Checks Out Deity Quest

So! Deity Quest. I’ve posted about it a couple of times now, and with the developers generously forwarding me a copy of the game, I figured it was high time I tried it out for myself. The results follow:

So, what’d I think?

Deity Quest represents the sort of game I love covering on this site: an overlooked title with some really cool,  interesting mechanics and some rough spots in its implementation.

Though a bit confusing at first, I thought the combat system was quite cool–and based on what I saw, I feel comfortable saying that it’s easily the game’s best aspect. Taking the rock-paper-scissors-lizard-spock approach of Pokemon and having up to 12 characters on the field at once leads to greater tactical complexity and some really interesting choices. I especially love that positioning matters, and that attacks use range as a factor (notwithstanding the fact that it took me approximately forever to realize how to position my jellyfish properly).

I also really like that you have your own spellbook that gives you spells to cast independent of whatever creatures you’re fielding. It’s a nice touch. So is the need to conserve magic points and ration them between yourself and your creatures. All in all, it’s a very neat, well-designed system.

The combat system does have one big flaw, though: it does not do a good job of making clear how the game’s elemental relationships work. This is so mostly because of how much is going on on the screen at once. After I’d played for an hour, I eventually deduced that an attack that lands with a sword icon next to it is highly effective against its target, while an attack accompanied by a shield icon is relatively ineffective. However, there are so many attacks landing simultaneously at any given moment that it’s very, very difficult to get a sense of how all the different creatures match up against one another. You could have four different creatures each hit a single target with their attacks, but because attacks all hit simultaneously, you would have absolutely no way of knowing whose attack did what. It’s easier to figure this stuff out in Pokemon because there is only one attack going off at a time, and the game tells you in plain English how effective that attack is. This is an object lesson, I think, in the clarity advantage that turn-based combat systems exercise over their real-time counterparts.

True to the Pokemon franchise that inspired it, Deity Quest seems to be really heavy on grinding. It feels worse here, though, and I think that’s because of how progression is structured. In your typical jRPG, you’ll be doing just as much random battling, but the game will afford you the illusion that you’re traveling through these dangerous enemy-laden areas out of necessity, because it’s the only way to reach some sort of narrative goal. In Deity Quest, by contrast, there isn’t any illusion that you’re progressing through these areas to get to somewhere else–you simply aren’t. You can leave immediately at any time. In fact, you can go fight the boss without even visiting these places. Granted, you’ll lose, but you can do it. The areas themselves are transparently just for converting creatures and grinding, and that’s it. This makes it very difficult for me to suspend disbelief while I’m traveling around; the game simply pulls back the curtain too much.

I could forgive the fact that all of the explorable areas are thinly veiled grinding arenas if they offered interesting sights or encounters in the process, but Deity Quest’s reliance on procedural level generation takes a bat to any hopes I had in that respect. From what I saw, the areas tend to lack flow and cohesion, quickly begin to feel same-y and monotonous. I think designed levels and unique, scripted encounters would have gone a long way toward improving the experience here.

So in short: this game has some great ideas, but could use some more work on the design end. I would love it if Fancy Fish produced a sequel that kept the cool mechanics and addressed Deity Quest’s design shortcomings, because I think there’s a lot of promise here. Flawed though it is, I still recommend giving Deity Quest a shot, particularly given its rather lightweight $8 price tag. I’ve posted information on where to get the game (as well as its free demo) right here.

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