In the first mission Edward Kyle is an ordinary soldier who enlisted in the British Army after his girlfriend Alicia was killed by the Nazis. You only get to control him and his buddy Jude Lancelot who happens to be Alicia’s brother. Since the game is set in World War II no one runs around with a sword. You have bayonets, but you have to stand right next to an enemy to use one. Instead every soldier carries arms like rifles, machine guns, and grenades. To compensate for the long range weapons, the battlefields in Operation Darkness are enormous in comparison to other strategy RPGs. You can walk further, but it is difficult to see exactly what’s going on because of the wonky camera.
I don’t know why Success chose a behind the back camera for a strategy RPG. Perhaps they were inspired by the multitude of FPS games set in the era. Whatever the reason is, you’re stuck fighting with the camera to scan the battlefield. You have to rotate it manually to search for troops, which can be annoyingly clothed with an outfit that blends in with background objects. Wearing military camouflage is realistic, but it would have been nice if Success highlighted enemies. Operation Darkness isn’t a stealth game.
Once you move into position you can draw your gun. Most machine guns target multiple panels. The most basic one has a range of three squares, horizontally or vertically. However, the Nazi forces don’t line up in a row for you to attack them. You might be able to attack two, maybe three soldiers, with the heavy machine gun's space invader-like grid of fire or by lobbing a grenade. The hit rate is dependent on distance, but damage isn’t. A strange example is you can walk up to an enemy solider, fire at pointblank range, and deal the same amount of damage as if you were shooting behind a sandbag barrier. In this situation the bayonet does more damage. I suppose it’s a moot point to nitpick about realism since you’re mowing down zombies in the third mission, but there is really no point in walking up to another enemy face to face as a human.
The first mission ends with Edward wounded and pleading for his life. Major James Gallant from the British SAS offers to give Edward a life saving transfusion. The game moves to a cutscene with grainy, black and white World War II footage explaining the results of the battle. The next thing we see is Edward waking up from the hospital. Yes, there is something unnatural about Edward’s “treatment” and he is suddenly promoted from a green soldier to an elite unit along with his buddy Jude. At the very beginning of game the Wolf Pack appear to be ordinary soldiers. You can equip skills on them to boost their speed and most importantly automatically consume a healing item when critically wounded, but the secret is already out in the public. The Wolf Pack is anything, but normal.
Edward’s first brush with the supernatural occurs in the third mission where they are about to detonate a building to prevent Germany from developing an Atomic Bomb. Moments after mowing down the Nazi forces, zombies spring out of nowhere. Not five or so zombies, but a double digit force of reanimated corpses. These zombies don't claw at you, they have pistols. Great. Let’s rewind for a second to the mission conditions. You win if you kill everyone. You lose if a single comrade “dies”. Operation Darkness has permanent death, but you don’t even get the opportunity to revive an ally in the earlier missions. If any team member’s HP falls to zero, you have to restart the mission. The rules are rather unfriendly for strategy RPG novices because the trick to winning the early missions lies in equipping the Auto restoration skill.
If you set the ability before combat any character that has less than 20% HP will automatically use a healing item like a painkiller or medical kit from their active inventory. If you don’t utilize this skill you have to waste turns healing instead of attacking. A practically impossible strategy to use, unless you spend many hours leveling up in advance. The auto healing ability has another strange feature. When Cynthia stepped on a mine I saw the damage was more than her maximum HP. I thought it was over. Surprisingly, she got up with zero HP and used a painkiller to recover. However, healing items aren’t in a common backpack. Each character has to personally carry staples like medkits and spare ammunition. If you want to replenish your medical stock you need to swipe items from corpses.
Fortunately, the zombies aren’t intelligent and they have low HP. You can take them out by picking up grenades from fallen soldiers and lobbing them at groups. If you want to get strategic you can put Cynthia, the team’s sniper, in cover ambush mode. This ability makes a character reciprocate fire when an ally is shot. Cynthia is the prime candidate for the cover ambush tactic since she has high accuracy when targeting enemies far away. Utilizing cover ambush ends the battle quickly as long as your other characters are auto healing. Whenever a zombie fires their pistol, Cynthia counterattacks by taking the creature down.
No werewolves or vampires were harmed at this point.
Images courtesy of Atlus.