Game review: Dark War Strategy Chapters 1 and 2
- Title: Dark War Strategy Chapter 1: Rise of the Dark Kingdom and Dark War Strategy Chapter 2: The Fifth Element
- Developer: Belugerin Games
- Platforms: Browser
- Price: Free
Dark War Strategy Chapter 1: Rise of the Dark Kingdom and Dark War Strategy Chapter 2: The Fifth Element comprise a two-part isometric fantasy tactical RPG created in Flash by by Belugerin Games. Both chapters of Dark War came out back in 2008 on the internet’s Flash portals, and has clung tenaciously to the underside of the world wide web ever since.
Free tactical RPGs are pretty rare, and as those go, Dark War is a fairly well-developed one. It does have its share of problems, though, which keep it from attaining classic status.
So, here’s the thing: Dark War is about as close as it gets to playing Final Fantasy Tactics in Flash. The game benefits from an isometric battle engine, reasonably large battlefields, a fighting force that starts small and grows in size, and a pretty good array of mechanics. For a Flash game circa 2008, all of this is both highly uncommon and incredibly ambitious.
I remember that Dark War ran rather slowly on release, but time and Moore’s Law have been kind to it: I find that it runs quite well on modern systems.
Story is not Dark War’s strong suit. Its story is a pastiche of warmed-over cliches wrapped in a tortilla of grammatical errors. This is nothing new; few RPGs really try anything all that new in their stories.
Much less forgivable is the fact that Dark War has very little character. The game’s setting and lore feel like an afterthought. Consider: the land of the ogres is called “Ogrezantium”; the game’s single continent is surrounded by oceans named “North Ocean,” “South Ocean,” “East Ocean,” and “West Ocean.” The game’s desert is called “Cactus Desert.” If the developer had named the roads in this game, I suspect they would have had names like “Travel Road” and “Get-From-One-Place-To-Another-Place Avenue.”
The characters themselves show about as much as effort as the setting: they are indistinguishable from one another except by visual appearance. Characterization extends as far as giving characters different sprites and names (like Faith Hanger, who sounds like a steak served in the Vatican), and no farther. The game’s dialog is so dull that I ended up being legitimately disappointed that Chapter 2 did not kill my army and put me in charge of Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich and Chris Tucker instead. In short: if you play Dark War, it will be for the mechanics, and not for the game’s narrative elements.
Luckily, when it comes to those mechanics, Dark War is actually pretty solid. It features status effects, character inventory, units with multiple attacks, and knockback abilities (as well as ravines to knock enemies into!) It’s a shame the game starts out so slowly: tactical RPGs benefit from giving the player a good number of diverse characters, and Dark War is quite slow to trust the player with more than two of them.
Dark War is extremely linear, which is either a blessing (it’s highly focused) or a curse (there is no exploration), depending on how you like your games. Dark War pushes straight from battle to battle with town visits and shopping for items in between. You have the option of training once in between each battle, which is a nice touch. Training pits part of your army against itself on whatever battlefield you last fought on. You control one half of your force; the computer controls the other. Characters do not actually die while training, but they do gain experience and level up. It’s a nice feature, though regrettably, it doesn’t do much to keep the game from feeling on-rails.
My only substantive complaints with Dark War’s battle system concern the camera. The only way to move the camera is by mousing over the edge of the window–it would be nice to have click-and-drag, or at least arrow key panning. Notably, there is no way (that I am aware of) to rotate the battlefield, and certain structures (such as trees and buildings) obscure everything behind them. Wounded enemies will oftentimes run away from your characters, which means that you may occasionally find yourself having to chase down and attack enemies who have disappeared behind opaque battlefield structures.
The Verdict: 3/5. Dark War does one thing and does it reasonably well: it gives you lightweight turn-based tactics in an isometric engine with some minimal inventory and party management thrown in. Moreover, it does it all for free. If turn-based tactics are your thing and you don’t mind a half-assed story, there’s no good reason not to give this a try. Just be patient: Dark War does take quite a while to get going.