Review: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics
Reboots of classic stories, franchises, and characters have been popping up everywhere in recent years. I was beyond excited when one of my favorite films, The Dark Crystal, was being adapted into a Netflix series. Much like others who were raised on Labyrinth, Gremlins, and The Neverending Story, it’s exciting to see a new adaptation of a classically weird story from my childhood. But after experiencing a video game adaptation in the form of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics for Nintendo Switch, there could be an even better way to experience these elaborate adventures and mystical characters for the first time.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is developed by BonusXP and published by En Masse Entertainment for PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Steam. While I will admit, I don’t often play tactics-style games, I think that what The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics has is worth looking at when the game releases on February 4th, 2020.
Wearily Woven Storytelling
If you’re new to the story of The Dark Crystal then you needn’t worry as the game will explain the story right from the beginning. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics walks players through the entire story of the eponymous Netflix series, but it does include new storylines that aren’t previously included in the streamable series. Players will uncover the world of Thra while leading a Gelfling resistance during a particularly tumultuous time in Thra’s history.
Like in many fantasy RPG-style games, you will come across characters in need across Thra that have their own reasons for joining the resistance. Admittedly, some have more enthralling stories than others. Most of these characters come to their own conclusions of joining your party after you assist them enough times. There are characters like Brea the Vapran Princess who gets herself into peculiar situations thanks to her curiosity, as well as friend Boggi, an adorable Fizzgig who aided the scholars of a library. Characters like this are abundant in Thra and you won’t run out of new and interesting creatures to discover or learn about.
Where Age of Resistance Tactics has a tendency to fall short, occasionally, is the way it chooses to tell its story. Sometimes the pacing can feel off when the important story beats are shared or, more importantly, how they’re shared. The initial opening of the story felt promising with a beautiful panel illustration cutscene, but what followed was a lot of text boxes, with what felt like rushed pacing. At times I also noticed cutscenes of dialogue that felt like they deserved more elaborate scenes than they were given.
Overall, I feel the storytelling and environment building is strong thanks to what has been accomplished with the Netflix series. But some of the delivery in Age of Resistance Tactics leaves something to be desired. Perhaps it’s a side effect of a tactics-style game, but it was a sore-spot during my playthrough nonetheless.
Clean, Challenging Combat
As I mentioned earlier, I don’t play many tactics-style games. I’ve certainly seen my fair share of them before and, in preparation for reviewing this game, I did a bit of research, but I’m still fairly new to the genre. However, regardless of if you have no experience in tactics-style games or if you play every strategy game that comes your way you’ll still enjoy the gameplay in Age of Resistance Tactics.
The levels feel intuitively crafted to keep challenging you without making the game feel unapproachable at any point. If you find yourself out of your element then there’s always a reason: you’ve got the wrong party or items, you need better equipment, or your party has the wrong jobs in place. With the amount of customization available for your party, fine-tuning your team is necessary for success, but with time you can easily find your groove and enjoy the challenges of Age of Resistance Tactics.
From the initial levels of the game you can see that the combat mechanics have been given a lot of love in development. There are so many quality-of-life features in combat that I loved, too many in fact to list here, that I found the style of fighting easy to approach even for someone that hasn’t played a tactics-focused game before. One feature was the ability to analyze or scan the allies that would be joining you in battle before placing your party members. This feature allows you to better design a well-rounded party and understand if you need an extra Mender versus a Soldier and vice versa. This ability to customize your team allows for great replayability as well, which helps with the game’s New Game+ mode available after your first playthrough.
As I mentioned before, equipment and job systems are abundant in Age of Resistance Tactics. Equipment in particular feels endless at times with its availability through a store interface as well as a reward during certain levels. What I appreciated about the game was the constant balanced feeling of knowing when I had enough equipment or when I clearly needed to upgrade and then being able to do so. I didn’t reach a point where I needed to grind for in-game currency or desperately hope for a random equipment drop, but I also wasn’t breezing through levels with overpowered items.
Creatively Crafted Creatures
If you’re at all familiar with the wonderful world of the late Jim Henson’s creations then you’ll know the fantastic beings he was capable of creating. These creatures come to life in Age of Resistance Tactics and take on new roles to build out the bustling world of Thra for players. Each party member, NPC, and enemy feels like a new opportunity to see what is happening across Thra.
While the game doesn’t present any revolutionary graphics or art styles, it also doesn’t need to in order to tell its story or present a visually interesting game. The overworld map, menus, and loading screens offer a classic fantasy drawing style that gives a perfect fit the entire game. During the individual levels the art style turns three-dimensional while still giving the world and its character’s a fantasy feeling. I found that the gameplay looks equally good with my Switch in handheld mode and on my television screen.
Musically, the score on Age of Resistance Tactics sets the stage for a fantastic adventure. While at times a bit over-the-top, overall, the music keeps up the tone of the story and battle. I found myself enjoying most of the music throughout the battles, menus, and over-world, rarely turning it down.
Ultimately, my only big complaint with the display is the font size. While there are plenty of options for volume controls, there are none for adjusting font sizes to be easier on the eye. Throughout the game the text tends to remain fairly small which, especially on the Switch, can make keeping up with the game’s story nearly impossible. I found myself squinting and straining my eye to try my best and understand what was going on, eventually docking my Switch in hopes that playing on my television would alleviate the problem – which it did not.
The Legacy Lives On
Remakes and reboots can go wrong quickly in more ways than one. What’s great about The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is that it avoids many of the ways it could have easily done so. The story is mostly solid, the art helps bring life to the creatures of Thra, and the gameplay is great for newcomers and veterans of tactics-style games.
There truly are only a few bumps in the road during the journey of the Gelfling resistance. Font size, music that can be a little over-the-top, and a story that has weak points during its set-up are all faults, sure, but they don’t detract too much from the game as a whole. It’s worth noting that this isn’t a perfect game, but it’s still a fun fantasy journey to go on, just like everyone’s favorite classic, The Dark Crystal from 1982.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics brings back a beloved favorite in a reimagined way while also introducing a classic to a new audience. It celebrates the creative creatures we were introduced to in the Netflix series without feeling like a product-placement. If you’re looking for an introduction into tactics-style games and already love the world of The Dark Crystal this game is definitely worth checking out.
Review copy provided by En Masse Entertainment for Nintendo Switch. Screenshots courtesy of En Masse Entertainment.