Update: Nintendo Switch version at the end of this review!
Dark Deity is a tactical roleplaying game that very clearly wears its Fire Emblem inspiration on its sleeve. Don’t count it out as a soulless clone or a cheap knockoff, though, because Dark Deity is a title worthy of your valuable gaming time. The story is set in a world called Terrazeal and begins in the Delian town of Brookstead, home of the prestigious Officer Academy and our woefully forgettable main protagonist Irving and his three fellow trainees; Garrick, Maren, and her younger brother Alden. It’s just another day of training for Delia’s best and brightest when emissaries of king Varic arrive to conscript the entire academy for his unjust war with the neighboring kingdom of Amora, which he started over a petty border dispute. Traditionally, only the year’s graduating class is pressed into military service, but the king believes the Amorans assassinated his father a decade earlier and he’s desperate for vengeance and in need of more troops. I feel that Irving makes for a bland protagonist; he’s the typical heroic swordsman trope and he doesn’t really get interesting until around chapter 20, which is about 2/3rds into the story. Fortunately, there is a huge roster of quirky and interesting characters that pick up the slack in his stead.
Much like its muse, Dark Deity contains a Bonding system. Compatible allies strengthen their bonds while fighting within a radius of a few squares. In between chapters, you’ll have the chance to engage in special conversations between allies who have bonded enough to up their relationship rank. In some cases, you won’t be able to view certain conversations until you have progressed further into the story. These scenes go a long way towards fleshing out the eccentric cast of characters, and hooo boy are there a lot of them. There were instances where I’ve spent 15-30 minutes between missions on conversations alone, which started to make me itch to get back into action. They are completely optional, however. Since bonding units doesn’t offer any advantages in battle, you can safely ignore them if you’re just in it for the gameplay.
Graphically, you’ll be staring at some sweet, retro-flavored pixellated bit-style graphics most of the time, which is MORE than fine with me. I’d say the quality is comparable to late gen SNES/GBA titles. The field of battle is viewed top-down, and when your units make their attack you are treated to a closer side-by-side view of the units exchanging blows. The attack animations are nice and you get to take a better look at the detailed pixel-work of your characters. The character artwork shown during conversations is hand-drawn, showcasing some great-looking designs. Most of the characters are fun and unique, although there are a few generic-looking turkeys in there. If you happen to be a fan of cute anime ”waifus” (Like one of my fellow reviewers, you know who you are!), there are plenty to be found here as well.
If you thought the battle system was going to feature a rock paper scissor type of strength/weakness mechanic, you thought right...sort of. It isn’t as cut and dry as other games. Each unit will have one of four armor types: leather, rune cloak, chain, or plate. Your unit will also deal a specific type of attack damage, such as slash, stab, and holy magic. The damage inflicted is either reduced or enhanced by a certain percentage depending on the matchup. You can see the exact percentage from the unit menus. It can be a bit hard to remember exactly how effective an attack may be (for me, at least) but the game will notify you with a green or red arrow to give you a general idea of how effective it will be. Aside from that, you get a detailed info panel on your hit chance, damage dealt, and the usual when you attack a unit so it’s nothing to worry about unless you’re playing on the higher difficulties where you need all the cunning and strategy you can muster. I bet you were thinking “does this game feature permadeath?” Don’t start diggin’ holes in the ground yet, because instead of dying, your units will receive permanent stat reductions whenever they fall in battle, thanks to the ‘Grave Wounds’ mechanic.
The developers took a different approach than you would expect when it comes to weapons. Each character has four different weapon types to choose from, usually with a focus on one stat over another, or a balanced approach. This is a neat idea and it allows you to specialize your units in your own way. Maybe you’ll want your squad to have a bunch of heavy hitters, or you could mix and match by throwing in a couple of members with more accurate weapons to hit those annoyingly speedy enemies who like to dodge. The cool thing is that during battle you can switch between a unit’s weapons during their turn without penalty, so you can change on the fly and still get an attack in without having to wait til the next turn. You can’t buy new weapons, per se, but you can find weapon tokens on defeated enemies or you can buy them in the shop. These tokens can be spent to increase the level of one weapon, increasing its stats and tier level. A weapon with a tier 4 designation, for example, can only be upgraded with a tier 4 weapon token.
Later on in the game, you will begin to come across powerful mystic artifacts referred to as Aspects. They tie in to the story, but also have real gameplay implications when carried into battle in a unit’s inventory. They essentially function as passive buffs and can have a wide arrangement of abilities, some much more useful than others. Sure, you’ll find the basic “increase x amount of stat” or the “reduce x amount of damage”, but others require a little more thought to be useful. A good example of this is taking one of your fastest allies and giving them Zeltar’s Flight: an aspect that swaps the speed and power stats, turning them into a lethal weapon. Others are more of a gamble, like the aspect Manos’ Fury, which boosts a unit’s attack by %50 but also sets their hit chance to %50. It’s a nice idea that gives you a bit more strategy to play with. A unit may only carry one aspect at a time.
There are quite a few different character classes, and once you reach level 10 (and again at 30), you can promote them to a more powerful version. Each time you promote, you will have three different specializations to select. Each one has a unique look, stats, and passive skills. The best part about the whole deal is that whichever class you choose does not lock you into a certain path when you reach your final promotion tier. Since you will come across quite a few characters during your game, you will have plenty of chances to try other classes and stick with what you think works best.
There isn’t much else to say, so I’ll leave you with this: playing Dark Deity feels like catching up on an old Fire Emblem entry that you missed out on the first time around. It’s a solid title with a nice roster of characters to battle alongside. I really don’t have anything negative to say about it, so go grab yourself a copy and sharpen your tactical prowess!
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review
Final Score: 8.5/10
+Cool roster of characters
+Non-restrictive promotion system
A NEW CHALLENGER HAS APPEARED! PLAYER 2 JON HARVEY HAS ENTERED THE GAME!
So it's been around 9 months since Rich reviewed Dark Deity when it debuted on PC and, as you can see from the above review, he gave it high marks...
Now it's released on Switch, however, will I be doing the same for this version?
Well, quite frankly...yes!
I'm not going to go "full review" here though. I'll try to keep it short and sweet. For the most part, I totally agree with the above review. Our boy Rich did a good job and got it pretty spot on with most of his review obviously applying regardless of where you play it.
Lovers of games like Fire Emblem or Advance Wars, more recent Indies like Wargroove, or even old classics like Shining Force, will feel right at home here. The game wears its influence proudly for all to see, paying homage to the genre and games that came before while adding a few new touches of its own.
Setting wise we get a medieval fantasy tale, set in a world of political intrigue and war. The main story threads weave together into a pretty fleshed-out campaign, full of world-building and with plenty to keep you interested in its narrative. Where the game really excels though is in its characters and their relationships. Rich is right that the "main" character Irving is pretty bland for the most part. He's the strong and honorable soldier stereotype who finds his beliefs tested by the fires of war. Takes a while to get going for sure but luckily you've got a whole cast of other characters, each with a different personality, to explore and get to know alongside him.
The bonding system really helps here. You get a ton of available warriors as the story progresses and by having them work together in battle, you build up the ties between them, uncovering more about each of their lives, dreams, and motivations. The sheer amount of different fighters you get can make this last a bit longer than you may like though. Going through many lines of text, for each member's relationship to every other member, might have you feeling like both Rich and I did, itching to get straight back into the combat. It is really detailed and well written, provides plenty of insight into the characters, and helps flesh out their relationships. Lore lovers will have plenty to take in, and will no doubt discover favorite characters they'll want to know more about. It's not essential to do these sections though, you don't get anything for them, it doesn't grant power boosts, bonuses, or skills so if it's not your thing or you're finding them too long they can be skipped with no penalty. Basically, it is there if you want it: in those moments when you feel like some downtime between fights or you want to appreciate the wider narrative.
Style-wise, you're definitely in for a treat if you like your pixel-style anime characters. Its well done in every area. Each character has detailed portraits, all hand-drawn, that show up in conversations and story scenes and I loved these in particular.
And yes Rich, I "appreciated" those Waifus a lot, with Cia the twin dagger-wielding rogue, catching my eye (and my heart) especially hard lol!
On the battlefield, things are a little less detailed but still look excellent with everything being done in a lovely 16bit style. Each class type is instantly recognizable from its sprite and you'll instantly be able to tell whether it's a warrior, archer, rogue, magic-user, cleric, or whatever.
Which will be handy so you know that class to set against them. Rich explained the system above, and it's a very good one with weapon and armor being as important as class, but it does bring up something I did think could have been done slightly better.
I found it wasn't explained very well, at least at first.
I'd have used the beginning mission, a military squad qualification exam, to show the ins and outs of how it all works, right off the bat. It is just a small niggle however and one that isn't really a problem. You can always rely on that on-screen indicator Rich mentioned, which shows up below each character, and tells you whether the currently selected fighter is a match for their opponent. A green "up" arrow means they'll effective, while a red "down" arrow means they won't be. It doesn't tell you how great that difference will be though, it might be major or minor, so having a little more info to show this at a glance might have been useful too.
Like I said though, it's a little thing and is my only real gripe with the game. Adding a nice little tutorial, that explains the ins and outs of the combat system, would have gone a long way to helping new players get into the genre. These types of games can be stat and calculation heavy if you truly want to understand how things work, and some people get intimidated by that. I'm not a newb to this genre and even I thought at first that it was a "class X is strong against class Y but weak against class Z" system, with me only later realizing the "armor type V damage type" situation that Rich explained above. Like he also said though, this won't matter much to you if playing at the normal difficulty. The game starts off pretty well balanced, at least I thought so, with the action being neither too easy nor too tough, and it eases you in slowly enough for you to get to grips with how it all works. It's a fun system that has enough strategy in it to require a bit of thought for you to be effective but is also forgiving enough to not feel brutal or punishing.
Not having permadeath was nice too, in my opinion, especially as you're WAY more likely to get attached to characters with stories and personality than you are to randomly generated ones, but the Grave Wounds feature still means death has some punishment that you want to avoid. It is a nice trade-off in a situation where you don't want to kill off characters important to the narrative, but still want a meaningful reason for players to avoid them falling in battle.
So far though, everything I've said could have easily applied to the PC version but I'm looking at the Switch version so how does it run on Nintendo's little system?
I mostly play my Switch in docked mode. Its an OG model and I found no problems when running the game. Its hardly pushing things, being a turned-based strategy game with pixel art, but there were no slowdowns, zero crashes, and no glitches. I played a little in handheld, despite not really liking it, for the sake of testing it out just for this review and there were no problems there either. Being able to have turn-based battles on the go might be a real selling point for you so rest assured it all works great, with seemingly no performance difference from its PC counterpart.
Any fans of the genre should take a look at Dark Deity. If you're craving an experience like Fire Emblem, and you've played Wargroove to death, then this is one to pick up. A decent story and many interesting characters are combined with an excellent combat system to create a gem of the genre. Lovers of the type definitely shouldn't miss it!
Rich gave an 8.5 out of 10 score and that's pretty on the nose, I'd say. I totally agree and would give the switch version the same.
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