First and foremost, Rondo of Swords is not a game for everyone. Though its assortment of difficult missions shares similarities to the likes of Fire Emblem, Rondo of Swords does things in such an ambiguous and vague way that leaves you to figure them out on your own. Sometimes it's a good thing, and sometimes it's a bad thing; in the case of Rondo of Swords, its more of a mixed bag that varies on just how much time you invest in it and how willing you are to figure out how things work. Think of it as a seasoned SRPG fan's kind of game where everything you've learned about the genre is put to the test with new elements mixed in to throw you off and intentionally piss you off. I will admit that the game's uniqueness is what makes it stand out from other games in the genre, but this uniqueness is also what ends up hurting it simply because of how challenging the game can really be.
One of the biggest achievements of Rondo of Swords is the ability to attack multiple enemies in a path you create with the stylus or the d-pad. Typically in SRPGs, you had to go up to the enemy and attack, resulting in a turn being wasted. In Rondo of Swords, the game uses what it calls the "Route Maneuver System" to allow the player to go through a barrage of enemies in a path you draw out on the field and attack the multitude of enemies that are on the path. Such a feature in a SRPG not only feels like it should have been part of the genre for a good while, but it also makes the task of defeating tons of enemies on the field a whole lot easier and rewarding. Enemies also have the same ability as you do to attack multiple party members in a path they create; but if one of your character's wards off the enemy's attack, the enemy returns to his previous position and takes damage. The same can also be said of your characters whose attacks are warded by the enemy.
In a sense, the Route Maneuver System completely breaks away from typical SRPG battle conventions because it does away with prompts necessary to execute an attack and instead does things with the simple drawing of a path. The angle in which you attack enemies doesn't add any increased damage to the enemy and vice versa, and the Route Maneuver System actually adds more strategy to how battles are approached. The reason I say this is because of there is always a huge amount of enemies that will appear on the map of any given mission; and though the mission objectives may seem easy to achieve, they really end up being complicated and leaving you to your own. An example of this can be found in the very first mission where the objective is to escape from the pursuers after Serdic and his companions. After reaching the first flee point, enemies appear further down below and cause you to escape via another route where there are a ton of soldiers waiting for you. That, of course, can be seen as the real distinguishing feature in Rondo of Swords. The fact that there are plenty of enemies out to get you and your limited party serves as more than enough motivation to effectively plan out a strategy that benefits you greatly. You can even pass through party members and earn some nice temporary stat boosts and HP healing.
Battle complications can be a bit easier when making use of the Errand System and learning new skills. Through the use of the Errand System, party members are able to go on a quest for loot, train themselves to become strong in all areas or certain areas, go shopping for items, and even endure a trial to advance to the next job level. The consequence, of course, is the fact that party members who are on an errand will not be available to take part in the upcoming battle and instead will be available when the next battle begins; and the party member you send to go shopping only brings back a limited supply of items due to how small the inventory box is. The ability to let your party members train makes it a nice alternative to leveling them up in tough missions due mostly to their weakness or limited movement range; and since your characters each have their own unique set of skills to learn, training them ends up benefiting you quite well. Even restarting the mission in question benefits you greatly when leveling up your characters because the game does not take away any earned EXP and level ups acquired in that mission prior to restarting. Rather, it all carries over and lets your stats remain as is. It's a bit odd to completely restart the mission to continue leveling up, but I guess that's where the term rondo fits in with the title of the game.
As challenging a title it may be, Rondo of Swords is not without its problems. Even though the game takes a while to learn, the game requires too much attention to detail that may end up making you lose interest in the game if attention to detail isn't your kind of thing. The game doesn't hold your hand when it comes to understanding its mechanics, instead throwing you into the lion's den and leaving you to fend for yourself and make sense of what's going on around you. The biggest "problem" of all is the need to effectively plan out your strategy to ensure a good outcome. Some mission objectives revolve around fleeing to an escape point (each unit must reach it, not one unit that accounts for them all) and keeping some NPCs alive that you get too caught up in the flow of battle. It's all a dire need to pay attention to detail and tact, but not having such an attention could ultimately result in you experiencing a bad taste with Rondo of Swords.
Even then, the game is still enjoyable. Though it does fall into the category of "I don't get it and will probably not want to get it", Rondo of Swords does feature some nifty quirks that could be seen in other SRPGs, such as the Route Maneuver System, and provides as good a challenge as any other SRPG. With so much going on in a single battle, Rondo of Swords is a great test of wit and cunning that leaves you to see just how good you are at SRPGs. It's worth venturing into if you've the dedication to understand how it works. Once you do, you'll see just how rewarding an experience the game is despite its shortcomings in visuals. The plot provides you with an enriching tale of war and betrayal and the desire to revive a fallen kingdom, complete with twists and turns and characters that each have their own unique personalities and contribute differently to battles.
Images courtesy of Atlus.