is terribly imprecise. A skill may say something like "increases critical hit rate", but will not say how much it does so. This actually came to bite me when I tried using some of my characters' support skills in the first battle. I took a risk in order to benefit from Kay's "restores HP" support skill, but it ended up being a meager 5% heal that hardly helped at all. I would have used a more-powerful healing item instead if I knew that the support skill was so weak (in fact, this confusion eventually made me fail the mission the first time).

4) There is no way to check the attack range of bows and spells, either for the player's units or enemies. You can only see these ranges when actually launching the attack. In the case of multi-target spells and abilities (like the hero's Brave Ray or the line ice spell from the Tutorial), the limited interface actually makes it impossible to know the full range even after you have used it. You can't scroll the screen or look at a wider view while using some of those moves, even though their area of effect extends past the edge of the screen, so it is hard to know if you will hit some enemies or even strike an ally with such a move. This lack of information can be crippling when it comes to figuring out tactics and positioning, so this is a major oversight.

5) As mentioned above, it is impossible to go to a wide-area view when it is necessary. You can only see a wide area view when you have nothing selected, the one time where it is completely unnecessary. What is more, the wide-area view does not display movement areas or attack ranges, and you can't even scroll it directly (you cancel wide-area view if you try, so you must scroll in normal view until you get where you want to use wide-area view). Wide-area view could have been very useful in examining attack ranges (since many units can move further than the screen displays), but it is pretty much pointless as-is.

6) Unlike pretty much every other good tactical RPG out there, Rondo of Swords doesn't tell me what I am getting into before (or even after) I launch an attack. I don't know important things like hit rate, damage, critical hit rate, counter-attack rate (a really important one in this game!), or anything else. It feels like every attack is a total shot in the dark.

7) In fact, I don't even really know what my characters' own base chances of hitting or launching a critical hit are, or even the relative damage potential of different spells.

Maybe I have been spoiled by the kind of great interfaces seen in other tactical RPGs, like Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, or even Super Robot Wars, but the interface in this game is severely disappointing. Interface should be the last thing I should be criticizing in a game, but here it is extremely glaring. A bad interface leaves a bad first impression, so this hasn't been a great start.

No comments: