I’m not of the persuasion that a game must be stunningly original in order to be great, or even good. After all, there are only so many ways you can reinvent the wheel, right? What matters in the end is whether you have a game worth playing – a game that, even if it lacks originality, nonetheless showcases refinement and polish.
Unfortunately, neither originality nor polish are to be found within Dark Deity.
The best way I can describe the game is that it’s “GBA Fire Emblem, except designed by people who do not understand Fire Emblem.” To the game’s credit, the graphics are nice; it’s pixel art which would look right at home on the GBA. Dark Deity’s controls are also solid and intuitive. The “skeleton” is nice too: you have the option to finely tune your settings , such as whether level ups are random or RNG-dependent, how much gold/exp you get, and whatnot. These settings in particular make for a theoretically high amount of replay value. (See below screenshot)
Dark Deity does a lot of the surface level, basic stuff right. This is perhaps an understated strength which many other games do not understand. The unfortunate thing about Dark Deity though is that it fails on many counts with the more in-depth stuff. This disappointed me because I value core mechanics over surface-level fluff. I can easily tolerate minor bugs, less-than-perfect UI, and sometimes glitchy controls; what bothers me more is a game which is simply not fun… and that’s what Dark Deity is.
As the first of Dark Deity’s problems, the story is amateurish, boring, and confusing. It starts off by throwing several characters at you all at once with dull, mostly skippable dialogue. Characters establish themselves as one-dimensional tropes: the generic leader, the cookie-cutter “wise guy,” the kid, the chick, and so on. Right from the start, the story fails to make a good impression. Even as it goes on, it fails to improve in any noticeable way.
One of the keys to GBA Fire Emblem’s dialogue was brevity. Events immediately happen, and you have to immediately solve them. Characters make themselves known in clear, sharp terms instead of being confusingly referenced secondhandedly. And importantly, cutscenes don’t drone on for too long. There’s a sense of immediacy – a sense that your time is being respected. That’s not how Dark Deity feels at all. Instead, it’s a narrative which will test your patience and eventually make you want to just skip all the cutscenes. Things in GBA Fire Emblem were also introduced gradually. In FE7 for instance, things start off with just you (the player) and Lyn. In the next chapter, you meet two new characters, and so on. In the first 10 minutes of Dark Deity though, there are about a dozen important names and they all come at once. It’s all poorly narrated and poorly paced.
I wish I could say the gameplay were more promising, but there’s no such hope to be found here either. I won’t go super in-depth as to why the game is shoddily designed, but I will say this: Dark Deity’s most glaring problem is its poorly thought-out balance. Units have no caps – no level caps, no stat caps. This means that you can hoard all of your stat boosters (and even buy additional stat boosters, since they’re available in the shop after every battle) and just give these all to one unit. Personally, I recommend pumping Irving full of steroids and then promoting him to his flier class. If you do this, then you can very easily solo the entire second half of the game with Irving. He will always hit; he will always dodge; he will hit like a truck; he will have stupidly good defenses; he will always crit; he will have 1-2 range; he will have the ability to choose physical/magical damage; he will have great mobility, and he will fly. Basically, Irving is one of the most broken units I’ve seen in any SRPG.
In addition to this dumb idea of not having any stat caps, Dark Deity includes many maps which actively encourage you to only use Irving. Map design in the game is outright lazy for the most part: no side objectives, straightforward main objectives (i.e. just kill the boss or rout all enemies), and linear trudges which don’t encourage you to take advantage of the terrain. It’s a barebones SRPG which in some ways is more basic than even the first Fire Emblem game, Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, which was released on the NES back in 1990… only Dark Deity came out 31 years later, so it really has no excuse. Dark Deity is also plagued by numerous other problems, such as featuring a confusing “weapon advantage” system which, instead of following an easily memorized, simple system like the Weapon Triangle, is obtuse, counterintuitive, and not explained at all. There’s also the odd lack of map animations. The positive side effect here is that battles go by ridiculously quickly, meaning you don’t have to waste that much time playing this game if you did get suckered into buying it. The obviously negative side effect is that the game can feel unprofessional and janky.
I really don’t enjoy being so negative about an indie SRPG, because I know there are a lot of great ones out there. However, Dark Deity is definitely not one of them. This is a SRPG that I can’t recommend in good conscience. Clearly, it was attempting to capitalize on nostalgia for GBA Fire Emblem. On its face, Dark Deity looks like a promising successor to GBA Fire Emblem. But dig a little deeper and what you’ll find is a pale imitation which doesn’t even come close. It’s analogous to snagging a sexy Rolex watch for cheap, only to find that it’s actually a worthless Chinese knockoff. Congratulations: you’ve been had. (I’m pretty sure that was a plot point in Better Call Saul, but I digress.)
If you truly want your fix of GBA Fire Emblem, then by all means, replay the originals. Or find yourself a good romhack, like
Dorcas Emblem Project Ember or a 0% growths hack. Or play an indie SRPG like Banner of the Maid, which actually takes the FE influence and applies it quite pleasingly.
Developers: Sword & Axe LLC
Steam page: https://store.steampowered.com/app/1374840/Dark_Deity/