Review – The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics

Another world. Another time. Another age. So begins The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix’s prequel series to Jim Henson’s magnum opus. Using advanced puppetry, deep world-building, and the benefits of modern tech, the series threw open the doors to the world of Thra in a way Jim Henson could have only dreamed of. As a fan of the franchise ever since I first saw the movie as a kid, it was a dream come true to see it being revisited with such love and care.

Thus, when Netflix announced a tie-in video game out of nowhere, I was quite skeptical. Video game tie-ins don’t have the best reputation, and The Dark Crystal deserves better than a cash grab. To my delight however, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is much more than an attempt to cash in on the show’s success. It doesn’t exactly set the strategy world on fire, but it’s a lot of fun and another way to experience this unique and exciting world.

HAVE YOUR WAR

“Unless we WIN.”

Let’s get the issues out of the way first. For starters, there’s no voice acting. Given that the game follows the events of the show, you’d assume it would at least reuse lines ripped from it. Yet, even though most of the dialogue is repeated word-for-word, it’s simply all text. It’s not game-breaking in the slightest, but very disappointing nonetheless. The soundtrack is in a likewise position. It’s not awful, and occasionally it even breaks from generic fantasy orchestra to something more traditional to the setting. Still, I have to wonder why they didn’t just use music from the movie and show, as not even using the main theme at least was criminal. Maybe there was some copyright issue behind the scenes, or budgetary concerns perhaps? Regardless, I was rather disappointed at the oversights.

Cutscene

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics’ story highlights are told through decent enough storyboard style cut-scenes.

The only other major issue has to do with the story and how it’s conveyed, which didn’t bother me personally, but it’s definitely a problem. Basically, the game starts at a point that’s about halfway through the TV show. Then, by using flashback missions, it loops back to the start and retells everything up to that point at a breakneck pace. Characters, locations, plots, proper nouns, are all tossed at you with little context or time to process them. There’s not even a lore encyclopedia for you to use to keep track of everything, which would have been quite handy. If you haven’t seen the show already, I doubt you’ll have any clue what’s going on or why. Which isn’t game-breaking sure, and you should watch the show anyway, but it’s a problem for anyone picking this up for the first time. Instead of a way to bring more fans into the fold, it feels aimed at already existing ones.

Massacre in the Library

I mean doesn’t everyone massacre the librarians while browsing for a book?

Now for the good stuff. As you might have guessed based off what little footage has been shown, it’s a Final Fantasy Tactics clone. A pretty good one too, it uses the established formula to great effect. There’s also some tweaks and new additions that help keep things fresh and fun as well. If you were hoping for something along the lines of Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark however, you would be disappointed. It’s definitely more a riff on this particular strategy gaming style, not an evolution or dramatic expansion. Which is perfectly fine, Final Fantasy Tactics is considered among the best in the genre for a reason.

The Dark Crystal

I love the world map, giving you a sense of where everything is something even the show lacked.

That’s not to underplay the ways The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics (what a mouthful) refines the formula. One of the biggest is the removal of random unit recruitment. Instead, you gradually unlock units as you progress through the campaign, and each one is unique. They have their own traits, Gelfling Clan affiliations, and a biography that makes them a part of the world. You’re not just fielding random mooks, but actual characters which gives their lives just a bit more heft. There’s also non-Gelfling characters which come with their own unique Class progression systems. Each character ultimately has something that makes them unique, which makes party building that much more interesting, both thematically, such as building Clan-themed parties, as well as more strategic combinations.

The Dark Crystal

Hup is already the greatest. Hup the Bard is literal perfection.

The other big change has to do with the Class progression system. Much like FFT, you have a few starter classes, and through leveling them up, you unlock other classes to branch out to. What TDC: AORT tweaks is secondary classes, which existed in FFT but were either broken or useless depending on the class. Here, they’re a full fledged feature, allowing you to equip both a primary and a secondary class. The cost is that, while you are allowed to equip three skills from your primary class, you can only equip two from the secondary. Also, only your primary class gains experience in battle. Otherwise you can freely mix and match classes and abilities, all usable at full strength. This turns what looks like a simple system into a potential pit full of all the min-maxing you could ever want. With the flexible equipment system on top, it’s fairly robust character progression and customization. Again, not the best the genre has seen, but far more than you would expect from a TW show tie-in game.

The Dark Crystal

My favorite levels are the one that make a puzzle the center of the conflict, with combat de-emphasized or outright ignored. A lot of these games don’t think to do that.

The final element of the game, and what brought it all together in my eyes, was the world. Thra is a varied place, full of wonders and exotic locations, and this game takes you on a tour through them all. However, it’s not just a cosmetic tour, which is the final big twist on FFT’s formula. It had environmental effects sure, but not to the degree shown here. Not only do each of the biomes have their own gimmick, from sandstorms to poison swamps, but there’s a variety of map-specific elements with a direct effect on gameplay. For example, the horrifying Gobbles from the show are here, and you can throw enemies into them if you really hate them that much. Also, the world interacts with your party in ways that make the it seem real. The Drenchen Clan of Gelflings grew up in the Swamps of Sog, and so are naturally resistant to poisons and toxins. This gives you a strategic advantage in fielding them on their home field, as they can navigate the murky waters with no penalty or debilitating effects. Likewise, enemies can use these same tactics against you, so you always need to be prepared.

The Dark Crystal

“AND MY AXE!”

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, and what I was wasn’t exactly positive. It managed to be so much more than what I could have hoped for. It’s faithful to the story and world, beautifully rendered to bring everything to life in the same way the movie and show did, and is, most importantly, fun to play. The biggest issue is that the story isn’t exactly newcomer-friendly, but I feel the depth of the strategy and theme help compensate for that. Either way, be you newcomer or longtime fan of the franchise, the war for the future of Thra awaits.

 

Graphics: 8.0

Character models beautifully replicate their puppet equivalents, while map environments are varied and detailed.

Gameplay: 8.0

It’s Final Fantasy Tactics-styled strategy done well. Varied missions, interesting map design, and fair difficulty.

Sound: 5.0

The soundtrack isn’t exactly bad, but it’s certainly generic and unmemorable. There isn’t any voice-acting either.

Fun Factor: 9.0

The world, story, and characters of The Dark Crystal are done justice in a very fun and well-designed strategy game.

Final Verdict: 8.0

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

Reviewed on Switch.

A copy of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics was provided by the publisher.