Dark Deity PC review: a fun homage to the strategy RPGs of the past

Dark Deity

Strategy RPG Dark Deity will be familiar to fans of Fire Emblem. In fact, just like the recent Three Houses, it begins in a school.

Of course, that doesn’t last long. The cast of (mostly) teen anime fighters are soon whisked away on a journey across the land. It’s a tale of evil necromancers, mystical temples and magical elemental stones that’s as comfortingly familiar as it is cliché.

It’s a streamlined affair that focuses on a linear story and tense turn-based battles that take their cue from Fire Emblem, Final Fantasy Tactics and other similar titles. In fact, there’s a lack of explanation in the early stages that almost requires familiarity with other games in the genre.

What that means is slowly moving your mini army of characters around each map like a chessboard. Each character is from a wide array of different classes that fall under magic users, melee specialists, rogue types and the like. And each character has access to four different moves that focus on power or accuracy, each with their own probability of hitting an enemy. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your characters is necessary to win; one false move is often enough to wipe out your favourites.

Attacks are presented through retro sprites with some fun animations. Critical hits in particular have some extra flashy movement that ensures they’re satisfying when they randomly occur. Having a balanced party of attackers and healers is imperative to victory, but some difficulty spikes do frustrate, with no way to change the difficulty options once you start.

Dark Deity

Dark Deity. (Freedom Games)

Most games in this genre have permadeath, where characters are permanently out when they die. Not here. Instead, any character who falls in battle receives a permanent debuff to their stats. It means you can scrape by on a mission and still win, but over time your characters may end up less powerful than you’d like, with no way to level up outside of the main quest.

That’s one of a few shortcomings with such a streamlined approach. It’s also easy for characters you don’t fight with to get left behind. Dark Deity features a huge cast of characters, but each battle has limited numbers so you’ll soon pick your favourites and stick with them.

No time for tea in Dark Deity

Between battles, your options are limited. You can upgrade abilities, shop for items and improve the bond between characters through conversations. This improves their relationships – most of which are platonic – which adds depth to their characterisation but isn’t integral to the plot. And the only way to manipulate this is by having them battle together. There are no tea time dates here.

The cast themselves are likeable enough, even if they fall into obvious tropes. There are cute female healers, powerful child mages, himbo warriors and fierce female assassins. With such a large cast there’s something for everyone, even if they don’t all get a chance to develop.

The lack of romance options is disappointing, though. There’s little way for the player to manipulate relationships in any way. And while there is some LGBT+ representation, the diversity of the cast is minimal.

Fans of strategy RPGs looking for a new fix will find plenty to enjoy in Dark Deity, especially with its fun – if sometimes unbalanced – battles. There might not be enough love and romance in the story, but the game as a whole is a love letter to a much-adored genre.

3 / 5

Dark Deity is available now on PC via Steam.