True story; I got into SRPGs (and later, RPGs proper) because of Shining Force. Growing up with the Mega Drive, Shining Force was unlike any other game I’ve played at that point of my life. Whereas other games where twitch fests, Shining Force rewarded thinking. It had a plot whereas other games had barely any. It had great music too!
While my love for SRPGs sadly has waned over the years (I just don’t have time or patience to sit through long battles any more), I’ve always held a special spot for the genre and I do try to play all the notable ones…even if I don’t finish them.
That’s why when I saw Dark Deity, I was supremely interested in the game. More Fire Emblem than Shining Force, Dark Deity seems like something ripped right out the Golden Age of SPRGs!
Is it though?
Find out by reading on!
What is Dark Deity?
Dark Deity is a Strategy Role Playing Game (SRPG) available on Steam. Like pretty much every other entry in the genre, the game is single player only. Dark Deity is developed by Sword & Axe LLC, with publishing duties handled by Freedom Games.
Our review code was awesomely supplied by great folks at Freedom Games.
Being on the PC, Dark Deity works both on a gameplay and via mouse and keyboard. While both methods are fine, using the mouse is speedier, as you’re able to move and attack faster.
Dark Deity’s plot is one of war, strife, sacrifice and the pursuit of power. While it takes a few stages to really get going, I have to say I really enjoyed playing the game and seeing how the story developed. The writing’s pretty decent and you’ll quickly start to emphasize with the characters (most of whom are likeable).
On first brush, Dark Deity looks a lot like Fire Emblem.
The battle system seems similar, the units fall into the same archetypes…even the characters look like they’d be right at home in Nintendo’s famous series. The battles don’t eat up an insane amount of time but still require you to be focused and careful (especially at higher difficulties. Skirmishes are fun and I constantly found myself looking forward to the next battle.
As your units fight together, they’ll also form bonds. In this aspect, players with Fire Emblem experience will know what to expect. As bonds grow stronger, you’ll also get special scenes that show up the camaraderie between your troops. It’s a nice touch to humanize them, though I wish there were the game allowed you to pick your responses.
Dig deeper however and you’ll discover that while Dark Deity’s outer coating more than apes Nintendo’s franchise, there’s more going on than you think.
Instead of the Swords/Axes/Lances battle system from Fire Emblem, Dark Deity uses a more sophisticated take on units and their weaknesses. It’s a more logical one too, that focuses on what armor a unit wears instead of what weapon they wield. It’s much more involved and requires you to plan ahead for some engagements, which adds depth to the whole enchilada.
I especially love how Dark Deity allows you to customize your gameplay experience without penalizing you. At the start of the game, you’ll given a ton of options on how to tweak the game for your liking. You can boost gold and XP gain (or reduce them for a harder experience), alter enemy weapons and much more! It all boils down making Dark Deity a highly customizable experience that’s perfect no matter how skilled (or unskilled) you are in the genre.
Once you get into the game, you’ll find that there’s a ton of options in there too! Or rather tons of selectable classes and upgradable skills. Think of Final Fantasy Tactics’ Job System but on overdrive. There are a LOT of choices (54 playable classes!) on how you can personalize your characters.
Oh, and a significant difference from Dark Deity and Fire Emblem is how character defeats are handled. While characters can permanently die in Fire Emblem, that’s not an issue in Dark Deity. Instead, here the game hobbles you by permanently lowering the character’s stats for every battle defeat. In some ways it’s much more forgiving, but permanent stat reductions are also a great way to penalize haphazard or risky play.
While battles are presented similarly (with two sides attacking each other via a short cutscene), I honestly prefer Dark Deity’s version more. The game’s sprites are animated beautifully, with animation harkening back to old school titles like Karateka and Prince of Persia. I’m a bit peeved that the sprites don’t even try to look like the character artwork though.
Speaking of artwork, the visuals for the backgrounds and during story bits are visually impressive as well. The art style’s a bit generic and anime-ish but the quality is undoubtedly high. Unfortunately, unlike the battle cutscenes, the artwork during the story portions are pretty much static. They’re not even minimally animated like in some visual novels, which detracts somewhat from the presentation side of things.
Thankfully, the score picks up the slack from the cutscenes. Though not as hauntingly beautiful as Final Fantasy Tactics’ or Vandal Hearts II’s, the music in Dark Deity is wonderfully composed and tonally fits the game to a T. It’s not perfect, but I’d definitely advice anybody who’s remotely interested in the game to shell out the extra money for the OST on Steam.
Hell, while you’re at it, buy the damn artbook too! In fact, as a collector of artbooks, I’d honestly get a physical version of the digital artbook too if it was available and decently priced.
I do have a bone to pick with the game’s loading too. For a 2D game with just images and sprites the game does tend to load constantly. The loads are lengthier than you’d expect too, even with an SSD. Now to be fair, the loads aren’t that lengthy, but considering the game it’s weird they’re as long as they are.
The Bottom Line.
I’ll be honest, Dark Deity isn’t like a typical indie.
I’ve played a ton of games over my 30+ years of gaming and Dark Deity feels like more like a AAA effort than your typical indie entry. If this was released back in the 90s, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Square Enix or Konami or even SEGA attached as publisher.
The game is a highly polished piece of work with a great meld of gameplay mechanics taken from the best in the genre. While there are aspects of the game that I would like to see improved (sprite art for one), for a first effort, Dark Deity is a home run and is definitely worthy of a place among luminaries like Shining Force II, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics and of course, Fire Emblem.
Great SRPG with minor flaws.
- Deep gameplay mechanics.
- Awesome music.
- Fun battles.
- Beautifully animated sprites.
- Good art style.
- Sprite art could be more distinctive and interesting.