HIGH The gameplay loop and level-up system are addicting.
LOW Who are these people I’m fighting with now?
WTF I mean, it’s basically a Fire Emblem game.
Many people have issues with games that draw obvious inspiration from other franchises and often complain that something is “ripping off” a formula from other titles. Aside from instances of direct plagiarism, I don’t view it that way. If a developer loves a game or series so much that they’re inspired to use similar mechanics and formulas as starting material before adding their own spin, the result is usually positive.
This is the case with Dark Deity, an indie tactics title drawing obvious inspiration from the Fire Emblem series. Though some would argue that it directly copies that prolific franchise’s signature gameplay, I would counter that Dark Deity is instead a love letter to the early Fire Emblem titles that strongly embody the best of what the genre can offer.
Dark Deity’s plot is relatively conventional for the genre. Though it’s engaging to watch a group of young training academy graduates prematurely thrust into war before blossoming into leaders, most of the plot and side conversations are nothing to write home about.
In terms of play, those familiar with tactics titles will feel at home with Dark Deity. It’s not the most complex tactics game I’ve encountered, but it’s cut out extraneous mechanics that might overcomplicate things and offers a clean, rewarding, addicting gameplay loop that kept me engaged from start to finish.
Maps are divided into grids and units behave as chess pieces, each with differing abilities. Warriors are for powerful close combat, archers for attacking from a distance, and mages for spellcasting. The objective for most maps is to either defeat all enemies or conquer a boss.
As units level up by defeating foes, they can be upgraded into different classes. There are a ton of interesting and unique variations here for players to experiment with, some of my favorites being dragon knight due to its high critical rate, and illusionist because of its high mobility as a magic-user. Characters also have four different weapons they can use, each of which can be leveled up between missions.
I loved leveling up characters and weapons and testing different classes and unit arrangements that best fit each map. The solid difficulty curve also tested my knowledge of the game and my units — with a selection of thirty playable characters, there is no roster shortage in Dark Deity.
All characters have bonds with other units which are leveled up through side conversations between skirmishes and make attacks stronger when next to each other on the battlefield. These conversations also allow a deeper glimpse into the inner workings of each character – something much needed for the units that join the squad later in the game.
While it largely delivers, I did have a couple of small grievances, such as oddly-long loading times, and some maps that aren’t designed as well as others. It’s also worth noting that players unfamiliar with tactics games might be a bit confused due to the lack of a tutorial as they’re immediately thrust into their first battle without any explanation of the mechanics. Sure, basic systems such as characters moving and attacking are simple to pick up, but more minute mechanics such as certain classes being strong against others or individual character abilities are never spelled out, and can only be found by combing through the incredibly thorough unit detail screens.
These areas could use some tightening up, but my main issue with the game is possibly one of its greatest strengths — the sheer number of characters.
New units are introduced in almost every battle — which is fine — but once there’s a cap for how many units players can use, I usually picked my highest-level units as the difficulty ramped up. These new characters are always a few levels higher than the older crew, so the ‘main’ characters fell by the wayside if I didn’t make a conscious effort to involve them in combat. It eventually felt like the party was full of people I didn’t know, with only two or three of the prominent faces I knew from the start. The bonding conversations do flesh out these newer units, but it’s entirely possible to play almost the entire campaign without using Irving, the lead character.
With that said, a roster that’s almost too large didn’t stop Dark Deity from being an addicting experience. With streamlined and engaging mechanics and gameplay, it does the games it was inspired by proud and is a worthy addition to any tactics game library.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Sword & Axe LLC and published by Freedom Games and Freedom Family Limited. It is currently available on Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to this review and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Fantasy Violence and Language. The ESRB did not provide a quotation about their rating. The violence here is rather tame, as the pixelated art style never reaches into gory territory, though there are some mildly graphic sound effects as weapons make contact with enemies.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles, which cannot be altered and/or resized. Audio cues are not required for progression, making this game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The left stick is used for scrolling through menus, right stick for the camera, A to select options, and B to return to previous menus.
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“If a developer loves a game or series so much that they’re inspired to use similar mechanics and formulas as starting material before adding their own spin, the result is usually positive.”
Er, is it, though? I can think of a lot more misfires than I can think of homages that held my attention for longer than 15 minutes.