The world of Tahnra is a tumultuous place, especially the war-torn empire of Veridia. An accomplished but weary general captures the last of the imperial line in a bid to start a revolution amongst the tired masses, and it is up to a small group of soldiers fresh out of the imperial academy to hunt him down. However, is the general really in the wrong with conditions being so poor? Two soldiers debate this very notion as they ready their blades to face the rebel army, soon becoming embroiled in a world-spanning conspiracy that might see the gods themselves entering the fray.
This sets the stage for the opening act of Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga, an SRPG that spins a tale of tragic strife and sacrifice amidst human politics and the machinations of deities. The scope of the continuing story becomes massive, somewhere in-between the traditional fantasy fare one might expect from the Fire Emblem series while at times dipping its toes into the murky, morally gray waters of SRPG classics such as Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen and Final Fantasy Tactics. It doesn’t always hit every mark it aims for, but the game’s plot of the Nephilim trying to gain revenge against an unjust and cruel empire backed by a cult dedicated to the return of a veritable god of darkness is entertaining and helps propel you through its thirty-some chapter campaign.
Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga is a traditional strategy RPG in the sense that you move your army’s units across a large, square-gridded map. Opposing forces are also setting up countermeasures with unavoidable skirmishes once targets get within range of one another. You control a leader unit, such as Jules the archer, while out in the field, though that unit can have an entire squad built up around them: Other soldiers who provide either additional offensive capabilities to an individual unit or offer beneficial support similar to Langrisser I & II. You’re limited on how many soldiers can join a given squad by a stat called capacity. Any additional party member adds capacity to the overall squad, and capacity also considers equipable artifacts for a unit that provide status boosts or defense. A unit’s added capacity to a squad is lessened the higher their loyalty gets, which is yet another stat that increases through battle experience and seizing objectives in the field. Higher loyalty for soldiers overall means being able to add more party members to a squad or giving the means to equip heavier artifacts.
The type of unit (slower-moving, faster, cavalry, etc.) a squad will be is determined by which job classes feature heavily in it. Using our buddy the archer Jules as an example again, it is entirely possible to have a slower-moving mage-type squad of healers and wizards make up the bulk of his retinue or a quicker cavalry type if horses are the primary mode of transport for the rest of his crew. You can make your squads as varied or as monotone as you like depending on what works best for you. In fact, versatility and creativity are very much the names of the game when it comes to the sheer number of ways one can approach skirmishes in Symphony of War!
Your army can expand to two hundred units consisting of important named party members who join over the course of the story and mercenary units you can hire at the marketplace where you set up camp or in bazaars that occasionally pop up on fields during skirmishes. Certain party members, such as your main character or the paladin Diana, have set job classes you can’t manually change though they gain skills as the narrative progresses. Others, like Jules or his sister Abigayle, have jobs that can evolve to higher tiers once you’ve accrued enough CP and mastered their particular job. I found support jobs such as the basic medic or the high-level templar crucial in later stages, so much so that I’d include at least one of them in the back row of each squad for added survivability. Otherwise, the jobs I’d put into each squad varied depending on what I needed that particular group to do. I’d often mix cavalry units with pedestrian ones so that magic-slingers and archers were shielded by heavier armored units who could take more of a beating up front. In my playthrough, one of my most powerful squads ended up being a templar mercenary leader who happened to not only have a dragon on her squad but also a siege cannon expert. Diana primarily had a cavalry retinue backed by healers, who could dish out just as much damage as they absorbed. Beatrix had a primarily magic and archery squad that decimated the field even if maneuvering her to avoid damage got tricky. It is immensely fun experimenting with squads and figuring out which job classes work best with one another.
Battles are often long, drawn-out affairs in most SRPGs, but they can be even more so in Symphony of War because of how fight layouts are set up. Squads continue fighting until the last person is defeated. Given how large squads and maps become later in the game, don’t be surprised if each skirmish goes on for a long while as all units get in on the action. Battlefields are often quite huge, containing a multitude of objectives that the player is encouraged to seize. These include settlements that raise your army’s faction level, treasure chests to be opened, resource caches that help supply your army with materials needed for upgrading, or temples that will allow you to revive fallen comrades and refresh used heals when visited. Doing so grants you nice bonuses and raises stats, so it is heavily encouraged to do so even as you are keeping in mind the challenges for a given field. Trying to gain control of every point of interest during a battle adds to the overall length of a fight. While the strategy aspect of the game is fascinating, I occasionally got bored in the middle of prolonged fights, especially when multitudes of squads were fighting mindlessly on the screen when it was the AI’s turn to move. Later in Symphony of War, you acquire Nephilim powers that can be used during your turn outside the regular throes of battle once you’ve accrued enough points. These range from an area-effect meteor spell to teleporting a unit or giving them an extra turn. The Nephilim abilities help add a further layer to the strategy as you have to time when to use them wisely.
Symphony of War’s difficulty is a moderate challenge at normal, with the option of restarting a level and permanently lowering the difficulty level should you fail a mission. The game also has the option of toggling permadeath on or off as players see fit. There was one fight towards the end of the game where you have to reach a specific character in under ten turns that I did find more frustrating than it perhaps needed to be, but otherwise, I found the maps and battles to be lengthy but enjoyable affairs. The game’s story has roughly thirty chapters. However, the twentieth is splintered into several optional side-story missions so there’s actually even more content. Personally, I recommend doing these gaiden battles not only for the extra story bits and experience, but because the resources and characters they unlock are nothing to sneeze at. They provide you with incentives such as changing Sybil’s job to a paladin or gaining a dragon lord who can become a heavyweight leader of their own squad.
While at base camp before a mission in Symphony of War, players can visit a marketplace to purchase more mercenaries or supplies or to sell unneeded items. You can also tailor your squads and units to your liking by having soldiers learn additional skills through items that are applicable afterward in battle. However, some can only be utilized if a character is a squad leader. You use acquired points and resources in the tech tree to help build up your army’s overall strength and durability. Important story members can even form bonds with one another during these free periods, having conversations that could see them becoming friends, family, and possibly even more with one other special person once the player decides to initiate those bonds. Bonded characters boost one another’s morale while in the vicinity of the other during a battle. Morale affects a unit’s effectiveness in battle and the likelihood a squad might surrender before a battle even starts by using the Force Surrender combat option, a skill added to the variety of attacks one can initiate during a fight. Extreme weather can also affect morale, as well as whether or not gun weaponry can be used at all. Another statistic to be mindful of is a squad’s threat level, which can also impact the likelihood of a successful surrender. The higher the threat level, the more powerful a squad, even determining the likelihood they may be targeted by foes.
There is a wealth of enjoyable content in Symphony of War, but the experience isn’t always flawless. Because there can be so many characters onscreen at once, battle animations can run quite slow until numbers start thinning out. The story is quite interesting and goes in some unexpected directions that can keep you guessing, but there are still some predictable plot twists, such as a character reveal you see coming a mile away. It also starts slowly and then feels decidedly rushed towards the end of the game, giving tonal whiplash even though it manages to correct this trajectory at the very end. The script is excellent and full of interesting lore buildups, but it isn’t the most polished at times and has the occasional typo or grammatical issue. The characters and their dialogue are likable enough, though they’re all character types one has no doubt seen before in other RPGs. There is also some visual dissonance between the game’s general sprite work and the character portraits, though both are beautiful and immensely detailed. Symphony of War’s artwork is by Sean “Raikoart” Tay and is particularly eye-catching. However, a graphical update to the sprite work of one character had me scratching my head later on and seemed out of place.
Music-wise, the soundtrack is very fitting for Symphony of War and sets the stage for the large-scale strategy battles. Interestingly, the soundtrack was composed by Dancing Dragon Games’ president Phil Hamilton. You can find samples of some of the excellent music to stream at the official website. I enjoy the sound bytes of the important characters during the heat of battle, too! I also greatly appreciate the amount of choice involved in the game, not only from the tactical stance but also from a story perspective. For instance, how you respond to a scenario impact whether a character might join your group or not, and you also must choose between two ending scenarios after the final boss fight. Not only can you pick the gender of your main character, but who bonds with who also influences how individual character plots and scenes play out in the end. You’re even given optional objectives during fights that you can choose to pursue or not, adding another layer to the combat.
I was pleasantly surprised with the time I spent playing this SRPG. In many ways, it draws from classic heavyweights of the genre, but it also has more than enough substance to stand on its own. There’s certainly a lot to uncover and do throughout a playthrough, and it also has moderate replay value given the ways player choice alters certain narrative events. Symphony of War: The Nephilim Saga is an adventure fans of tactical RPGs might want to keep an eye on.