Review: Demon Gaze (PlayStation Vita)
- Release Date (NA): April 25, 2014
- Publisher: NIS America
- Genres: Dungeon Crawler, Turn-Based RPG
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Downloadable version reviewed. Download size 523 megabytes.
Play time. On normal difficulty and exploring all areas encountered so far, I have over 30 hours and counting. The game can easily be around 50 hours and more if the difficulty and puzzles get even relatively more challenging on the way to the top.
Due to the nature of the game and events in the story I wouldn’t recommend the title to the younger audience. It's also rated Teen.
The battle continues. Feeling slightly overwhelmed against four rows of enemies?
Nippon Ichi Software have localized another JRPG dungeon crawler, though the gameplay differs quite a bit from previous titles such as The Witch and the Hundred Knight released last month. Large explorable dungeons, massive customization options and an interesting story keep the player entertained for quite a while. The grid-based movement will be a welcome feature for fans of games such as Etrian Odyssey, while the combat system will draw in Shin Megami Tensei/Persona fans.
Into the unknown! Your reward will be unlimited loot or a gruesome death.
Nippon Ichi Software have been known for localizing a wide range of different JRPGs and Demon Gaze is no exception. The game was developed by Experience Inc, a relatively new and (at least in the West) unknown Japanese game developer, and originally released in the beginning of 2013 in Japan with relatively good sales. Skip forward a year and few months to this date and we’re seeing the localization of the game both in the US as well as in Europe.
Demon Gaze itself takes place in the fantasy world of Misrid a thousand years after the events of Students of the Round, the non-localized prequel for the PSP. The main protagonist is Oz, a young man capable of sealing and controlling demons with the Evil Eye. The gameplay is split into two main areas: exploring vast, multi-level areas and character customization at the Dragon Princess Inn.
While the core basics of the gameplay are easy to learn, mastering the game will take time. Time after time I’ve found unbeatable enemies at all corners of the world, but after a bit of dungeon crawling and looting the slain enemies, it becomes more about tactics and challenges in character customization. In my opinion this brings quite a bit of replay value to Demon Gaze, since all enemies, classes, items and demons have both strengths and weaknesses.
She knows what I'm talking about!
But now that the introductions are done with, let's get into the actual good stuff, the gameplay. The story starts with Oz being found unconscious in the back of an abandoned prison in which a demon happens to have escaped. The protagonist can be customized with the appearance, voice acting and naming, but the race is set to human and class is the unique Demon Gazer. In the beginning the stats (STR, INT, MYS, VIT, AGI, LUC) are even, but as the game progresses, you can customize the protagonist into your likings based on your gameplay.
Spoiler warning. I’ll be using the first areas as references for gameplay, so keep that in mind if you don’t want to spoil the beginning of story in Demon Gaze.
The prison area is a quick introduction tutorial to the game’s mechanics in terms of movement and combat. Moving in the dungeons is done with the directional pad, analog sticks and R/L buttons in old-fashioned grid-based RPG style. Navigating around the vast dungeons can be a chore at times, but luckily you have an active mini-map available at all times in case you forgot your way. In case you have to wander longer distances, you also have a larger area map available with the square button. Once you have explored more of the area, you can also move to explored areas within the larger area map.
A demon circle and high level battle marker side by side. Pick your downfall.
Since the dungeon movement is grid based, there are a few different types of markers that can be found in the dungeon grids. The main goal of the dungeons is to control all demon circles and finally defeat the head demon of the area. There are ten summonable demons in total in Demon Gaze spread across six different locations. I won’t spoil the fun any further regarding details of the demons, since each and every one of them has quite a few interesting aces up their sleeves in terms of gameplay.
Combat by itself is turn-based with each character action chosen beforehand in relatively the same way as in other PS Vita JRPG games such as Persona 4 Golden. Since you have quite limited options in the beginning of the game, I’ll get back to this a bit further in the review. A bit of monster mashing and you face your first real life demon. After a quick battle, you struggle out of the dungeon into the sunny world of Misrid.
Into the world of Demon Gaze!
After the short tutorial dungeon you end up going to the Dragon Princess Inn, your home for all leisure and pleasure. The Inn acts as a central hub for the game in the sense that it is where you can access everything like party customization, shops, and storage as well as NPC relations. Once you meet the lovely, albeit money-hungry, owner of the Inn, Fran, you’ll be given the option of hiring your first companion character. From here on you’ll get more and more into the massive customization of characters and items, which is a very essential part of the game.
Home sweet home!
Character creation is a very interesting feature of the game with five different races and seven classes to choose from after the main character has been created. Since you can create as many characters as you like during the game, you can’t really go wrong in the beginning. You can rent more rooms for your companions from the innkeeper Fran at any time during your visits at the Inn.
Angry dwarves, some of the 45 portraits to choose from!
The races (Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Migmies and Neys) each have unique starting stats as well as advantages and disadvantages in terms of usable items. The race types themselves follow common fantasy RPG style with dwarves being capable close combat fighters, while the elves are frailer, but highly intelligent magic users. The different classes (Fighter, Paladin, Samurai, Ranger, Assassin, Healer, Wizard and protagonist class Demon Gazer) also have unique skill sets and different weapon and armor proficiencies. Some are built to be more offensive, some are defensive types and others are purely support characters.
Finding the best combination of race and classes depends a lot on the gameplay you find yourself liking the most. In case you don’t want to be confined to the skills and traits of the characters in your party, the Artifact items let you learn skills from other classes too. This can change your fighter into an adept healer as well as your wizard into a brawler. As they say, the sky’s the limit.
Game management at the Inn. Helps you manage your party in many ways.
Exiting the Inn gives you access to the world map with the names of the available locations shown. In the beginning you have only two options, the already mentioned Dragon Princess Inn and the Red City dungeon, but once you progress with the story, more locations will become available. The new areas are activated via the use of Gate Stones located in each larger dungeon complex.
Each time you return to the Inn in Demon Gaze to sell loot, return quests or interact with your party, you encounter a smiling Fran and the rent system. The rent owed begins at a few coins, but progresses with character amount and level growth to thousands. This is of course is mainly a minor nuisance, but makes the game feel at least a bit more realistic. Some of you may wonder what would happen if you didn’t have enough cash to pay the rent. Basic economics hits hard and you find yourself in debt!
Fran, the nice innkeeper. Always lovely, until the moment you run out of money.
The combat system is an interesting gem in Demon Gaze. The basic moves are divided into six categories: Attack, Defend, Skill, Item, Flee and Demon. The first four are available to all characters, while the last two are only for the main character. The characters can be controlled and moves chosen in any order, but the combat plays out depending on the character and enemy stats. In case you start being a bit overpowered compared to the enemy levels of a certain area, you can also use the previously used move set auto-assigned by the game. You can even see which actions will be performed from the character portraits (see below).
Just like the movement system, the combat in Demon Gaze has a sort of grid system with unit rows. The enemies are divided into the four different rows with different ranges needed for weapons and skills in order to reach the enemies. Some attacks have a short range and hit only the very first row, while others can be massive attacks hitting from the front row all the way to the last row of enemies. Depending on the attack or skill you use, the combat system gives you options from single units to complete rows of enemies from which to choose your targets.
Pff, a little demon.. You don't seem really strong..
The Demon Gazer powers you receive as you progress in the story give a nice touch to the combat mechanics. It lets you summon a supporting demon to fight alongside you in the midst of battle. Only one demon can be summoned at a time and each demon can be summoned only once per battle, but in most cases this isn’t a problem. Each demon has unique passive skills such as less damage taken from enemies or better evasion probabilities of your characters. The demons have their own skill sets and combat effects, but in general they’re divided into attack, defense and support types. As you progress in the game, you gain more demons to choose from as well as more slots to fill with demons, which gives you more tactical advantages against your enemies.
The same demon while in a rage. I take the previous statement back about this nice lady. Please don't kill me.
The Demon Gazer powers, like all the coolest, overpowering things in the world of video games, come at a cost. You have a limited Demon Gauge, which depletes during the demons’ actions, but replenishes while you vanquish the enemies. If the Demon Gauge reaches zero, the demon goes into frenzy with boosted stats and damage output. While this may sound tempting, the demon becomes confused at the same time and may attack your party members. A multiple target attack that wipes out half of your party in one turn is usually the moment you start praying for a quick escape and begin wondering how far back your last save was.
Dat loot! Is that an oxymoron?
Summoning circles and gems alongside the loot system form the best part about the game: customization. When you want to conquer a summoning circle, you insert up to three gems into the circle and begin the summoning. A random amount of monsters appear and a standard combat begins. Defeating your enemies results in loot and items based on the types of gems you used.
Someone mention there was loot involved with summoning? Gain gems and use them to your advantage!
The gem types are divided into three sections with multiple different types between the sections. Weapon gems produce weapons for your characters from the different types of weapons (swords, katanas, staves, bows, spears, etc) and armor gems produce stuff from the variety of wearables (hats, helms, light armor, heavy armor, undies, etc). The twist is the special gem section, which have different effects on the summoning battles from empowering enemies to giving better and more loot. Quite often you can even snag items otherwise unattainable via using ether on normal items.
Conqueror of Worlds! Now to find the demon of the realm!
Conquered summoning portals act as checkpoints of sorts in the large dungeons and also let you manage your demon companions while outside of the Inn. While saving is possible at summoning portals after the portals have been conquered, it does not happen automatically. This is something that should be remembered at all times, since the most annoying thing that could happen is you beat 90% of the dungeon and die without any saves even remotely near your current progress..
Ether is the material you use to empower your items. Ether is extracted from items you find in the dungeons and can replace selling items. The main question lies in what are the actual benefits of this extraction process. Ether can power your weapons and armor by giving better strength, defense or even damage reduction. Ether extracted goes to the certain item class (swords, katanas, etc.) and can be used to power up normal items up to +10 and special items upto +20 of the original stats.
Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms... They grow everywhere!
The game also rewards exploring both via Loot Maps and collectables. Loot maps give you a hint of the location, needed demon powers as well as the area it is in. Just kicking the area should produce the hidden item, but it’s up to you to actually find the place. Collectables are skulls and mushrooms, which can be traded for items, such as the only reviving useable in the game so far.
Social interaction! Gazer Memos. Sometimes useful, other times more like Yoda made a visit.
Some may skip this part due to being afraid of spoilers. I’ll try to keep it light on spoilers, since the story itself isn’t that essential gameplay wise.
As mentioned before, Demon Gaze revolves around the Dragon Princess Inn and surrounding dungeons. You have quite a bit of interactions between characters and the demon lords of the realm, but the story isn’t as deep as one could think based on the settings. You, the main protagonist, are a mystery in many ways, but so are quite a few other people. That’s a kind of definite thing in a world with demons and pure evil!
The larger they are, the harder they fall (and drop loot!)
Nevertheless, there are many times where you end up thinking could something possibly happen in the future. On times you get the lackluster “Yeah. That’s what I guessed two hours ago”. On other times, you get the feels and start wondering, “Well that was original in quite a few ways”. So the general note on the story is interesting, but not the most essential part in a game with such a diverse gameplay. Also if you happen to be able to read Japanese, the game is also playable with Japanese text.
Visuals, as seen in the screenshots from my play through, are influenced very much by manga/anime. While the artwork doesn’t rival high budget games in terms of detail, the game looks fantastic on my PS Vita OLED screen and is nice on the eyes in many ways. Unfortunately I didn’t have a good possibility of getting good material from sudden NPC happiness, which would have summarised my feelings on the game.
Oh, almost forgot one thing about the visuals. At times, the game goes highly NSFW (not safe for work). At home you may not mind, but the looks on the public buses when a just-shy-of-totally-nude girl pops up on your huge PS Vita screen.. “I didn’t ask for this..” with awkward silence.
When you are grinding to get better gear or level the newly added party member, the most annoying thing I could imagine would be repetitive background music. The music tracks of Demon Gaze are quite well done and, thank the almighty demons, vary even between areas inside the same dungeon. This makes it quite an enjoyable ride from one location to the other even when using the fast travel options.
My inner weeabo is tingling!
The character sounds are at times cool, at times annoying. Luckily, thanks to the customization options, you have over 30 male voices and 30 female voices in English as well as another 30 + 30 in Japanese available to choose from. The general soundscape is thus quite enjoyable and I did play up to 9 hours at one go without any major irritation.
Well, overall I’ve liked Demon Gaze quite a bit and the review reflects this. There are nevertheless some elements in the game that I find rather annoying, but not really deal breaking issues. I’ll try to sum them up in this chapter. Luckily the translation is near perfect, so that will not be that big an issue as in some games translated from Japanese to English.
While the game revolves around customization, it took me a while to really understand how deep the customization goes. I can honestly say I died about 20 times trying to beat a single boss demon (not the final form even). Then I managed to get a few better items and boosted them to the maximum levels with Ether. Bam. The demon died in a couple of rounds and I didn’t even level up between the tries. The next demon ended up being quite a cakewalk, since grinding was needed to counter a single, overpowered feature of the previous demon.
The game has a straightforward attitude to death. You will die.
Another issue I personally disliked is the severity of death. While reviving your warriors at the Inn is relatively cheap (especially compared to your daily rent!), the options are quite limited while on the go. Revive items are few and far between. Most of the times you end up with your whole party being wiped out and thus restarting from your last save point, but at other times you have that one character dead. Death can even come at completely odd times due to your main damage dealer being confused and starting to hit other party members. At other times your demon gauge happens to become depleted and your raging demon kills half of your party in one go.
You will probably end up getting quite "interesting" Gazer Memos once someone gets frustrated.
As the basic information indicates, Demon Gaze lacks multiplayer options apart from the social Gazer Memories. While the game may not really need any sort of multiplayer, the longevity of the game can be affected without it. On the other hand, the massive customization options make the game playable in many different ways without affecting the story in a bad way. Thus, this can be seen as a pro or a con depending on the point of view.
While I’ve lately not been the most avid gamer due to other matters, I have to say I’ve put quite a few hours more in the game than I thought. This speaks quite a bit for itself, since I rarely can find time to play even the games I really like and want to play.
Demon Gaze isn't probably the number one bestseller title this year, but I would honestly recommend it to each and every person looking for a decent JRPG on the PS Vita. The gameplay mixes games such as Etrian Odyssey and Persona 4 Golden in an interesting way and the customization/party management makes the game appear fresh in a genre created years ago.
TL;DR / I just want the verdict: Buy it. It’s a fine gem in the PS Vita library worth a play through or two. The game will give you many, many hours of adventure in the world of Misrid.
Looming boss battle with a high level demon.
Mars, the attack boosting demon, taking a couple hits for the team.
Comet, our very own demon, gains rank 4 and a new skill!
The game is already hot, so make your pick on the difficulty setting!
Who needs manuals anymore, when a game's ingame help is as good as in Demon Gaze?
Quest management in the main hall of the Dragon Princess Inn
+ Large dungeons
+ Progressive difficulty
+ Massive customization options with new upgrades available throughout the entire game
+ Dual language option in both text and audio
- Lots of grinding in some areas
- Totality of death and severe lack of revive items
- While interesting, the story is not the most vital part of the game experience
- Lack of multiplayer
While the graphics are simplistic and mainly in 2D, Demon Gaze's attention to detail and vibrant colors have an edge on the PS Vita's screen. An energising soundtrack and dual language options in both text and audio give everyone a bit more options in the long, lonely dungeons. The basic elements of a grid based dungeon crawler are used to their advantages.
The gameplay of Demon Gaze is diverse and can keep you occupied for hours on hours. Gaining levels isn't the only method of progression, which is a nice touch and proves the customization system really works. While there are minor annoyances, they don't affect the gameplay in a way that would make the game dull or repetitive.
The story in Demon Gaze is interesting and has it's times, but it isn't the main element of the game. If you play the game only for the story, you may not see a reason to pick up the game after a while. The customization options give the game multiple alternative play styles and routes to victory, but after beating the game, how far will that road go?
out of 10
(not an average)
Having been quite an active gamer for almost two decades, I feel that the game improves on working concepts created during the years in similar dungeon crawlers. Experience Inc clearly has made a good job with the game and NIS America can be pleased with Demon Gaze as a whole.