Review: Demon Gaze

Review: Demon Gaze

Score9.0
Publisher:Nippon Ichi Software America
Developer:Experience Inc.
Genre(s):Dungeon-crawler, RPG
Platform(s):PlayStation Vita

Demon Gaze is a dungeon-crawling, whole body-tensing RPG. Beneath the facade of cheery characters lies a demon-hunting experience that will deny you progress at every chance. It demands that you utilize everything available to you to avoid a horrific death. You, the Demon Gazer, are the only one who can defeat demons and make them do your bidding. Demon Gaze is a customizable, agonizingly difficult game that keeps you on your guard at all times, and it is sublime.

The introduction of new gameplay elements is consistently well-paced, keeping the corridor exploration feeling fresh all the way through the final boss. Environmental hazards and enemy icons prevent you from running around haphazardly, and the breadth of enemy skills forces you to devise unique strategies. Variety is the spice of life, after all, and the developers truly understand this.

Please stop killing my party.

Please stop killing my party.

They could have easily added more customization, but they opted to streamline certain areas instead. Character level bonuses are straightforward. You get one point to put into a stat of your choosing every time you gain a level. As you level up, your characters will gain new skills at set times. You can take comfort in the fact that your characters will acquire new, useful abilities without your intervention. You have the option of equipping each character in your party with artifacts, which grant abilities, so you do have a little control here. A well-chosen artifact can mean the difference between life and death for your party.

As you recruit new party members, the game guides you by offering characters of preset race and class. If the offered character does not suit your tastes, you can design one of your own. Considering the game’s difficulty, this guiding hand removes a lot of the anxiety of character creation. Creating your own perfect character can take a while, but a well-designed party member can become an invaluable asset. When you know what type of role you want them to fill, everything else falls into place.

When you fill your party completely, the skills of each member take on yet greater importance. While each one can be effective on its own, it’s how they work in tandem that give you the advantage. There’s a delicate balance here, and it can turn on you in an instant, but thorough planning will see you through to the end. Learning how to manage large groups of enemies and particularly deadly ones can take some serious effort on your part, and that’s what makes Demon Gaze so exciting.

Demons have some incredibly powerful skills and abilities.

Demons have some incredibly powerful skills and abilities.

Nearly every battle could be your last. Random enemy encounters with the stronger varieties are almost as intense as boss battles. If things go south quickly, multiple members of your party might die in one round. You have to plan carefully. Every party member is vital, and every victory is worth celebrating.

To subjugate the demon of each area, you must discover the locations of Circles. You use gems to summon opponents, and the equipment you get after the fight depends on the types of gems you chose. When you control all of the Circles, the demon of the area appears on the map. Conquer the demon and you’ll have one more under your command.

These demons, once beaten, function as an additional party member that acts autonomously. Each demon has special skills that you can use to give yourself an edge. Ignoring the effects of demons and their skills is a good way to get yourself killed. It’s one more thing you have to manage, but you won’t mind at all once your demon saves you for the first time.

Rest up, weary traveler.

Rest up, weary traveler.

To obtain new equipment, you’ll have to make use of Circles. There are specific gems for each type of equipment, so you can influence the rewards you’ll get. If a party member is lagging behind in one aspect, you can focus your efforts by using gems that will give equipment he/she can likely use. If something about your party isn’t working, you have the power to change it.

In between all of the exploration, you’ll return to the inn to rest and prepare your party. At the inn, you will interact with several oddball characters, each peculiar in his/her own way. The dialogue, like most of the game’s progression, is extremely linear despite the occasional point for player responses. The inn isn’t just a place for your party to rest though. It gives you, the player, the opportunity to relax and laugh at the ridiculous characters and their idiosyncrasies. Take your time because you’ll be heading back out into an unforgiving world afterward.

Demon Gaze is happy to explain all of the basics to you. When it comes to the more complicated parts, it leaves you with just enough information that you can still enjoy discovering the rest for yourself. Puzzles, locked doors, and hidden passages will impede your exploration, and it’s your job to find a safe way through. Very little can compare to uncovering a hidden passage through sheer intuition. That’s when you know that the game has taught you well.

Don't let a pretty face fool you.

Don’t let a pretty face fool you.

From a technical standpoint, the environments you’ll be exploring aren’t the prettiest thing around. Their 3D models aren’t that detailed, and textures in general are a little bland. Even so, they create a fitting atmosphere. Character and enemy portraits, on the other hand, are extremely detailed and full of personality. When you come across a menacing enemy, you know what kind of fight you’re about to have. Accompanying the fantastic artwork is a handful of songs that will appear time and again. They’re appropriately dramatic—there’s even a fun vocaloid song—but a greater quantity of tracks would have gone a long way.

Interestingly enough, the controls are worth writing about. They are that good. Demon Gaze is very comfortable to play. You have your basic movement with the directional pad, shoulder buttons, and analog sticks, and the face buttons handle your standard maps and menus. There are a couple parts that really stand out though. In combat, your previous actions are remembered, so you can blaze through the menus by holding down the X button. Alternatively, you can just hit the triangle button to have everyone repeat their last action. This drastically cuts down the time you have to spend wading through menus. You can speed the action along by holding either the X, triangle, or circle button, making simpler enemy encounters a breeze and avoiding most of the exhaustion that almost inevitably arises from encountering enemies one after another. Some of the maps are pretty expansive, so you probably won’t want to manually walk around the entire area multiple times looking for the one thing you need to continue. The developer thought of this and included an auto-walk function. You pick a destination on your map, and your character will find his/her way there, as long as you’ve already discovered it. You’ll still have to fight everything that gets in your way, and you’ll still pick up any items you find; you just don’t have to handle the movement input. Directionally-challenged people, this is for you.

Demon Gaze is a dynamic RPG that deserves your attention. It makes all of the easy stuff effortless and lets you save your energy for the complicated parts that require complex strategies. The combat is flexible, so you can personalize your approach. Different character classes offset and support each other, making each one that much more valuable. Your party might die repeatedly, and it might push you to your limits, but the pure, unadulterated elation that comes from finally succeeding is a reward I would not trade.

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