Dancing Dragon Games, whose previous titles include a handful of games created in RPG Maker, is taking everything up a step with their upcoming Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga. The game looks and feels like a classic Fire Emblem title, but has a unique twist on the famous grid-based combat system that makes Symphony of War stand out. The demo, available as part of Steam Next Fest, features the first three chapters of the campaign as well as an advanced siege battle to show off some late-game goodness.
After a succession crisis leaves the Empire of Veridia recovering from a civil war, a prominent general goes rogue and abducts the reigning Empress Florina. After Lindly, a recent graduate from the imperial military academy, distinguishes themself during the campaign to rescue the empress, they’re pulled into political machinations that threaten to plunge the entire world into war. As Lindly (whose gender expression is chosen at the beginning of the campaign), the player will recruit soldiers and foster the relationships between them to create their own customized army.
Longtime Fire Emblem players will see the similarities in Symphony of War right away, with a dash of Ogre Battle thrown in as well. Each character leads a unit across blocky maps full of forest, hills, rivers, bridges, and towns to seize. Characters can move once, then perform one action in each round. Attacking an enemy unit allows them to counterattack, provided they have the range to do so, although Symphony of War seems to favor attacking units more than Fire Emblem. This is fine by me, as there are few things worse than watching a character at full health attack a nameless soldier only to miss then die to a critical hit.
Units are more durable overall, with the possible exception of healers, mages, and other traditionally squishy classes. This makes the game’s strategy a little more about presenting a strong front and winning attrition battles than about trying to find the unit matchups that will give instant kills. The system works very well with Symphony of War’s unit customization, which requires players to build squads around their heroes.
Recruited soldiers are assigned to squads, with one character (usually one of the storyline’s primary figures) acting as squad leader. The composition of a squad will determine its performance in battle. The demo has only limited classes available but in general heavy infantry tanks for weaker units in their squad. Archers and gunners provide ranged capability, and mages fire powerful blasts that target all members of the opposing squad. Cavalry are best grouped together to maximize the benefits of their increased movement and charge bonuses, and healers keep their fellow soldiers in the fight. Players can design squads however they like, and finding new combinations of classes looks to be one of the game’s biggest selling points.
Beyond the characters who join LIndly as part of the main storyline, players can recruit new soldiers from their base. These conscripts, volunteers, and mercenaries use the traditional green-blue-purple rarity system, with rarer soldiers starting at higher levels and providing their own equipment – assuming, of course, the player can afford their services. Players who prefer to train up their soldiers from scratch will find no shortage of commoners to hand a sword and point toward the enemy. The game does not use permadeath, so it’s okay to be a little more cavalier with your units during battles – anyone who falls will be back in action for the next chapter. You can even revive them mid-battle at a temple if you find one on the map and take control of it.
Symphony of War gives the player more options for campaign management than the Fire Emblem games, as well. In addition to gold and gear, you’ll also find resources and materials on your journey. Taking the time to seize an iron mine on a combat map will, for example, yield metal that you can use for crafting. The game even has an honest-to-goodness tech tree that allows you to reduce costs, unlock new combat abilities, and start new recruits at higher levels with more advanced abilities. Fielding the army you want will require the right resources and technology – you’ll have a hard time training cavalry without horses, after all.
The game uses a morale system, granting advantage when fighting against units whose courage is failing. Soldiers can even surrender if their morale drops low enough, removing the need to spend turns finishing off a weakened squad. Defenseless healers in particular are prone to surrendering if their protection is removed.
Graphics & Sound
Symphony of War‘s sound design has all the heroic flair you would expect from this kind of TRPG. Towns are peaceful while battles are desperate affairs. The music swells courageously at the beginning of the player’s turn and becomes threatening as the enemy moves their units.
In its current state, the game is overall nice to look at but visually inconsistent. The sprite animations during side-view engagements are top-notch, and the high-tier units teased in the demo siege battle are a sign of good things to come when the game launches. Outside of combat, though, things get a little rougher around the edges.
The game shifts to a different sprite set during off-the-field dialogue scenes which gives a closer view of individual characters but is a little jarring at first. More than that, the characters’ face models in the dialogue boxes don’t seem to fit with the rest of the game’s pixelated aesthetic which causes them to look out-of-place. They also seem to be stretched from a smaller image, leading to jagged edges where the face meets the dialogue box’s background. The game is, of course, a work-in-progress so this is unlikely to be the case in the final version.
Graphical nitpicking aside, the Next Fest demo of Symphony of War shows a game with tons of promise. It constitutes a wholesale improvement on the Fire Emblem battle formula while keeping the tried-and-true feel of the gameplay. The campaign-management mechanics are a very exciting prospect and the demo could stand to give them a little more time in the limelight but at the end of the day that just gives players more to look forward to in the full version. Only the very beginnings of the story are present so we don’t yet have a clear view of the long-term arc, but if Dancing Dragon can nail character development and storytelling as exceptionally as they have the battle system they could have something really special to share with the world.
If you like Fire Emblem this is absolutely a game you’ll want to check out, especially if you miss the old days of the GBA titles. If you like tactical games but don’t like Fire Emblem, Symphony of War eliminates many of its predecessor’s most frustrating elements so it could be the TRPG you’ve been waiting for all these years. Either way, once a release date is formally announced be sure to mark your calendars – Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga is a title you won’t want to miss.