Welcome to Save State, where we braid our hair so we can whip it back and forth. The time is a nebulous 10-12 years ago, bad songs were on the radio, indie games were releasing of varying levels of quality, and quite frankly circumstances weren’t really that different from today, now that I think about it. On the Xbox Live Arcade, there was a game that released at a perfect time; a colorful puzzle title amid a sea of shooty games without a clear message to convey. That game was called Braid, and was among the first of a deluge of retro-styled digital games that would touch upon various platforms. With Braid’s anniversary edition supposedly coming some time in 2021, it seemed like a fitting time to approach one of the first games I ever downloaded on my Xbox 360: Braid.
Braid is an interesting puzzle game- aesthetically, it looks gorgeous, like a painting in motion. Even back in 2008, the graphics of the game received high praise for picking a cohesive visual design. The business-like attire of the protagonist, Tim, and even the not-Goombas march around the landscapes without giving you a second thought that something doesn’t belong. Mechanically, Braid is very simple to control- since this is a 2D game, you move left to right and can even bounce on the heads of various enemies, and climb grated backdrops like you could in Super Mario World. Where Braid throws a wrench into the typical 2D platformer mechanics, however, is that you can rewind time at will, for however long you like. Utilizing this ability to solve a wide variety of interesting environmental puzzles is the bread-and-butter of Braid (the Braid-and-butter, if you will).
In 2008, gamers were basically experiencing an indie renaissance, and Braid managed to stand shoulder to shoulder with well-crafted and imaginative indie titles at the time like World of Goo. At the time of its release, there weren’t enough games with a time-bending mechanic like Braid, so most comparisons were made with Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and other similar titles. While the movement mechanics for Braid are simple, the ways in which the time manipulation mechanic interact with the world to bypass various challenges is anything but elementary. For example, an early puzzle might involve reaching a switch to open a door unaffected by your time powers, then rewinding time to get back to the door which stayed open despite your powers- but later challenges will layer on different mechanics after the introductory world. The second world introduces clouds and cannons that need to be navigated around, while the fourth world introduces a concept where moving left, by itself, is enough to rewind time.
Completing the various worlds and collecting puzzle pieces will reveal another layer of what made Braid so interesting back in 2008: It has a very interesting story that’s immensely open to interpretation, and is something needed to be experienced. Is the protagonist Tim actually the good guy? Is the Princess that he’s hellbent on rescuing what she appears to be? Presented in the game are both all of the answers to these questions, yet none of them, all at the same time. Braid is probably one of the most interesting puzzle games that I’ve ever played, and one that’s not only on sale on Steam very commonly for less than $4, but has a remaster of some kind coming (maybe) sometime in 2021. If you have interest in inventive puzzle games, you can’t go wrong with Braid.
That being said, I don’t want to spoil anything for a puzzle game that needs to be experienced to truly be enjoyed, so I’ll move right into the second game for this week: Dark Deity, which released on Steam very recently.
It probably comes as no surprise that I’m a big fan of Fire Emblem- the only person I know of who likes the series as much as I do is GIN’s own Neal Sayatovich. You know those times where you’re young, and you ask for a game almost out of the blue, get it, and it almost a religious experience because you enjoyed it so much? That was me receiving Fire Emblem for the Gameboy Advance back in 2003. I mostly wanted the game because of Super Smash Bros: Melee, which I guess means Nintendo’s shoddy marketing worked. I liked playing as Roy, my low-tier boy, but the red-haired guy on the cover art for the Gameboy Advance Fire Emblem was decidedly not Roy: That redhead was actually Roy’s father. Localization weirdness ensued due to Nintendo only bringing over the seventh entry in a long-running series, and all that.
Dark Deity, which released very, very recently on Steam, is a game that’s reminiscent of a Fire Emblem that no longer exists. I personally loved Three Houses, but there was just something special about those older games, where you couldn’t take time to grind and had to make due with what you were given, and Dark Deity makes sure that you know from where it got its inspiration. Like older Fire Emblem titles, you select your units and have them attack enemies on a map to clear a condition that needs met in order to win. On your player phase, moving units is simple, and battles play out in a beautifully animated scene with lots of character. Almost all pressing information, such as the amount of damage that will be dealt, chance to hit, and the like, are shown to you in a pre-battle screen, as well, and after you’ve moved all of your units, your turn ends, and then the enemy phase begins where they can move and attack you, in kind.
For players upset that later Fire Emblems have seemingly dropped the weapons triangle, you’ll be pleased to know that a system similar to that is present in Dark Deity, but it’s based on the weapon against the target’s armor. A crushing weapon like a hammer is strong against heavy plate, but not against light armor, projectiles like arrows are strong against light armor but not against plate. This take on Fire Emblem’s weapon triangle is a lot more involved, because each unit class will have access to one weapon and armor type. Similar to games like the first few Shining Force titles, or Fire Emblem Sacred Stones, units that reach level 10 will be able to promote to one of four different intermediate classes, and reaching level 30 will let you promote again into one of four advanced classes. You can’t switch classes once you’ve chosen, so be mindful of this should you frequently suffer decision paralysis! Thankfully, when the promotion screen appears, you can even see what your aptitudes, or growth rates, are with each stat in your new class, as well as what new skills you might learn (a much appreciated bit of transparency).
To add on top of the healthy character customization, each unit class also gains access of up to 6 skills, as well as four weapons that can have their damage, accuracy, critical hit chance, and weight upgraded. There’s quite a healthy amount of customization, though resources like gold are notably finite, and situations can happen where you spend a bunch of upgrade tokens and experience on one character only for them to bite it in the next chapter. Well, technically, perma-death doesn’t exist in Dark Deity- a unit that suffers a fatal blow will instead be given a grave wound that will permanently lower a stat of theirs by 10%, which is honestly way less punishing and a novel spin on the perma-death system. Grave wounds can be offset by purchasing stat-boosting items if you really want to save a beloved character, though do note that those items carry a hefty price tag.
Dark Deity doesn’t feature additional stages on which you can grind- like the older Fire Emblems, you get swaths of recruitable characters thrown at you almost every chapter, and once you complete the objective, you move onto the next chapter. This means that care needs to be taken in leveling up your units- letting one guy hog all of the EXP because he can easily handle the foes may mean that your other characters are too weak to meaningfully participate in later chapters. Though Dark Deity will default to using randomized level ups based on a unit’s aptitude, you can also turn that off and play with linear stat progression instead. This gives you the average for every level up and completely eliminates what we call in the industry, “RNG Screw,” where a character with a normally high growth rate for a stat may severely underperform for some players. Fixed level ups was something tried in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and, as far as I recall, never tried in the series again outside of Shadow Dragon’s dynamic growth system, so it’s nice to see something like that present in Dark Deity.
If there’s any one thing Dark Deity needs for people who have never played Fire Emblem before, it would be better explanations of the game’s mechanics. For those of us who have been playing the series for years, having several points of speed on your opponent and getting a second attack (usually called Doubling in the community) is second nature, and we typically know that the speed stat used is reduced by the weight of the weapon with which you’re attacking. The problem is that I don’t think this is explained anywhere in the game at all (or I may have missed it, I suppose), though you can check the character’s status screen to see a true speed stat that will help you determine if you’re going to double, or be doubled, once you know what it is.
All in all, Dark Deity is an excellent game for those who want to experience the old days of Fire Emblem, and the game proudly wears its inspiration as a badge of honor. What’s so impressive about the game is that it does everything very well, from the visuals and music choices, to the balancing of weapon and armor advantages or disadvantages, to even how it utilizes the support system where characters become good friends and actually support each other better on the battlefield. It’s a very strong complete package for around $25, and the only literal downside is that while Dark Deity is more transparent with its number than the older Fire Emblems ever were, the game tends to assume you have knowledge of how older Fire Emblem plays.
With that said, we’ll be wrapping up this week’s entry of Save State. I do hope you’ll visit us again in a couple of weeks when I undoubtedly unearth a couple of random games to talk about that you may, or may not, have heard of before!