Rondo of Swords
Nintendo DS
Reviewed: 05/03/2008

“Nothin’ like a hard day’s work” my grandfather believed, along with so many others. Trite but true, it’s usually more rewarding to indulge in victory after pushing your abilities to the limit. This principle, along with the gameplay’s fresh feel, is what makes Rondo of Swords so fun, and it’s a lot less unhealthy than working in a coal mine to boot.

Developed by Success, the makers of RPGs such as Metal Saga and Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, Rondo of Swords is a strategy RPG set in medieval times. The game’s hero, Serdic, assumes the identity of the Crown Prince of Bretwalde in a very Prince-and-the-Pauper-like fashion after the true prince is killed when the Grand Meir Empire invades his country. Narrowly escaping the Empire’s onslaught on the capital city, Serdic and his allies begin a journey to remove a curse from the Holy Blade so he can become the new king of Bretwalde, and battle the Empire and other foes in the process.

Taking center stage is the game’s unique battle system. The game employs the “Route Maneuver System,” which means that instead of stopping beside enemy units to attack them, melee units must actually move through enemies to attack. This one small, simple alteration to the SRPG forumula changes the dynamic of the game almost entirely. Player characters and enemies alike can move through multiple enemies at once, requiring a type of strategic thinking that can’t be duplicated by more “traditional” SRPGs.

Screen Shot
Kay gettin’ ready to own some poor sucka

But there are still types of units that behave somewhat more traditionally. Ranged attackers and magic users, for example, can’t attack units by moving through them; they use menu-based methods that should seem more familiar. Though they can, like every other unit, pass through ally units to heal themselves or gain stat-boosting effects.

But the battle system is not without flaws and annoyances. While it’s usually only equipped on enemies that are stronger-looking, some enemies come with a passive ability that prevents player characters from passing through them, which usually causes the character to stop in an unintended spot, possibly screwing up an entire strategy and leaving the character in dangerous waters. The only way to tell for sure if an enemy has this ability is to go into the menu and check their status, but this gets redundant and annoying over time, especially on stages with a lot of enemies.

Slightly less annoying is the inability to check the range of ranged attackers. Additionally, different types of ranged attackers have different ranges, so it’s difficult to remember that a certain enemy unit has a certain amount of range, and another unit has a different amount of range.

All in all, battles are fun and rewarding, a breath of fresh air in the SRPG genre. But they’re also hard. Very hard. Rondo of Swords is definitely not for those who expect to have their hands held. Normally, enemies vastly outnumber player characters, magic users usually die in one hit, and one mistake can sometimes spell doom for the entire party (or at least heavily tip the odds). Depending on the player’s preferences, the game’s difficulty is either a good or a bad thing.

Screen Shot
Serdic laying down the law.

Storywise, things move quickly. After a stage is completed, players will view new pieces of the story via text that crawls (often too quickly) down the screen, and a short bit of dialogue between characters before they must prepare for the next battle.

Preparing the troops, for the most part, involves elements that aren’t unusual for strategy RPGs. Like in many other games before it, players will find themselves spending a lot of time flipping though menus and tinkering with equipment, abilities, and items; sending characters on quests; and shopping in between battles. The shopping system, though, isn’t as run-of-the-mill. Instead of being able to choose from a list of items to purchase, players must input what type of item they want to buy, the amount of money they want to spend, and character they want to go shopping, and pray that the character doesn’t get ripped off or come back with underwhelming items.

Speaking of underwhelming, most of the game’s graphics could probably be replicated by the GBA. Animations are very simple, and there isn’t much variety in enemy sprites; players should expect to see some of the same sprites in battle 25 that they saw in battle 1.

But regardless of the game’s flaws, the game’s focal point, the gameplay, is fun, and more importantly, fresh. While not an amazing outing, Rondo of Swords is a breath of fresh air, and fans of SRPGs probably won’t regret the purchase.

-Phillip A. Clayton

Score Breakdown
Very Good
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Very Good
Story Average
Graphics Below Average
Sound/Music Good
Replay Value Very Good
The Verdict: 7