When Netflix first announced a continuation of The Dark Crystal, I was mostly sceptical. For one, I wasn’t trusting that any modern producer would deny the temptation to eschew the charming and intricate puppetry in favour of inevitably dated CG visuals. I was surprised, then, to learn that Age of Resistance, the series that serves as a prequel to the film, was just as good (if not better) than the original film. Unfortunately, while the video game adaptation attempts to bring the world of The Dark Crystal to life, it misses the mark. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics fails at emulating not only what was great about The Dark Crystal, but the genres it’s so desperately trying to emulate.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics rather fittingly brings together elements from the original film and the new Netflix series into something that I’m sure major fans will appreciate. The game takes place on the planet Thra. It follows the Gelflings in their quest to rebel against the oppressive Skeksis who’ve harnessed a power that threatens to destroy the entire world.
It goes without saying that if you have any interest in the Netflix series that you should watch that first before trying out Tactics. What’s presented here in the game will not only ruin the series for any potential watchers but also do so in a way that’s much less charismatic and charming.
The game itself is pretty much what you’d expect from a game with tactics in the name. A top-down, turn-based tactical RPG in a similar vein to games like Fire Emblem and XCOM, Age of Resistance doesn’t do much new with the formula. You take turns to move and attack enemies on a grid-based arena with other objectives thrown in for good measure. More advanced players can take advantage of terrain on each level to provide buffs too. It’s hardly original, but the formula is tried and true that it’s hard to criticise the developers for not straying far from it.
The mission and level design attempt to mix things up a bit to keep things interesting, but the game is lacking so much challenge that it barely is enough to spice things up. Some stages will split your party up, presumably in a bid to get you to think about how to approach each turn. But the game is too easy to make this feel consequential. Sometimes weather effects – such as rising tides and gusty winds – should force you to change your approach. But ignoring them also, once again, has little consequence.
I appreciate the attempts to make the battlefield a little more dynamic; to make those flat encounters feel a little bit more involving. But Age of Resistance Tactic’s unwillingness to fully commit to making these obstacles actual obstacles makes the whole experience pedestrian.
Despite the core gameplay remaining unchanged from most strategy games, the game does pepper in some elements from your favourite JRPGs to keep things interesting. Each of your party members can be assigned a primary job to determine the abilities available to them in battle. As you level up each member, a second job can be attributed to create hybrid classes. It’s surprisingly flexible and lets you customise each party member to suit your playstyle and switch out if you make the wrong choice. While hardly original, it is more comprehensive than I’d expect from a game like this. Even better – it’s not limited to the series canon – so you can customise any party member into whatever job you want.
The progression system also feels like it’s lifted straight out of a Final Fantasy game, but with a few caveats. You’ll be able to buy and equip weapons and the like to your party members using currency earned during battles. What’s a little bit strange is that once you’ve purchased this equipment, there’s not much you can do with it besides equip it to your party members – not even sell them. Given that gear and equipment, by its nature in these kinds of games, are superseded by whatever you buy, it seems like an odd choice. A crafting system of some sort could remedy this, but there’s no such thing in Tactics either, which feels a bit limiting.
At first glance, Age of Resistance Tactics is excellent value for money. You’ll be able to get it for under $30AU on the eShop at the time of writing and get at least twenty hours out of it. But whether it holds your attention for the entirety of that period is up for debate. Admittedly, there’s not a whole lot to do after you’ve finished the story, and the game lacks the engagement factor to make you want to play it again.
What would come as no surprise is that Age of Resistance Tactics doesn’t quite reach the artistic heights of the series or film it’s based off. While I don’t expect the game to employ the real-life puppetry that the film and series do, Tactics comes off as rather generic looking and uninspired. The artwork presented as part of the game’s cutscenes is recognisable as The Dark Crystal but lacks the visual oomph the franchise is known for. In-game, things look even more generic, like a mobile-only spin-off more than anything. However, the characters are instantly recognisable from their television counterparts, which is a minor achievement.
The audio side of things is a bit more inconsistent. On the one hand, the score has an unbridled sense of authenticity – an arresting whimsy that transports you directly into the fantastical world of The Dark Crystal. On the other, any atmosphere that’s built by this soundtrack is swept away by the jarring lack of voice work during the game’s cinematics. Some of these scenes play out word for word from the series, so it’s bizarre they wouldn’t just lift some clips from the show to give the experience another layer of authenticity.
But that’s the biggest problem with Tactics – it’s a derivative game based on an artistically rich property that fails to capitalise on its creative inspiration. And that’s a shame.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL COPY OF THE GAME WAS PURCHASED BY THE AUTHOR.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics falls into the trap of mimicking the greats of its genre without understanding what made them so great. While a passable strategy game at best, the only saving grace of Age of Resistance Tactics is the world it’s based on. And even that’s not as great as it could be.