In Operation Darkness Hitler can repel bullets with psychic powers. Werewolves from Scotland wage war against the Blood Clan, vampires employed by the Nazi army. I’m not sure if Atlus or Success made the decision, but Operation Darkness twists history with caution. Cordelia emphasizes not all Germans are evil. In fact you even meet an honorable German soldier in a tank who isn’t crazy about raising the dead. Operation Darkness is careful, well as careful as a game with werewolves holding bazookas can be.
I wish Success put as much thought into the game’s interface because Operation Darkness is a cumbersome experience. If you want to move to the next stage you can’t freely scroll the world map with the analog stick. You have to follow established arrows to move from one mission to the next. At the beginning of the game this isn’t a problem. The number of choices between story missions and extra missions are limited. However, later in the game the world map becomes a messy web of arrows that you need to follow in a chain. It’s annoying, but far from the worse interface issue. Let me explain how to purchase items.
Once you select Supply Depot from the main menu you can use kill points (read: in game currency) to buy extra ammunition and essential healing items. However, you can’t just buy ten medical kits at once. You have to press to buy each kit individually, confirm the purchase on a popup menu, and finally acknowledge another menu reads “added to the inventory.” Super Nintendo RPGs included basic functions like a counter to easily stock up on consumable healing items or 99 long swords. The omission may have been a development choice since Operation Darkness has an archaic one item takes up one space inventory space system. If you buy 99 medical kits, you get to flip through 99 of them. Unfortunately, the Wolf Pack doesn’t have unlimited item space so you’re forced to dispose of antiquated items by throwing items in the trash individually. The system is clunky and you’re going to waste time better spent actually playing the game.
While the game feels like Operation War Manger at times, this isn’t an inventory management game. Tactical gameplay is the core of Operation Darkness and Success managed to create something different. Since everyone carries guns you don’t run up to your enemy and smack them with a mace. You stay far away from the action, preferably hiding between some sandbags. Success compensated for the distance by making the battlefields humongous. The trick to dealing with the distance is not to move, but to cover move. When you use this tactic a character connects his/her move with another character to cover them. You can move much further with the technique, but you lose the ability to attack in the same round.
Taking advantage of cover move and more importantly cover ambush with your established sniper are essential strategies to complete missions since you’re almost always outnumbered at the start. The Wolf Pack may have a squad with superhuman powers, but the protagonist still feels pain from gunfire. After a few shots or a touch of spontaneous combustion from a vampire spell Edward falls to the ground and the game ends. You can spend allied turns healing Edward, Cordelia, Jude or James Gallant, the characters you need to keep alive, but you can still get killed from a single tank shell. The only way to survive and beat the game is to use the Auto Recovery skill which automatically consumes a healing item like a medical kit when you’re critically wounded. Auto Recovery is also activate if a character loses all of their hit points. It’s the only way to survive mortal attacks and face tanks.
If an auxiliary character like Keith, one of the two werewolves, falls in battle you can revive them, providing you keep Herbert
West East alive. The American medic is the only character with a revival skill in your party. If you don’t revive a character before the end of battle they are gone forever. In one of my early save files I let Herbert die, thinking there would be away to get another healer. I was wrong and glad I saved a second file right before Herbert passed. Actually, if any of your characters “die” it’s better to restart the battle. Each member of the Wolf Pack has unique skills that can’t be replaced by recruiting a rookie solider. Generic recruits just don’t cut it against tanks and skeletons.
To up the difficulty Operation Darkness has a habit of throwing enemy troops out of nowhere. By the time you wrestle with the camera, scan the map, and eliminate the first threat skeletons suddenly teleport into battle. The result is long battles, up to forty minutes with a high body count. Tack on an extra ten minutes if you like to scavenge the bodies for items. If you love tactical RPGs this shouldn’t bother you, but the learning curve is steep if you aren’t. I said it before, but the early missions are downright punishing. Operation Darkness is not “my first strategy RPG” even though the theme has the potential to appeal to the Call of Duty crowd.
Despite all these issues and the spinning camera (yes, the camera makes nauseating turns) I was strangely compelled to continue Operation Darkness. The plot and the way other notorious figures like Jack the Ripper are weaved into the game keeps it interesting. This redeeming factor probably isn’t enough to make someone suffer through hours of item management though.
Images courtesy of Atlus.