Dark Deity Review (Switch)

Dark Deity Review: Strategizing Like It’s 2003

 

Dark Deity Switch Logo

 

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m ecstatic to see indie developers take a stab at reinventing gaming classics. Franchises such as Zelda, Fire Emblem, and Pokémon continue to iterate and evolve, often moving away from the designs that arguably made them classics in the first place. I’m happy to see that, too, of course. Change is (usually) good, but the classics have attained that status for a reason.

Before I get ahead of myself, we reviewed Dark Deity’s original Steam release last year. I was aware of the game’s existence but didn’t look into it. I had a feeling it would be coming to the Switch, so I avoided all coverage about it. I didn’t even read our review. So, I dove into the game with zero expectations.

Dark Deity is an indie take on old-school Fire Emblem. You can see it just by looking at it. And look, I’m not going to get into a philosophical argument about what constitutes a clone and what doesn’t (or how far a series can diverge from its origins before it’s something different). However, I can say right now that if you’re a fan of older Fire Emblem titles, you’ll feel right at home here.

 

Forget Rock, Paper, Scissors

 

Dark Deity

 

Dark Deity begins like many other fantasy games: the world of Terrazael, which was once devastated by a calamity, is now on the brink of war thanks to Delia’s King Varic, who has just forcibly conscripted our motley crew of soon-to-be heroes. Throw in some necromancy, ancient magical relics, and a conspiracy or two, and you get the idea. It doesn’t stray too far from the narratives seen in the GBA Fire Emblem games.

A key difference between Dark Deity and its inspiration is its combat system. While older Fire Emblem games had a rock, paper, scissors weapon triangle, Dark Deity’s is far more complicated. There are nine weapon types and four armor types. Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses relative to the other types. It took me a while to adjust to this because the advantage is determined by weapon versus armor, not weapon versus weapon.

Weapons are unbreakable and are available in four different styles: power, finesse, focus, and balance. Each style focuses on a different attribute: strength, crit rate, accuracy, and a bit of everything. You level up weapons with tokens you get from chests or enemies, and you can buy them, too, along with stat boosters.

Dark Deity tries to visually simplify this system by using red and green arrows. When you hover over a unit, nearby enemies will have one or the other, signifying your unit’s advantage or disadvantage compared to the enemy’s. It’s helpful, but you can’t solely rely on it because the mastery stat complicates the advantage/disadvantage mechanic.

 

Mastering the Art of Mastery

 

Dark Deity

 

Mastery essentially determines the degree to which your units have an advantage or not. When you have a high mastery stat and the advantage, you’re likely to cause more damage. When you have a high mastery stat and the disadvantage, you’re less likely to receive higher damage due to that disadvantage.

At least, I think that’s how it functions. In practice, it’s an obtuse concept. I never got a good feel for how it worked. The weapon/armor system is easy enough to figure out, but mastery complicates it in an esoteric way. A unit with the advantage doesn’t always have a real advantage. There were multiple times in which my units would have an advantage but couldn’t cause any damage or even hit the target. My snipers, easily my best units, could hit and cause damage to every other unit type, despite not always having the advantage, and I have no idea why. I guess their high dexterity and mastery offset it, but I’m honestly not sure.

This complexity could have been resolved with a tutorial, but unfortunately, Dark Deity doesn’t really have one. There’s a menu option that gives you the most basic explanation for the mechanics, but it does a poor job of explaining mastery’s intricacies. As a result, I tended to play far more defensively than I would have in Fire Emblem.

 

Moving On Up

 

Dark Deity

 

Much like its inspiration, Dark Deity has branching promotion trees. Each tier one class can change to one of four classes in tier two. Once in tier two, you have access to another four classes for tier three. Remarkably, there are fifty-four classes. Each class has unique skills as well. This level of customization is easily one of Dark Deity’s strengths. You don’t need items to promote either; each unit promotes at level ten and level thirty, respectively. There are also stat modifiers you can equip—Eternal Aspects—that add yet another degree of customization to your team. You can only equip one per character, but you can move them around as you see fit. Strangely, these items are presented as possessing world-devastating power, but they’re fairly tame in reality.

That said, even the class system has some obtuse aspects to it. When you select a class, you’re shown how your stat growths will change upon promoting. Many of these growths are far lower than the current class, so much so that I avoided some classes entirely because the drop seemed so severe. Some of the growth changes are confusing too. Units that are physical attackers often lose strength and gain magic, even if magic won’t serve a purpose.

 

Fire Emblem Adjacent

 

Dark Deity

 

One aspect in which Dark Deity outpaces its inspiration is with its objectives. It’s not all about seizing a specific spot or killing the leader. You’ll encounter chapters in which you have to defend a specific area or object, reach a specific point, and even escape with all your characters. There’s more than that but suffice it to say the variety is admirable. The maps are also generally large and provide you with multiple routes and obstacles. I could have used more terrain types to spice it up a little more, but that’s a minor nitpick in the face of excellent level design.

On the presentation front, Dark Deity certainly looks the part. The characters are well designed, and the music is standard fantasy fare, although, some of the guitar-heavy tracks venture into Ys territory. The sound effects, however, are forceful and effective. I especially enjoyed the loud “thump” made by hammers and the searing fabric-of-space-tearing spells. The combat animations and spritework are tremendous. Characters move fluidly and each class is just overflowing with style. Each class has its own animation, which even changes for critical hits. Spells also change as you upgrade them. An incredible amount of effort went into these animations. I left the animation on for most of my playtime, which I never do in Fire Emblem.

There are two other notable changes from the Fire Emblem formula. First, character supports don’t affect gameplay at all. I’m fine with that. It’s nice to be able to enjoy so many different conversations without having to go out of my way to access them. More importantly, there’s no permadeath. Grave wounds, a permanent stat penalty, take its place. It’s a smart design choice. If you’re a casual player, you’ll probably let a few grave wounds slide. If you’re “hardcore” like me, that’s still unacceptable so you restart. To my credit, I beat the game on normal with only a single grave wound, and I only lost one point of luck.

 

Stranger Danger

 

Dark Deity

 

As I mentioned earlier, Dark Deity’s narrative isn’t drastically different than what you’d experience in one of the GBA Fire Emblem games. This is a missed opportunity. While the setup isn’t especially unique, the execution could have been. Right out of the gate, the characters are working for the villain, which is an interesting turn of events. There are plenty of morally ambiguous moments that are unfortunately swept under the rug.

The plot stumbles when it comes to character motivations, however. Varic’s intentions are clear, but his motivations aren’t. The true villain has even less screen time and his motivations are equally vague, just like his connection to Varic. This occurs with player characters too. Some show up for absolutely no reason, and the other characters are always cool with it, despite the ongoing war. It’s especially frustrating when the game throws characters at you when a chapter starts, and you have to pick their promotions without ever having used them.

To be clear, Fire Emblem is also guilty of that. It can also have too many characters that are underdeveloped and frankly unnecessary. Fire Emblem has permadeath, though, which at least partially explains the necessity to constantly provide the player with more characters. That’s not true here, which makes each additional character even more burdensome. It’s a trait Dark Deity didn’t need to inherit.

I get the feeling Dark Deity is set in a realistic world with a fascinating history, but much of the worldbuilding seems to occur in the background. Characters mention locations, deities, and events that are never explored. It’s almost like being the stranger at a party. You laugh at their jokes and listen to their stories, but it never goes deeper than that. Character interactions are solid, sometimes funny, even, but it’s hard to ignore the vagueness that permeates the larger narrative.

 

An Aside

 

Dark Deity

 

There are also a few technical quirks that mar the experience. There’s no way to zoom out the camera (which would help with seeing attack ranges), there’s no in-level map, voice clips are occasionally synced to the wrong character, and character infoboxes sometimes obscure sections of the screen—or go off it. I also hit a game-breaking bug in chapter twenty-two. Not using my snipers allowed me to finish it. The developers are aware of that issue.

 

A Worthy Successor

 

 

Dark Deity is a flawed—but enjoyable—take on the classic Fire Emblem formula. I wish some of its elements weren’t so obtuse and vague, but I still found it impossible to put down. There’s room for a sequel, so hopefully, it won’t be too long before we get a chance to revisit Terrazael.


Final Verdict: 3.5/5

Available on: Switch (reviewed), Steam; Publisher: Freedom Games; Developer: Sword &Axe LLC; Players: 1; Release Date: March 17, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $24.99

Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.

Scott MacDonald
He once wrote for oprainfall, but he now spends most of his time editing books. Like most editors, he has a tendency to hide in the shadows, watching for misplaced modifiers and things that dangle. In his free time, he inexplicably enjoys CrossFit. He mostly enjoys retro games. Some of his favorites include Tales of Symphonia, F-Zero GX, Persona 3, Fire Emblem, and most shmups.

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