Sword & Axe LLC
Available on Switch
March 17 2022
Disclaimer: A review copy was supplied
In the Kingdom of Delian, King Varic is waging a reckless war to avenge the death of his father. However, things are not going well for the demanding ruler. To bolster his forces, he forcibly conscripts every student in his military academy directly into the army, ready or not. This is where Irving and his companions come into the story. These trainees are pulled into a war they aren’t fully prepared for, and along the way are drawn into an even greater conflict that could upend their entire world.
This is the setup for Dark Deity, a Strategy Role Playing game developed by Sword & Axe LLC and published by Freedom Games. released last year on Steam after a successful campaign on Kickstarter, it has now been ported over to the Nintendo Switch.
When beginning a new game, you can simply choose your difficulty, but the game also has more detailed options to fine tune your experience if you wish. These options grant you much greater flexibility in how easy or difficult you want your experience to be, alongside other settings that mix up character classes, weapons, and rewards. This can keep the game fresh across multiple playthroughs, not quite knowing how the battles will play out.
Gameplay is a series of top-down battles where you and your opponents take turns moving your units around a grid like chess pieces. Each character has a job that gives them specific abilities in the field that range from up-close melee fighter, long range archer, or healing and support. You have to take advantage of this variety of skills to achieve the goals the story sets for you.
When your units engage in combat, the game goes into a closeup of the characters attacking and retaliating. The sprite work is well animated, and shows off the attacks and the characters who visually change as they advance into new classes.
There doesn’t appear to be permanent death as any character(s) I lost in battle came right back after the battle ended. However, when a party member falls, they may receive a severe wound, resulting in a minor but permanent stat reduction. I feel this is a balanced trade off as you can choose to continue with the disadvantage or restart the current battle, and I appreciate this mechanic over permanently losing party members. When I first played a game from the Fire Emblem series, I permanently lost a brand new party member very early in the game and that really put me off on continuing.
The field background art during battle has been improved and redrawn on the Switch version of Dark Deity, and I do like the additional detail the developers have added. With less rigid tiling and brighter colours, Dark Deity now looks less like an early 90s PC game and more akin to something you would have found on the Game Boy Advance.
However, I noticed that some animation has been lost in the process. The first example I noticed was during the cutscene introducing the first battle of the game. The banners in the background of the first battle. In the original Steam release they have a simple swaying in the breeze animation, but are static on the Switch.
The real problem I had is that once you’re actually in the battle, the zoom level changes and the scaling of the graphics becomes inconsistent in both docked and handheld mode which I find exceedingly hard on the eyes. You get two levels of zoom, though neither one fixes the issue. Sticking to the scaling used during the pre battle cutscene would be a huge relief to my eyes as the same graphics looked fantastic until it switched to actual battle.
— Launch day edit —
- The Steam version has been updated to match the battle map art and balance changes of the Switch version. this includes the zoom level changes causing similar pixel scaling issues. This is still much more pronounced on the Switch, however.
Between battles, you’re treated to story-driven cut scenes. And while the story is familiar with predictable character motivations, the dialogue and banter are quite amusing. There’s even a sly sense of humour woven into the item and character class descriptions, which had me laughing out loud occasionally.
Strangely, the painted backdrops of the cut scenes outside of battle have fared much worse than the graphics in-battle. They use the same art, but for some reason, the images have been reduced in size and poorly re-scaled to fit the screen. This causes a noticeable drop in quality, which is noticeable in both docked and handheld modes. I find it especially odd as both Steam and Switch are running Dark Deity in 1080p and I can’t imagine a reason why they wouldn’t simply use the same version of the files.
The character portraits are comparable, and casually you may not even notice, but side by side you can tell the art used on the switch is lower resolution than on the PC version. Perhaps this was in an effort to optimise the visuals for handheld mode on the Switch which is limited to 720p, but there should be no issues displaying the original art in handheld mode, and the scaling issues in the backdrops are still clear as day.
These are not details that everyone will notice or even care about, but image scaling problems are something I am particularly sensitive to and they are very detrimental to my play experience.
You’re also given the opportunity to buy supplies and upgrade your party members’ weaponry. Despite each character having four weapons or attacks that can be upgraded, the points that are used to perform these upgrades have been very scarce in my time with the game. This left me feeling like most of the weapons were useless. It also forced me to leave most of my party underdeveloped as I only had enough upgrade points to upgrade the attacks of two of the many characters in my unit.
While an improvement over the quality of the music in the PC version. I still found nearly every piece of music to be incredibly bland and uninspiring. The fact that it constantly stops and starts with every attack does not help it at all. After the first few battles, I ended up muting the music and putting on the soundtrack to Final Fantasy Tactics in the background as I played.
The enemy AI is fairly simple. Often you’ll find that unless you get in range, enemy units won’t activate at all. This lets you fight a few enemies while a dozen more just stand around and let it happen. This could be a deliberate choice for the sake of game balance, but I found it was easy to manipulate. Enemy units would never take advantage of their surroundings and would always fall for the bait if I lured them into specific spots. I felt this all made the battles a lot easier to manage.
Despite its faults, I enjoyed the time I spent playing Dark Deity, and I saw a lot of potential in the game. It’s clear that the developers put some effort into sprucing up the presentation for the Switch, but for every step forward, there was an awkward step back. Given the choice, I would go back to the Steam version for the superior version for the cleaner visuals and mouse control. otherwise they’re completely on par. But if you’re looking for a light Fire Emblem style experience, especially on the go, Dark Deity on Switch might just scratch that itch.
If you’re a fan of Strategy RPGs, I’d recommend giving this one a chance.
3 Stars out of 5
- Good character banter
- Smooth combat animations
- A sense of humour that made me laugh several times
- A solid foundation for an SRPG
- The music is awful
- No touchscreen support
- The visuals, while artistically improved, are technically flawed
- Controls are frustrating at times
- Antagonists feel a little generic
- Combat has strange quirks.