Strategy RPGs, or SRPGs for short, are few and far between. It's a genre with an extremely enthusiastic and dedicated fanbase, but you'll find it's one with a lack of choices. There's Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics, and a few indies like Wargroove and Fae Tactics. Certainly there's more in the SRPG catalog, but they are still few and far between. The developers behind the upcoming SRPG Dark Deity realize this, and they finally set the wheels in motion to develop a game that takes the greatest parts of the genre and adds other exciting elements into the mix.
Dark Deity is currently on Kickstarter. Developed by a western studio in a more Japanese-inspired style, Dark Deity is a mix of strategic combat, character progression, and customization. We talked with Dark Deity's game director, Charles "Chip" Moore, on how a team of keen SRPG fans are creating their own game in the genre they love.
Strategically Planning Dark Deity's Development
Fire Emblem is one of those quintessential SRPGs, and it was through this series that Moore found his love for these types of games. Although his brother played Fire Emblem on the Game Boy Advance, Moore didn't have a chance to try the series out for himself until 2007's Wii masterpiece, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. From there, the rest was history as he began to explore the series more with previous entries.
"Beyond just enjoying SRPGs now," said Moore, "they were important to me during my most formative years, something I think allows me nice insight into developing our own."
It wasn't until years later that the plan for an actual game—one that would eventually become Dark Deity—was set in motion. Moore and his friend, now Dark Deity Business Manager Dylan Takeyama, were talking about creating their own game since middle school. While those junior high days are far behind both Moore and Takeyama, the idea of creating their own game never left them. In 2018, they teamed up and started to create a team.
"This is our chance to get into the industry that has shaped our lives most, and we’ve been putting our absolute all into it," said Moore. "That was what started it, but over time, we added [Composer] Sam, [Artist] Jono, and [Narrative Lead] Nick to the dev team, and each brings their own individual passion for games. What keeps us going is that we’re genuinely friends and just enjoy working on Dark Deity together. It doesn’t feel like work."
Moore says that because Dark Deity is a passion project, it played to their benefit. The team grew into their roles, and he says the scope of the game has increased over time, as well. The team of Dark Deity is in a bit of a unique position, as it is essentially one comprising students near college graduation, or recent graduates like Moore. Being a recent graduate allows him to focus strictly on development now that he's free from those educational obligations.
"I think that our situation with being recent/near graduates actually is a pretty positive thing," said Moore. "Most of our degrees are in fields that don’t directly tie in to a career in game development, but all of us have incredible passion for what we’re doing. It just makes our drive that much bigger that this is our chance to do what we love."
Spinning the SRPG Genre with Dark Deity
Dark Deity is a game with mechanics that will be recognizable to many. The gameplay is turn-based, and units are controlled on maps with a grid layout. When a player chooses a unit and initiates combat, an animation will play. Units themselves are unique characters with backstories and unique stats. And indeed, these stats are increased by defeating enemy units, amassing experience, and leveling up. There's plenty more to it than that, though. They are "strategy" games for a reason.
"Fans of recent SRPGs will be familiar with our bonds system - which though it does not feature a romance mechanic, does allow you to view conversations as characters grow closer," said Moore.
One SRPG staple that players have come to know and love (or possibly despise) is permadeath. For instance, in Fire Emblem, units can die permanently, and in most cases the game continues despite their death. Many Fire Emblem players make it their goal to keep every unit alive, even if it means losing a great deal of progress. Resetting a map after a unit's death isn't uncommon. Moore and his team acknowledge the annoyances behind resetting. This is where Dark Deity's Grave Wounds system comes in.
"Grave Wounds make it so that units take stat losses from how they’re injured rather than becoming flat-out unusable," said Moore. "It isn’t going to prevent resets entirely, as many will still restart the level if they aren't that far in (and I’m sure there will be purists who won’t allow for any stat losses), but it gives the player a lot more freedom to decide whether taking the stat loss is worth keeping the time they spent on the level to that point."
This is a clever way to circumnavigate narrative issues when a character dies. If a character in Fire Emblem dies, they're out of the picture for good. You lose out on conversations and their presence in the story. But with Dark Deity's smaller team, this would be an immense narrative challenge. With Grave Wounds, the stat loss allows units to live to fight another day while remaining in the picture. For those who can't live without permadeath, Moore says they will still include a "functional equivalent" as an optional mode. Units will be down and out, but still have a presence in the story.
Another important mechanic in SRPGs is classes. Dark Deity certainly features classes, but there's more freedom for the player to mess around. Moore says there are six base classes that upgrade from tier to tier. He adds:
"What is different about ours is that choosing your tier two doesn’t lock you into choosing a different set of tier threes," said Moore. "We’re focusing on making skills that feel powerful and really change the ways in which you can effectively use a unit, and these skills stay with you the whole game as there is no reclassing."
Starting from one of the six base classes, players will end up with "16 unique combinations of tier two and three." With each class playing differently from one another (again, as many SRPG fans would come to expect), there are a lot of options. These classes utilize different types of armor and damage, which is also where Dark Deity's "advantage system" comes into play.
Sort of like Fire Emblem's weapon triangle (sword beats axe, axe beats lance, lance beats sword), different units will have a significant edge over the other. Fire Emblem's system is rather basic, but Moore compares Dark Deity to Pokemon, touting their 36 combinations of armor and damage types.
"Different units are also more or less proficient with using their damage type to their gain - with the mastery stat affecting how much of a damage bonus they get when attacking the right enemies," said Moore. "Once you get a good grip on what types of enemies your favorite units are great at taking out, it feels really good to organize your strikes in ways that maximize advantage bonuses."
Units are also going to use Dark Deity's Eternal Aspects, which have both gameplay and narrative implications. Although Moore wants to remain vague on the story behind Eternal Aspects for right now, he calls them a "conduit of a god's power." As one might imagine, these are powerful. Eternal Aspects also have skills that tie into combat. Players will gradually increase their stockpile of Eternal Aspects throughout Dark Deity, and the abilities these grant are powerful, but some might have trade-offs.
"These range from massively increasing your health while lowering defense and fortitude," said Moore, "to buffing the unit according to how well they are performing in the level (we have a stat/scoreboard system you can view at any time). They essentially allow for a final, more flexible degree of customization for your characters."
Dark Deity's Final Stretch
Moore and his team met Dark Deity's $12,000 Kickstarter goal in seven hours, and now the campaign has over $44,000 pledges with over 1,000 backers. That's a lot of numbers, but it goes to show that fans are excited to see what Dark Deity has to offer. Moore says he and the team were "completely blown away."
Now, the team plans to finish Dark Deity. The estimated launch date is March 2021, which isn't too far off, either. The team is also very excited to see what players think. Narrative Lead Nick Solari wants to see fans' reactions to character bonds. Meanwhile, both Composer Sam Huss and Artist Jonathan Kinda are grateful for the fan response thus far. If you want to be a part of Dark Deity's Kickstarter, you can join it now.
What are your thoughts on Dark Deity? Let us know in the comments below!