Well, it's about time someone really, properly ripped off Fire Emblem: Three Houses. No, really, don't get upset; that is truly not the insult it reads like. After all, with no new mainline series title on the horizon — no, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes doesn't count — don't fans deserve a new title to flock around? Thankfully, Dark Deity is here to fill the hole of both Fire Emblem games and alliterative titles featuring two letter "D's". Move aside, Divine Divinity!
And, boys oh boys, this is a shameless lift of Fire Emblem from bottom to breakfast. Everything about its visuals, both on the field and in battle, directly recall the Game Boy Advance instalments of the venerable think-'em-up series (in the West that's the self-titled and Sacred Stones, kids). It's so close, in fact, that questions have to be raised as to how a still-active series can receive such a faithful... ahem... homage on the host system of its own inspiration.
But we're not complaining, thankfully, because Dark Deity is pretty alright. It doesn't hit the heights of Fire Emblem itself, but nobody expected it to.
As far as those battles go, you most likely already know the drill. Well, sort of. The famed weapon triangle (sword-beats-axe-beats-lance-beats-sword) has been excised from Dark Deity entirely, in favour of a more traditional game of numbers, wherein certain weapon types are more effective (in hit percentage) against various defences. It's a little less elegant than the triangle, but nothing to really complain about when it's the same way that almost all other tactics games tend to work.
Also missing from Dark Deity is the spectre of (dun dun duuuun) permanent death for your units. Yes, you won't have to say goodbye to any of your brave boys — on expiration, they'll simply lose a single valuable point from one of their stats and go to sleep for the remainder of the battle in question. A bit of a slap on the wrist, really, but that's not to say the game isn't otherwise challenging; there are multiple difficulty options and it defaults to the easiest. Also — and this is speculative — we expect it's extremely difficult to implement permadeath in a narrative game and it simply isn't worth the hassle for a feature that has the potential to turn off more players than it pleases.
What's left, then, is good old grid-based tactical gameplay with various different classes to utilise, a portentous fantasy story to tell and relationships to build with a cast of outlandishly-dressed warriors across 20-odd different scenarios, each more challenging than the last. Less brilliantly, however, we found that the type of challenge on offer here requires a lot of kiting and stalling tactics, meaning even the less complex battles can take what feels like an excessively long time to complete. Of course, as everybody is always saying, "excess is in the eye of the beholder" (note to self: check if anyone has ever said this), so perhaps these meaty missions will be to your taste. We found ourselves missing some of the breeziness of its source material, especially considering there didn't seem to be any mid-mission save feature to speak of. Yes, you can put the Switch into standby, but that's not really a compelling alternative.
Speaking of breeziness, we weren't entirely taken with Dark Deity's presentation or performance, either. It's quite a minor thing to begin with, but on first launching the game we were surprised to find the left analogue stick's sensitivity pitched so high that we were overshooting menu options immediately and consistently until we switched to the direction buttons. As we say, it's a small tweak, but it sets the tone for an occasionally sloppy-feeling game that can lack the polish we'd hope for. Menus lag, loading screens are frequent and rather extensive. Additionally — and perhaps this is uncharitable — the visuals in battle are generally quite unimpressive. Now, obviously this is a tactics game and visual fidelity isn't exactly the be-all and end-all, but while the sprites look okay, we found the locations rather plain and uninteresting, being an aggressive case of function over form. Better than the alternative, we suppose.
Thankfully story sequences fare better with excellent character art and strong backgrounds, so it's not a case of incompetence — the decision to keep battles clutter-free is obviously a conscious decision, and it does ensure that it's never at any point unclear exactly what it is you're doing and why.
The central loop of battling, chatting and levelling up is as compelling as you could ever want it to be, with an interesting story told well and a meaty 20 hours or so of no-frills tactics. Dark Deity lacks the romance options of Fire Emblem, as well as the first-party flair you expect from a Nintendo title, but the latter is hardly surprising and would be an unreasonable standard to hold almost any indie game to. Dark Deity delivers a convincing and essentially satisfying facsimile of GBA Fire Emblem, but perhaps fails to stand on its own two feet. Then again, we're not sure that was ever really the point.