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Dark Deity is Ambitious and Impressive

Dark Deity is Ambitious and Impressive

Dark Deity is Ambitious and Impressive

Posted by Lawrence Rennie

13 Jul, 2021

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Every now and then a game will really sneak up on you. With Sword and Axe’s Kickstarted tactical RPG, Dark Deity, I was initially lukewarm on my approach, particularly with the first level feeling somewhat slow and monotonous, but soon thereafter I found myself falling deeply in love with a game that gave me plenty to hold onto and treasure. 

Dark Deity is an ambitious tactical RPG from a small, fresh-faced team that will fill a much-needed hole for fans of the Fire Emblem series. The game takes us into the standard fantasy world of Delian Kingdom where war and certain doom is on approach. We join the fresh new recruits to the war effort, Irving and his fellow students of Brookstead Military Academy, forced into early graduation and placed straight into the frontlines for King Varic. Together this squad will build their way through this war, garnering new friends and foes along the way until their final blows with godly beings of the astral plane breaking their way into our realm. 

For newbie developers Sword and Axe, Dark Deity is a love letter to all that fans of the SRPG genre hold dear. 

The Mechanics

Mechanics will be fairly recognisable to Fire Emblem players and fans of the turn-based RPG genre. Each level presents a new top-down game board with enemies and objectives scattered across it at various points. Both you and your enemies switch between turns moving your troops across the grid map in a tiled pattern, taking attack actions or moving into better positions. 

When making an attack you’ll have the option for every character to choose between 4 different attack types, each offering up different advantages or weaknesses depending on your opponent. A quick sword attack from your warrior character, for example, might offer up far more damage, but may have far less chance to hit than your weaker Javelin throw. It’s a sort of Dungeons and Dragons type gamble where you’re constantly weighing up the best way to attack. Every attack you make to an enemy also grants them a reactionary attack too (if their ability set allows it so against your character type) meaning you’ll have to be careful about who makes which attacks. The same goes for attacks in the other direction too, however, meaning that it is sometimes important to set up some of your characters that are better defensively to take the brunt of the attacks and take out a few opponents on their turn. 

The back and forth of Dark Deity is what makes it so fun and effective. Battles can be arduous and tense. Turns sometimes needed to be sweated out and those few gambles that pay off will grant that sweet fist-pumping satisfaction. More and more you’ll find yourself rooting for your team in every attack they make and take, building a closer connection to each of them as you go. Favourites will begin to come to the fore throughout your playthrough, and every hit they take will be all the more painful for it. 


Speaking of: where Dark Deity does notably diverge from Fire Emblem is how it deals with “deaths”. Where Fire Emblem stings with those painful permadeaths Dark Deity is more measured in its approach to death. If a character drops to 0 hit points in a level then they are removed from the board for the rest of the fight, but their death is impermanent. Instead, Dark Deity only imposes injury penalties in the form of stat reductions for each “death” you suffer. They can return in the next level, only now they may be a tad weaker. This lesser penalty to death does remove a lot of the sting and tension to the game, making death more of a minor annoyance rather than a painful catastrophe. For some this might be a more disappointing feature change to the genre, however for me Dark Deity still works effectively with it. 

Characterization

So much of Dark Deity relies on your growing connections to these characters as well as their relationships to each other—meaning that fundamentally they cannot die, even if it might be more effective to do so. During battles your team will become impressed by each other’s feats of bravery and skill. This will later translate to “bonding” moments between characters in between levels, whereby you will be treated to a short conversation vignette between two characters—this might be about the last battle, or the ongoing events of the game or their relationships to each other or other members of the squad. Romances will grow; unlikely friendships will flourish; new respects will be gained. These bond interactions allow the Sword and Axe team to build out more of the world lore as well as putting more personality into each of your characters. It works well for pulling you into the stories of these characters and building a deeper affinity for them on the battlefield. 

For the most part the characters are fairly standard fantasy fare, as well as often being schlocky character archetypes seen across this genre often enough. The character interactions are usually cute enough, often being fairly tongue in cheek, but don’t tend to move beyond a surface level reading. Unfortunately too Dark Deity falls into the tired-out pitfalls of female oversexualisation. Most, if not all, of the female characters are depicted with overtly ridiculous cleavages or garish clothing that would in no way help in a battlefield. The type of fetishisistic and unrealistic artistry that anime and the games industry has been guilty of for years—and quite frankly it is far too played out for my tastes. 

While this does tarnish the game somewhat, I don’t want it to detract too much from what is otherwise a solid gem. This is a near solitary blemish on an otherwise fairly wonderful game—disregarding a few minor technical issues every now and then too. 

Building Your Team

Dark Deity begins with just your team of 4 students, but throughout your journey you’ll accrue more and more friends along the way. As your DnD-like party builds out so too will your skillset. Every character brings in a fighting style, and as they level up themselves you can eventually choose which paths you want them to further specialise in. This allows you to have a truly diverse character pool that really works to your playstyle. Each character starts at a base level with a predetermined “class” type, but at certain level checkpoints(such as 10 or 30) you’ll be given the option to “promote” them to a new sub-class that will change their stats and attacks in varying ways. 

For me this is where Dark Deity really begins to flourish. It is immensely fun to experiment with new classes and tinker with your team until you start to find a group that works best for you. 

Before long you’ll have your favourite characters that you know you can depend on for certain scenarios. My trusty “gale” Bianca is going to be able to draw enemies onto her with the confidence that she’ll easily dodge past each blow, allowing my wizard Alden behind her to then step out and make some devastating spell attacks. As you carve out your own style you’ll learn which subclasses you need to further supplement your squad and form that devastating killing unit. 

Perhaps the only drawback to this huge character pool is precisely that there are just so many of them. The early levels of the game start you with a small group, but pretty rapidly that group just grows and grows and grows. With a total of 30 characters available it eventually becomes quite easy to lose a grasp on who is who and where your favourites have gone—at least initially, anyway. Eventually you’ll manage to recenter yourself once your party has settled itself again and you’ll probably then have a continual battle-party that you stick with thereafter.

This does however have the unfortunate by product that some of the earlier characters will be rendered useless eventually—and since some of those characters are actually narratively the most important it starts to feel a bit silly when your mere level 10 knight is providing the important monologues and hero speeches for a battle he had nothing to do with. Each new character joins at a higher level than your current party and usually has a new, more refined subclass meaning your favourites will undoubtedly fall by the wayside. 

Every character can be upgraded further independent of their levelling, however. In between levels you return to camp where you can buy items, weapon tokens, or stat boosters. This is also where you do the aforementioned character bonds. Weapon tokens allow you to increase the tier levels of each of your character’s 4 attacks—with 4 tiers existing in total. By tier 4, for example, your wizard might very well be able to one-shot plenty of enemies while their tier one spell will barely tickle them still. 

There are also unique items that each character can hold one of to add a certain modifier or passive ability to their attributes. This might be something like healing nearby allies on every attack, or making enemies more likely to target a specific character. Again by tinkering with these items you can start to really build out a team strategy that suits you. 

A Small Yet Ambitious and Hugely Impressive SRPG

Overall Dark Deity is a title from an entirely new studio that succeeds in exactly what it needs to do. The story is strong enough to fuel what is at its core just a very fun, satisfying game to play. There is enough variation in the level types even within its lengthy 28 chapters to keep the game fun and fresh throughout. Each level presents a new type of scenario with the difficulty climb being satisfying and just steep enough to keep the challenge there throughout. By the end you’ll find yourself attached to your party and will be looking to your ol’ dependables to drag you out of every new challenging situation, and you’ll enjoy it every time they do.

Combat is fun and gratifying in the way you overcome enemies; every enemy defeated feels good and the little pixel art character animations for each fight and attack adds that little something more to the mix. The party combat is ambitiously expansive enough to allow for a huge range of fight styles that even a full story run doesn’t fully exhaust, making there more than enough reason to come back in for more. 

Ultimately Dark Deity will win your heart. This is a title that does good by its committed Kickstarter funders and will be a welcome entry to the SRPG genre for any fans, new or old, to enjoy. 

Final Score: 8.5/10

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About Author

Lawrence Rennie

Lawrence is a Scottish-born writer with a love of games and films that he fortunately turned into a career grumbling about online. When not firing away the hours buried in a game or film he also co-writes 'Mechastopheles', an original comic series published by the UK’s leading comic magazine 2000AD as a naturally born-grumpy Scot; however, he asks that you don’t ask him too much about it though! Lawrence’s other musings include podcasts, fitness, his cat, and one day developing his own screenplay.

 
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