It’s really hard to deny Nintendo’s influence on the game’s industry. No where is this more apparent than indie games. You know the ones – titles like Axiom Verge, Dark Deity, and Nexomon. These are Nintendo games in all but name. What’s great about these titles is how they have the opportunity to innovate without any of the baggage that comes from being a long running franchise. That’s where we find Symphony of War. It manages to have its own distinct identity from Fire Emblem, thanks to a few key changes, while also being fun as heck to play.

Screen showing the grid-like layout of Symphony of War's overworld map.

Before we delve any further I think I need to provide some important context. I’m not the biggest fan of Fire Emblem. I won’t be delving into the specifics today, as I’d rather focus on what makes Symphony of War so compelling. I do think there is value in understanding my frame of reference though. To that end, here’s the short version: I find that Fire Emblem’s RPG and Strategy systems constantly butt heads with one another. There are ways to design Strategy RPGs where the systems don’t constantly feel at war. For my money though, Fire Emblem isn’t that game.

By contrast, Symphony of War manages to marry role-playing and turn-based strategy in a way that I find far more compelling. This ultimately stems from how you manage your army. You’re given squads of soldiers, instead of standalone units. This has a whole host of implications that provide players with a lot of freedom, and mechanical depth. It’s also the kind of thing that’s kept me thinking about Symphony of War when I haven’t been playing it. If that isn’t a sign that I’ve found something special I don’t know what is.

So how do squads work?

A basic squad setup with 2 armored units in the front, and some squishy mages in the back.

Players select one of their soldiers to lead said squad. You’re provided with a few protagonist types to fill this role initially, but as time progresses players will likely train some worthy squad leaders of their own. Once you’ve selected your leader, they’re placed into a 3 by 3 grid that can accommodate up to 9 soldiers. Players are then able to fill the squad out however they see fit. It’s important to note that where you place a unit matters. The front line takes hits first, naturally, so you may want to flesh it out with tanky units, while keeping the squishes in the back. You don’t have to follow conventional wisdom though – you do you, champ.

When it comes to how players construct their squads, the only real limitation is their own imagination. I’m ashamed to admit that for the first several hours of Symphony of War I stuck to criminally vanilla loadouts. Most of my squads were built around a single goal, and might as well have been a super unit. However, as I’ve progressed further, I’ve found that using mixed squads with a variety of skills tends to be far more effective. For example, packing a couple archers in the backline immediately opens up the opportunity for a squad to provide supporting fire on turns when it can’t quite reach its intended target.

All this freedom provides players with a lot of flexibility, and that is my favourite part of this whole system. You’re never forced into anything – not even using the protagonists in their defined roles. This is because a squad’s type shifts based on whatever type of unit is represented the most in it. Don’t like Mr. Sneakypants the assassin? No problem – you can pair him up with some cavalry units and bam: you now have a new cavalry squad. Hell – you could forego using Mr. Sneakypants entirely, and create an entirely new squad that better suits your desired playstyle, or the mission at hand instead. That’s how much freedom players are given with Symphony of War.

With so much freedom, and so many options, there’s a very real sense that Symphony of War can feel overwhelming. Where do you even start when you’re given so little direction? What if you make a mistake? If you’re anything like me this will cause you to worry endlessly about how you’re investing in your army. To that end, Symphony of War has you covered. Almost no decision players make is permanent – you’re able to class change whenever you like. Doing so will update a units stats to fit whatever their new class is. This really opens the door for players to experiment until they compose an army that is very well suited for their preferred style of play.

Class up screen from Symphony of War showcasing the bevy of available options that fighter class units have for classing up.

There’s also one other major benefit that squads have over dedicated units, which relates to long term stat progression. This is the thing I find most frustrating about Fire Emblem. You spend all these resources leveling someone up only to have them gain almost nothing from it. Symphony of War somewhat gets around this because single units rarely define a squad. The collective strength of a group is always what’s most important. Ideally everyone would be a chad, but if you have a couple bad level-ups, or an underperforming unit, it’s going to be a lot less apparent.

When I first started Symphony of War two weeks ago, I didn’t realize I was in for such a good time. The ways that squads function is such a refreshing take on the foundation that Intelligent System’s Strategy-RPGs offer. There is just so much flexibility that is afforded when players are allowed full customization over their army. I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting across my time with Symphony of War, and I highly encourage fans of this sort of game to give this a look. I have a feeling that some of y’all will find it as entertaining as I have.