Tactical, turn-based RPGs have had a great run recently with games like Triangle Strategy, Fire Emblem Engage, Tactics Ogre Reborn, Disgaea 7, and many more. Sword of Convallaria is a totally new IP in the space from XD, an up and coming free-to-play game developer previously known for Torchlight Infinite and Flash Party. Gacha and tactics aren’t a new combination, but XD plans to stand out with high production values and a modular storytelling gimmick that gives players multiple ways to play without opening their wallets.
A demo for Sword of Convallaria has been released this week for Steam Next Fest, and I got the opportunity to give it a whirl ahead of time. The demo offers chunks of two main gameplay modes out of an ostensible three. The two modes I played are quite different structurally, but neither one really feels like a “main” mode, with the central theme weaving the two together in a sort of metatextual sense.
Tactics in time
The Fool’s Journey is where we started, and that mode seems to be the primary “gacha” mode. This part more closely resembles the typical mobile game structure, with character draws and individual stages on a linear path. And of course each stage has star ratings associated with smaller goals, and filling all those out leads to more rewards and various currencies to grind. It’s the usual stuff. But the story is interesting, mostly because of how dour it is. Things can and will go very, very wrong for the characters you meet. And that ties into the second mode!
Spiral of Destinies unlocks after you play a few stages in The Fool’s Journey, and it has a strange vibe. It’s one part “what if?” and two parts “this seems like the ‘real’ game.” After things go poorly in the other mode, your protagonist is given a way to make things right. But it’s really unstable and involves all kinds of branching paths and external variables. There’s only so much you can play around with in the demo, but you can see the potential if you poke around the menus.
Basically, Spiral of Destinies seems to take in a lot of the information you encounter in the gacha mode, then spits it all out in the form of something that resembles a more traditional, console-style experience. You recruit characters in a tavern with in-game currency for example, and train them in facilities on your base instead of with duplicate draws. The only catch is entering Spiral of Destinies requires a bespoke currency, so in the full game you might have to face some grinding to get access to different story routes. But it’s hard to tell in demo form since so much is left intentionally vague or locked off.
Systems aside, Spiral of Destinies also has a time-based structure in which you have to manage your troops’ fatigue levels, send individuals out on off-screen expeditions, take on side missions, and grind out sub-systems like research or extra training. It’s hard to tell if the time structure is tied to anything like a failure state, or if it’s simply window-dressing to flavor progress. But it stands out for a free-to-play game, which usually don’t aim for this level of complexity.
Beyond the structure, Sword of Convallaria is coming in with guns blazing, utilizing music from Final Fantasy Tactics and Valkyria Chronicles veteran Hitoshi Sakimoto, high-fidelity pixel visuals, and tons of voice acting. The combat itself is also carefully designed, taking familiar UI elements but fine-tuning them for touch-based controls. So you still get your grids, but you can simply drag your characters around and the game will handle the finer details like orientation for you.
It's stompin' time
While it isn’t as complex as Triangle Strategy, Convallaria does have some tricks up its sleeve. In particular there’s a big emphasis on knockback, which can lead to some pretty amusing planned and unplanned scenarios. For example you can kick a boulder down a slope to take out unsuspecting enemies, or kick an enemy itself into an exploding barrel or literally off the edge of the map. The latter is especially hilarious since these maps are traditional floating boards with unnatural edges, so kayfabing those edges as bottomless voids rules.
For now, I have more questions than I expected after playing Sword of Convallaria’s Steam Next Fest demo. What’s the third gameplay mode that’s totally locked off? What happens if I make poor decisions in Spiral of Destinies? Will I get stuck in The Fool’s Journey if I don’t pay real money for keys? How bad are the gacha pull rates versus the flow of free currencies? Is the dialogue AI-translated or just a little rough and still in progress? Hopefully all these and more will become clear as we get closer to launch.
Sword of Convallaria is targeting a 2024 launch for PC and mobile. A code for the game’s Steam Next Fest demo was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this preview. The demo is available from February 5 to 12, 2024.