The 1980s were tough on kids, and Jim Henson’s puppet-led films didn’t help matters. Besides David Bowie’s dancing codpiece in Labyrinth, Henson was also responsible for the dark fantasy tale of The Dark Crystal. Set in the world of Thra, it followed the journey of Jen, the last Gelfling, who found himself swept up in a battle against the terrifying vulture-like Skesis.
Inexpicably, and despite all the many nightmares it caused, Netflix decided to revive the property with last year’s prequel series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Carrying all of the certainty of a Shakespearean tragedy, the return to this fantastical puppet-led world was tempered by the knowledge that things weren’t going to work out very well for the diminutive Gelflings. Now, and slightly behind the times if we’re being honest, you can play through their adventure in a tactical RPG.
Having slapped the word Tactics on the end of the title will give most gaming aficionados more than enough information as to what lies in wait for them. You’ll move your Gelfling characters around a grid-based diorama, and use their various abilities to see off any of the foes that lie in wait for you. If you’ve played Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem or Disgaea you’ll feel at ease with everything the game throws at you.
Each member of your party will level up through combat, gaining access to new abilities in th eprocess, while you earn currency to purchase new equipment that can also boost their stats. It is plainly tactics-by-numbers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to play. If you’re the kind of person that loves a good bit of grid-based strategising, then TDCAORT has you covered.
The game mostly follows the path of the TV show across Thra, albeit with some slight changes in the name of gameplay, but it doesn’t do a particularly good job of relaying that narrative. Things start promisingly enough with static comic book cutscenes to get things moving, but the majority is told via pop-up speech bubbles. Each character has a nicely detailed portrait, but there’s very little sense of who they are, or why they’re doing what they’re doing. One of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’s greatest strengths was giving emotion and meaning to its puppet stars, but very little of that has found its way into the game.
If you’ve seen the show, I guess it fills in a lot of blanks. You’ll still be glad when your favourite characters – Hup and Deet, of course – show up, and the character models are attractive and easily recognisable. It feels as though there’s an expectation that you’re going to know who everyone is, and that very few people are going to come into this cold. Perhaps that’s true, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have Tactics truly stand on its own rather than being a supplement to its parent TV show.
The music carries some of the weight of building the setting, and it’s generally excellent, bringing you into the world of Thra with rousing orchestral pieces that segue into playful folk. The level selection map is very basic, but each of the levels themselves do a good job of creating a solid setting. Each diorama is a multi-level affair, and controlling the high ground makes a huge difference to your success in combat.
Besides using height to your advantage, there’s a nice interplay between the different character archetypes that allow you to use a combination of skills to cause massive damage. Scouts can Mark or throw an Entangling Bola to slow an enemy and have others pick them off, while Soldiers can open with Bash to stun an opponent before following up with a hearty Shove that causes all sorts of trouble for the shoved.
Each character can take on two different Jobs, allowing you to mix things up and create a batch of all-rounders, or focus on specific roles like healing or damage dealing. TDCAORT covers all the fundamentals that a tactical game should, and having tied it into a beloved franchise there’s plenty of strategic content for fans to enjoy through its extensive central campaign and optional side quests.