Take a trip down season one again in tactics form.
The world of Thra is in danger and it is up to you and your team of Gelfling to save it. That is the narrative elevator pitch for En Masse Entertainment’s riff on Final Fantasy Tactics, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics, but it goes way deeper than your standard save-the-planet-from-evil story. Based on the Netflix original TV series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Tactics puts you head on with the evil Skeksis in their attempt to become immortal by draining the life essence of the Gelfling.
When I was a kid I was obsessed with anything muppet related. Anything that Jim Henson produced I was on board with and my parents were A-okay with me watching the adventures of Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the gang, but with The Dark Crystal, I vaguely remember that this film was not on my radar. For good reason of course, since it was a stark change from Henson’s other films. It was dark and gritty, featuring storylines of death and peril. Not really something a child should be watching. Later in life when I did finally get to see it (sadly the film was removed from Netflix last December) I had way more appreciation for it. The world, characters, and production were fascinating. Fast forward 37 years and Netflix’s new series takes the world, expands upon it, and journeys onto even more fascinating directions. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics on the other hand is just the show in an interactive form, which honestly is disappointing.
Taking a page from games like Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics plays out in a similar way. Characters are arranged in a certain area on a grid-based map. Each character has a set of spaces they can move in a certain direction. Map terrain, obstacles, and enemies affect the movement of a character as well. If one of your troops can get close enough to an enemy, they can perform a variety of actions ranging from standard attacks to special abilities that are specific to character class.
As you progress, new Gelfling join your party, but instead of being able to go up to the character and try to talk or convince them to join your cause, they just join as long as you complete the mission. It seems like you are just going through the motions. If you have seen the first season of the show then you will be very familiar with each mission. The main story beats are presented in battle form, such as the escape from the Skeksis castle and the fight scene with the Hunter. I feel like this was a missed opportunity to flesh out each character’s backstory, such as the journey of Hup before he meets up with Deet.
Gameplay is similar to other grid-based strategy games and is solidly enjoyable, but it just feels slow. All the actions are presented on a wheel that is controlled by the left stick, but instead of being prompted to do certain action after making a move, it closes the wheel and then you have to select the character again to prompt the wheel to open so that you can choose to either attack, choose an ability, or end your turn. The pacing seems to slow down, adding additional steps to execute pedestrian tasks. This really hampers the flow when you don’t like where you placed your character, as you have to open the action wheel up again and click “undo-move,” which then brings you back to where you came from. After learning and getting used to it, the interface is ultimately not terrible, but it is an inconvenience.
The maps themselves are beautifully designed as a 3D diorama, but are small, making the levels feel too constricted. I do like how the maps add some depth to them by adding elevation in some spots. Female Gelfling, for example, can fly so they can go up higher to a certain spot and then if they have a long distance magic attack can be very useful to start chipping away at some enemies far away. Male Gelfling can not fly and can still go up to these higher spots, but it will just take them longer as their movement is limited. Being on the higher ground also gives you an advantage on enemies that are next to you, so you get a bonus on the damage when you attack.
Your team levels up roughly the same at the end of each mission, so you don’t have to worry about trying to use a specific character a lot to get them more experience. Just don’t let any of your characters die; they won’t be gone forever, but they are lost for the mission and they don’t get as much experience at the end. There are abilities that the mender class can use that does revive allies, but those don’t get unlocked until they get to a higher level. New classes can be obtained as well as you level up, which allows you to customize your characters. I like the fact that they have cross-classes, which if you get to a high enough level on two advanced classes, you can move to a mix class that grants you access to more abilities from two different trees and can make the character more well rounded. It is really not that deep but it works for this game. The main missions can’t be replayed, but there are some extra missions that can be played as many times as you like so you can work on gaining more orbs (game currency) and experience. These won’t change from what I can tell so they do get boring after you have gone through them a few times. New weapons and armory become available as you complete missions as well, so there is some customization available.
A bright spot is the aesthetics and music. Each mission has a unique feel and all of them are designed in what looks like a dollhouse. The right stick on your Switch can be used to spin around the entire map and zoom in and out. It does look really good especially when you have it docked. The music is also very catchy; most of the tunes are pulled from the show, but it does seem like there are some new ones in there.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is a solid game, especially if you like the source material. If you aren’t interested in the show or strategy games, then this won’t convince you to like them in any meaningful way. While it was nice to replay the first season of Netflix’s show, this was a missed opportunity to capitalize on the success of this new era of puppet mastery.