I Can’t Believe It’s Not Fire Emblem

HIGH Classic TRPG gameplay without the fat.

LOW A barebones tutorial.

WTF Boob plate armor — are we still doing this in 2021?

In my mind, the latest Fire Emblem traded in some of its unique character to capitalize on current trends in JRPGs.

Three Houses is distinctly Persona-fied — it brings in two-tier gameplay, switching between battles on the tactical grid and slice-of-life third-person jaunts through a school. Mini-games, gift-giving and other stat-boosting side actions interrupt the thirst for blood and add hours to a playthrough.

However, I wonder if modern players remember the halcyon days of moving from scenario to scenario with little more than short dialogue sequences to delay the action? Because Dark Deity does.

This indie release — originally a kickstarter campaign — harkens back to those first Fire Emblem games (or at least the ones that made it stateside). The tried-and-true Tactical Roleplaying Game (TRPG) loop features top-down maps for the player to move units around, combat cutting to beautifully animated clashes between opponents. 

It’s not a one-to-one translation, however, as Dark Deity is not a Fire Emblem clone. 

For one, terrain is simplified. There seems to be movement penalties, but no in-depth stat modifiers. I cannot, for instance, park my vulnerable units in bushes or trees to give them a dodge boost.

Weapons are also their own breed, with no need to worry about inventory or weapon durability. Instead, each unit has four different attack types that can be upgraded — a power attack, a high-crit attack, an accurate attack, and a balanced attack. Rather than a weapon triangle, each class has an armor and weapon type that is correspondingly effective against another. 

However, getting to know these advantages and disadvantages takes some work. 

During battle, there’s a menu item labeled “tutorial” that only gives the most basic information. I have yet to fully learn what weapon types are effective against what armor types, and I and simply rely on ‘up’ or ‘down’ arrows painted on enemy units when I select one of my own.

For whatever difficulties there may be in learning the crunch, the battles are enjoyable and offer some inventive maps to keep the combat fresh. One particularly memorable area features distinct sections connected through color-coded portals — end a turn on a portal and the unit will be teleported to its twin on some other end of the map.

One thing that’s not as apealing as the map design is that despite battles sometimes lasting upwards of an hour, there is no ‘bookmark’ function to pause mid-mission and pick up later. For someone like me who feels compelled to restart every time a character dies, that can add a lot of time. On the plus side, defeated characters do not suffer permadeath. Instead, if they fall in battle, select stats will see a slight drop.

Art direction is solid, with multiple, expressive character portraits (although featuring a bit much boob plate) for all of the 30 playable characters — plus distinct sprite art for each of the 54 distinct classes. 

I do want to highlight the battle scenes, which weave together charming unit sprites, smooth animated accoutrements and the effective sound of clinky-clanky armor movement alongside the brutal aural impact of swords and magic. Music, on the other hand, isn’t particularly memorable but does the job.

I leave story for last — as does Dark Deity, really. Someone has gone through a lot of effort to write a ton of dialogue for the main missions and the side conversations used to increase support levels. There’s definitely a sense of the individual characters, aided by the aforementioned art as well as a bevy of sound bites for each.

In the end, though, the main plot isn’t particularly interesting and rather generic — a group of teenagers prance about a continent at war and make friends as they work to defeat a greater evil that threatens everything. Maybe there are some twists and turns along the way? After all, even 20 hours in, I only reached Chapter 16 of 28.

Overall, Dark Deity may not have the polish or reach the heights of those classic ’00s Fire Emblem games, but I wouldn’t expect it to — it’s an indie title with a development team of six, but the passion of that team for the genre is apparent throughout the finished product. This is a love letter to classics that’s still accessible enough for those who may want to give the genre a try. And for those of us who miss a TRPG uncluttered by slice-of-life mechanics? It’s a much-welcome addition to the library.

Rating: 8 out of 10

— Stephen Cook

Disclosures: This game is developed by Sword & Axe LLC and published by Freedom Games. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: This game is not rated by ESRB. There is some violence but no blood or inappropriate language.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available. 

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Dialogue is conveyed through text. The text cannot be altered and/or resized. There are no audio cues needed for gameplay. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. The primary control scheme is mouse and keyboard.

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