War of Sonria Review—More Like Skirmishes of Sonria
War of Sonria is the latest Mini from PlaygroundSquad, which is the publishing arm for a game development school in Sweden. As I don’t speak Swedish, I’m not sure if they are a college or a vocational school or what, exactly. I do know they’ve published a handful of titles for Minis, i.e., Metara, Swap Zap, and Ambassador Kane, all of which showed a lot of promise, but perhaps did not quite live up to their potential because they were student projects.
And that is certainly the case here. As the name somewhat implies, War of Sonria is a fantasy wargame. Combat takes place on a tactical level, with each unit being one person. It’s very close to being a tactical RPG, like Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea, with units being different classes, but they lack levels, nor is there any sort of progression in the game.
Indeed, it’s very barebones. You get a very short (a couple of paragraphs) text explanation of the background of the Sonrian War when you start up the game, but there is no campaign. You simply select a map, then select your units, four to seven of them total. Then you select your opponents units (or have them picked randomly). Then you fight it out on a very small map.
It plays very familiarly; you select a unit, then move a unit square by square. If you are close enough to an enemy unit, you can attack. Some units just have a melee attack, while other units can attack from afar, and a few have spells to cast, both for damage and for healing.
There are a lot of different units, fifteen, most of which are quite different from others. Some fill the same niche—ranged damage, front line, healers—but they are more than just different names. You can pick up to two of each unit, and how many units you can deploy in total depends on the map you pick.
The seven different maps come in a wide variety: fields, towns, ancient ruins, and so forth. Most are about the same size, though, about 15 squares x 15 squares, with some a little longer or wider. The maps (and units) are rendered in 3D, so you can rotate them freely using the shoulder buttons. Terrain plays a role, as there are obstacles and such that block your movement. The units and maps are probably closer to PS1 quality in terms of graphics than PSP, but the art is well done, if primitive.
As I said, if you’ve ever played a tactical RPG before, this will feel very familiar (and if you haven’t, there is no tutorial), but it’s very slow-paced. Units move very slowly, only a few squares at a time (though this is helped by the maps being small), and units take a lot of damage to wear them down. The usual strategy of picking on one unit at a time, focusing all your attacks on it, works here, and the AI tries to implement it as well. If you don’t want to play against the AI, you can also play local multiplayer by passing around the PSP/Controller/Vita.
We’ve seen a number of student projects released in the Minis program, all of them showing a lot of promise, but generally not quite fully realized. War of Sonria is perhaps the biggest example of this. It’s a very ambitious game, but at the same time, very bare bones and needing more polish in the user interface. It’s fun enough to play, but a bit clunky. The game’s real drawback is the very limited scope—only small tactical battles, with no overarching campaign or even record-keeping of how many games you’ve won.
While I realize it is a student project, they still are charging for it, and it just feels more like a framework of a game than an actual game. I think a strategic aspect could have been added without too much difficulty, too. That is really the easy part of a strategy game (I made one once, back in my self-taught programming days); they did the hard part, coming up with a tactical engine with detailed maps and animations for all the units.