This one definitely feels a bit like cheating for me. Dark Deity is a game I backed on Kickstarter several years ago, as it obviously appealed greatly to my sensibilities. They claimed to be making a modern day Strategy RPG in the vein of Fire Emblem, and their Kickstarter exceeded their goals. What’s really impressive is that they actually managed to get their game out on Steam before their scheduled deadline, which just about never happens in a Kickstarter.
Basically, Dark Deity is another of those grid based tactical RPGs that seem to show up at least once a month on this blog (I have my preferences). It very much draws influence from old school Fire Emblem games, particularly those from the SNES and Game Boy Advance eras (the ones that hit US shores first, in other words). In point of fact, many have called Dark Deity a Fire Emblem clone.
The game does involve gathering together a motley band of various individuals and organizing them on a grid. Each character fulfills a different class, broadly divided into a few different categories: fighter, archer, healer, mage, and a relatively unique class called the “adept.” They all possess different damage types of weapon, and there have been entire guides and charts dedicated to breaking down how that works. Basically, certain weapons work better against certain types of enemies. This often makes sense: bludgeoning does more damage to those wearing heavy armor, while those same units shrug off arrow shots and other projectiles.
The story works pretty well. You begin controlling a small class of cadets at a military academy: Irving the fighter, Garret the archer, Maren the healer, and Alden the mage. They start you off fairly easy, with low stakes battles, and, as one would expect, things start ballooning from there. A war forces all the young characters to be drafted (thus giving an explanation for why fourteen year old Alden is tagging along on this perilous journey). The group decides to take on a group of bandits, and during this, they uncover a magical conspiracy utilizing these powerful items called “Aspects.”
Simple stuff, really. They do a pretty good job of making sure that every character gets a moment to chime in during the story, and quite frequently the dialogue reads pretty sharp. It would have to, considering that we’re dealing with the standard two or more standing portraits talking to one another situation.
What really appeals most to me for games like this are the built in conversations that they have one with another. Each character has ten other characters that they’ll have private conversations with. Simply field those characters together in several missions, ideally close to each other, and they’ll eventually have side conversations. These build a variety of relationships, ranging from friendships to romance. As each conversation is purposefully constructed, they all feel at least a little meaningful, though sometimes they go a bit off the rails.
I know that I, personally, would’ve preferred a little more romance between the characters. There’s really only two, maybe three romances throughout the entire cast. They’re well done, and I do appreciate that Dark Deity isn’t following Fire Emblem’s latest pattern and just filling the rosters with romance. There’s just a more solid middle ground between them.
The real meat here is the moderately complex take on the old Fire Emblem system. As I said, each character fits into one of those broad categories. As one would expect, they also each have their own stat growths, which adds some uniqueness to the units. But they also come with their own inlaid ability. Each class then gives two additional abilities. And at level 10, those broad base classes (warrior, rogue, etc.) can become one of four different classes with different skills, equipment, and overall development.
This means that there are sixteen different permutations of each character, and there’s some fun to be had in mixing and matching in order to get the best combination. Mastering this system can produce some absolute monsters on the battlefield, which can occasionally make the game feel unbalanced, but also does have a slight rewarding quality to it:
This does get legitimately insane at some point, particularly when you mix the various damage and armor types into the mix as well.
Branching further from this, each character has one of four different colored variations of their weapon. These are broadly grouped as well: strong, crit, accurate, and balanced. It becomes a matter of matching the best weapon class to a unit who is also in the best particular class branch.
Oh, and to top all that off, remember the Aspects I mentioned as a plot point? Yeah, those can be equipped and add further to the stats. I had one that took half of the crit and strength values and swapped, producing the monstrous dragon rider you see above.
It’s obvious that this is where a lot of the love and design for Dark Deity went. I’ve played through the game at least five times now, and there are still classes and combinations I could explore. They could use a bit more balancing: there are a few classes that feel like a waste of time or energy, and I often find myself slotting certain characters into certain classes based on the story. Careful readers will note that most of the characters offer advice to which class works best (one character has a sword, so promoting her to the sword class works best, whereas the various adepts each talk about which element they manifested first, which generally seems to be how they nudge).
They also made sure that there were five characters in each broad category. That means you could technically have each character go down a different route with one to spare.
If this sounds like a lot of menu matching and tweaking, it is. But it doesn’t feel quite as bad as some games, like Disgaea 6 for example. It more feels like personalizing the units and figuring out the optimum way to play the game, things that Fire Emblem fans have been looking at for ages.
In some ways, this feels like a Fire Emblem fan game. It really does copy a lot, but as you can tell from my break down of the various features and customization options, it’s doing its own thing. This all points to what I’ve mentioned a few times, with the idea of drawing on an older game for inspiration without simply copying it wholesale.
Dark Deity does have some issues though. There are a few times where stats seem to glitch out during a level up or after a particularly nasty battle. I’ve seen Irving’s health display account for double his actual max health. Magic or other stats also seem to leap up by the aspects, but get shown in a menu in a confusing manner.
The maps also do rely a bit too much on the whole “decimate the enemy forces” thing that’s so popular with these games. They do try to mix things up with unique hazards and the like (one of my personal favorites involves escaping with your whole army after a trap goes off in a tomb), but there are a few missions that feel uninspired (there’s one where everyone has to run after a speech goes awry and the entire enemy army surrounds you; this was fixed some from early builds, but still doesn’t quite work because they play around with the experience and it just feels like a hassle).
there’s not really anything deep to get into with the story here. The game does show a pretty good handling of how a Kickstarter game can go right, and it follows the pattern a lot of those games have: taking an old, nostalgic idea and breathing new life into it (see also Bloodstained, the dreaded Mighty Number Nine, and several other big name projects). This feels like the heartfelt attempt of a small team of developers who wanted to create a game that felt like something that the original creators have moved on from.
In many ways Dark Deity feels like an alternate universe Fire Emblem, where the game focused on things besides the various life sim elements and the branching paths. It’s also a much shorter playthrough than modern Fire Emblem games, clocking in at probably around 20 hours for a first playthrough (my two playthroughs on the Switch, which were around my fourth/fifth, clock in around 12 hours). That breezy length actually does add to it for some: you’re not signing up for a long, 60 hour slog (and games, particularly RPGs, have just gotten too bloated of late). The story could definitely use some work, but the end product here is still something worth exploring.
9 glitches and a slight feeling of being rushed do hamper it a bit. Plus I, personally, wish that the relationships were a bit better developed in the various side conversations.