Nostalgia can work on many levels, like how Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance filled me with wonder and joy as I remembered gawking at the original movie as a tiny tot, how the series of comic books breathed new life into a rich world of magic a puppetry years afterward, or how The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics reminds me of a time where any major film or television release got a horrible video game release that was a naked cash grab and made you feel a bit bad for liking the source material. Nostalgia can do great and terrible things.
So, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is a tactical rpg like Final Fantasy Tactics or The Banner Saga, two games I adore, based on the new show which came out back in August of 2019. With little information regarding a second season, this game is coming out at a really awkward time. If this came out with some sort of announcement or closer to a release this would make a bit more sense, but nearly half a year after the show’s initial release just makes the whole thing feel like an afterthought.
The gameplay is the minimum players could expect here. Command a team of the series protagonists through a litany of small grid-based maps to defeat enemies and reach objectives. In comparison to other games of this sort, it all is fairly simplistic. There’s a lovely job system, with three starting jobs, then some more specialized and finally a few cross-class jobs. Each character can have one primary job and one secondary job, from which they can utilize three and two skills respectively. One on the field, however, all of that fancy footwork feels weightless. An attack might do a lot of damage, but, apart from a number, there is rarely much to make anything feel significant. Enemies are defeated relatively quietly and missions resolve quickly. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics is tactics by the numbers without any of the flair that makes a game great.
A recurring theme here is that I don’t quite understand who the desired audience is. The story is a complete rehash of the Netflix series as told through static comic book style frames without any voice work or movement. It’s beyond uninteresting, especially as it’s the same story that has already been told, only with stunning visuals and amazing puppets and voice work. If a person wasn’t familiar with The Dark Crystal and its universe, I can only imagine that they were hopelessly lost, as there is nothing given away to onboard the player into this lore-heavy world, just an old three-eyed lady talking about Gelflings and Skeksis and the world of Thra.
The biggest disappointment is in the details, mostly because that is where The Dark Crystal film truly shines. While there are a few nice tracks, the sound design is largely lacklustre. While the series sported an illustrious voice cast with Harvey Fierstein, Simon Pegg, and Mark Hamill, the game will occasionally a grunt or similarly guttural noise. One would think that if there was a game so closely mimicking a show with such a notable sound that it might have access to… some voice actors or even sound and music from that show, but clearly this is a foolish idea.
Also, I don’t like the visuals. The comic panes they use in cutscenes look like half-finished concept art thrown together and the in-game characters just look cold and lifeless, a bit coincidental considering in other media they’re puppets. The whole thing looks ugly and lacks the sort of bespoke detail that really seems core of what makes The Dark Crystal charming and wonderful.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics feels like an afterthought from nearly every angle. Its visuals are bland and boring and the sound, when it exists, is uninspired. While there are some interesting gameplay ideas in the job system, the simplicity and lack of weight make it all very disappointing. The story is literally something that you have already heard before or something that seems to actively not want you to understand it. I tried to like this game and was eager to give it a look, but what I got would feel like a betrayal of this universe if it weren’t so utterly forgettable.