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Afterpatch Review: Dark Deity
Developer: Sword & Axe LLC
Publisher: Freedom Games
Available On: Nintendo Switch, PC
Review Console: Nintendo Switch OLED
THE SRPG ZONE! - Introduction
From the first moment of laying eyes on Dark Deity, it drew me in. Perhaps it was because of the obvious resemblance to NES-era Fire Emblem. Maybe it was the portraits accompanying each character. Whatever the case is, I needed to get my hands on it. Sadly, my hopes were dashed when I saw it was exclusive to PC. Something deep within my soul fought the urge to give up hope. This voice, hidden in the dark recesses of my mind, was screaming for patience, so I obliged. For once, I listened. Well, not only is it now available on a platform my grubby little hands have, but I can play while in bed. Throughout my years of life, I’ve swam in a vast pool of SRPGs, drowning in titles ranging from gnarly to mediocre. Which end is Dark Deity under, I wonder?
HERE WE GO AGAIN! - Writing
The narrative is quite a conundrum. There’s passion infused into the words and a genuine effort to deliver a fascinating journey. Dark Deity never struggles to be coherent and tells a classic tale of a war-torn world that a maniacal king poisons. That’s where I’ve stumbled on, not necessarily an issue, but why I’m unsure where to place it. On the one hand, I enjoy having a fully realized universe with conflicts and various ethnicities to nail a robust feeling.
On the other hand, however, there’s no innovation. It travels down a road many have before it. While the story is decent, there’s the glaring omission of attempting something new or never seen directions. It’s too safe, and sure, that’s all well and dandy, but it isn’t going to stand out from a crowd either. Risks were never taken, and that’s an ample missed opportunity.
AN OVERCROWDED AFFAIR! - Writing
I adore it when there’s an assortment of personalities in RPGs. When it individualizes everyone, I can easily relate, thus amplifying my ability to immerse myself. Dark Deity tries to do this by giving distinct mannerisms to all characters. Unfortunately, to even achieve a goal that’s so momentous relies heavily on stereotypes. None are a far cry from what graces other SRPGs within the fantasy genre. You have the flirt, the courageous hero, high-ranking soldiers, and more. I can only surmise that the reason for that is a byproduct of the sheer girth of the playable cast. It’s immense, touting 30 in total. To its credit, There’s a great effort put forth to never stray from what makes someone who they are. Their identity is consistent in how it’s presented. A handful isn’t one-tone either, having subtle layers and nuance to how they’re presented.
A RUNNING PACE! - Writing
What proves to be a stumbling block is that ambition. Because there are so many bodies to account for and write for, they forfeit a bit of bulk. No one is as fleshed out as they could be. Hell, there are some that, when they are encountered, barely add much to the overarching story. That’s not to say they’re devoid of anything and are empty husks. See, much like Fire Emblem, there’s a bonding mechanic. This facet is where the majority of exposition is going to end up, and, I’ll be frank, it’s damn charming. Smiles were sporadic, but enjoyment filled my heart. While a nitpick, I also couldn’t help but notice there’s little effort to have organic character development. There are some examples that are contrary to that, like the slow build of a romance. On the other end, there’s LGBTQ+ love that barely gets mentioned before it’s forgotten.
Since we’re discussing leaps in life events, there’s another example of a random insertion. Again, it’s a big nitpick but jarring at the same time. After beating an area, three separate NPCs come dashing into the frame. I was caught off guard by it. There’s no smooth lead-in to their appearance - no party member comments on the strange figure in the distance. Instead, they all suddenly emerge. What causes this negative is the fashion in which it occurs. Okay, petty complaints aside, I want to recognize the banter. It’s not exactly a top-notch showing, but it exists, and by God, it's pretty serviceable. A big spotlight needs to be shone on the friendship both Co-Protagonists - Irving and Garrick - have. Everything about them feels authentic, like two mates exchanging quips amidst being entrenched in an impending brutal war.
SRPGs and replayability are often not said in the same breath. There are exceptions, of course, but it’s a rarity in most cases. The strength of any Role-Playing title is the engaging narrative. After experiencing all it has to offer, the desire to revisit what’s already been read has diminishing returns. While the notion is still true here, it applies only to the core plot. You see, the bonding system functions identically to the one in Fire Emblem. Rapport is symbolized by an increasing rank - the higher it is, the tighter the relationship. In a single session, there’s zero percent chance of getting to everyone. By proxy, a second playthrough maintains a semblance of freshness to the content. The downside is because it’s spreading itself so damn thin amongst the cast, the impactful moments lose their edge, coming off as sterile as opposed to being emotional.
RANDOMIZER! - Gameplay
For several years, PC gamers have been indulging in the beautiful world of randomizers. It’s precisely as the name suggests - some modifiers can be toggled to alter the foundation of a game. Dark Deity tries to bring a bit of that ideology to consoles, allowing you to dictate specific aspects like bolstering the experience points or the money earned. Along with the excessive amounts of chatter amongst party members, it gives a further wrinkle to a second go around. Sounds superb, and having the capability to outfit your enemies with weapons they’d typically never wield adds strategy to the proceedings. You can also switch up the order of characters being recruited. The issue is that when that option gets selected, it merely does a sprite swap. Names and the original voice clips remain intact. It’s pretty jarring, disrupting immersion. Sure, this problem’s scant, but it also doesn’t feel thought out.
WEAPON BUFF! - Gameplay
Brand new equipment can never be purchased in Dark Deity. From the very beginning, everybody possesses a default of four weapons. To strengthen them, it requires a unique item, found either in-store or when in combat. Because of the avalanche of those that join up, sacrifices are made. It isn’t possible to enhance the entire group’s armaments to adequate lethality, thanks to the sheer volume. With a limited supply of upgrade-focused items, I had to pick and choose among the 30 available. If I attempted to invest in each individual, which I did, it resulted in weaker versions of swords or magic going into the final fight. The latter stages were lopsided. Fortunately, there’s zero perma-death, and I was freely employing my kamikaze technique with no worries. The RNG is mixed - critical hits are frequent, but overall hit accuracy tends to lean towards being a failure.
MY WEAKNESSES! - Gameplay
One likelihood for those imprecise strikes could be the implied weakness triangle. Dark Deity keeps it close to the chest, however, never outwardly spotlighting it to the player. If you pay attention to damage output, as well as impact chance, though, the fluctuation of these stats lends insight. Naturally, that forces me to consider a balanced approach to which characters I concentrate on regarding weapon bolstering. What proves to be bothersome is that during the first couple of chapters, I was murdering my foes with ease. That had the effect of making me not consider any equipment advantages. Instead, I chose distance over everything, meaning I’d throw most of the upgrade items at my magic wielders - a colossal mistake. While I tried to minimize the hurt like this, I unknowingly made myself vulnerable. Luckily, I’d still have time to course correct it, but it remained a tad tough.
STRIPPED DOWN! - Gameplay
I don’t think it’s wrong to surmise that grinding is the bane of half the RPG community’s existence. There’s a minority of fans that embrace the repetitious notion of it. I’m one of those weirdos, but for everyone else, there’s cause to rejoice. By adjusting the XP slider to double what’s attained after killing a soldier, I had no lulls in my levelling. Hell, it rapidly entered a perpetual cycle of slaughter, increase, rinse, repeat. The gameplay itself consists exclusively of the battle sequences. There’s no travelling between towns, despite the world map. Talking sections are interlaced into a menu selection before rushing into combat. As I’m sure has become clear, the structure is barebones, going for a minimalist tinge. Ironically enough, that births the very thing it tries avoiding by removing the grinding - repetitiveness. There’s little to no variety, bringing down enthralment.
GETTING CAUGHT UP! - Performance
For a title that doesn’t boast extensive visuals, I’m a bit shocked by the hiccups. For starters, button presses have a delayed response. There were several instances where I'd enter a command, only to do it again after not registering promptly. It’s not a hindrance in the sense of causing unheard-of frustration, but it will get a smidge annoying. Speaking of, the combat itself has stuttering sprinkled around. It only lasts a second, meaning it rectifies quickly, but the recurrence is ever so prevalent. While the incidents are minute compared to what they could have been, the frequency could wane heavily on a person. I was indifferent to it, though it did have the horrible habit of hanging as it transitioned to active fighting. After months of availability, it’s regrettable that nothing above has been smoothed out.
CALM ME DOWN! - Sound Design
Point blank, the soundtrack isn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination. It’s pleasant to listen to, bordering serene even, with those soft docile notes of flutes and violins. As someone that grew up playing JRPGs on the PS1, it reminds me of that bygone era. I suppose it’s fair to say that it strangely had a nostalgic flair for me. For as great as it is, however, I couldn’t help but notice a considerable flaw. It’s something I note all too often in my reviews. Between music and scenes, there was this disconnect. The emotion it wanted to invoke deep in my soul remained dormant. It’s a shame, too, as the passion from the composer is evident; quite frankly, it’s glaring. It’s just missing that certain je ne sais quoi. It’s rather forgettable, but hey, at least, when you’re playing, it isn’t intrusive.
AND THE TACTICAL VERDICT IS…
Dark Deity is an inoffensive SRPG that plays it safe, delivering an experience that’s the epitome of alright. It does nothing to stand out from the crowd truly. It’s by the numbers, following the basic formula of those NES-era SRPGs. The writing is, without a doubt, the highlight with the superb character interactions and their banter. The narrative, however, is lacklustre and textbook. The biggest strike against it is how it haphazardly tosses in so many party members. Instead of allowing any of them to breathe, it follows the belief that more is quality. Still, it’s fun enough to keep you entertained, and for those that, like me, love statistics that cover the per battle performance of your combatants, I have some good news. There’s a lot of promise here, and I’m excited to see what Sword and Axe LLC does next.
Dark Deity is worth playing but isn't a must. I have no regrets about having devoted 20 hours to it, but I’m also in no hurry to replay it. That said, while I recommend it, only grab it on sale.
Special thanks to Stride PR for providing the code used for this coverage on behalf of Freedom Games.