Demon Gaze Review
Sony PS Vita
Like most RPGs these days, Demon Gaze opens with a bountiful character creation sequence. The customization options seem rather staggering, with a wide range of beautifully drawn anime inspired characters, alongside around sixty voices to choose from. Once you’ve mixed and matched your way through this process, modified your stats and given yourself a name, you’re all but ready to embark on your quest. But it’s all been for nothing. Upon choosing to stray away from the game’s default character, a warning message politely informs you that no matter what, you’ll always be referred to as a human male. Not a great start for the first-person dungeon-crawler.
The game begins with the tried-and-tested role playing cliché – waking up in a dank dungeon with no memory of who you are or why you’re there. Suddenly, you’re stalked by an evil presence, making itself known to you with an ear-piercing cackle. After being chased out, you’re briefly greeted by a busty, battle-worn woman, before being handed a sword and being told to face the demon head on. It’s at this point, during the game’s first battle, that you find out you’re a demon gazer – a being who has the ability to capture and control demons with the power of your mind’s eye.
From this point onwards, the story set-up whizzes past you. You are introduced to a flirty innkeeper and a handful of supporting characters with all the kink of an anime located somewhere on the more perverse end of the taste spectrum. As it happens, the inn is where mercenaries go to find their fortune, taking on quests and hunting demons of the realm for cold, hard cash. As a demon gazer, you’ve got the advantage as you move from one area to the next, wrangling demons to aid you in your quest to close portals into the nether realm, while making a few bob on the side.
The first-person approach to the Demon Gaze gameplay harks back to old-school role-playing games like the Dungeons and Dragons-inspired Eye of the Beholder, or the Might & Magic games that went on to inspire the likes of the Elder Scrolls series. Sadly, a more suitable comparison would be to that brick screensaver from Windows 98, as each of the game’s grid-structured area look incredibly dull. Depending on the level’s theme, the colour scheme and designs are really drab, with very little to interact with. You’ll stiffly move from one empty square to the next like a pawn on a chessboard, eagerly waiting for a battle to occur.
In fact, moving around in the game feels like you’re being controlled by a group of teens playing Knightmare. Taking one grid square at a time you reveal the various paths, items and demons that lurk within each dungeon. The left analogue stick controls most of your movement but having to change direction before pressing on frustratingly slows the gameplay right down. The right analogue stick can be used to strafe left or right (or “side-step right” as they used to call it in the Knightmare days) but when trying to use the sticks in conjunction with one another can lead to utter confusion. More than often you’ll strafe instead of change direction, and thus more time is wasted as you readjust yourself and get your bearings.
But you’re not here to explore, you’re here to hunt and that’s where the battles come in to play. The goal in each area is to close the various portals, known as circles, in order to coax the boss character to reveal itself. On the way, you’ll run into the easy-to-moderate demons randomly but there are also a number of harder battles, specifically planned and identified by the floating skull icons dotted around each dungeon. Each area will required a significant amount of grinding before you can confront the planted demons and even then you’ll probably die quite a few times before you work out a ‘strategy’ – in other words, going back on the prowl for random encounters in order to level up.
Thus begins the turn-based battle sequences that make up for the other half of Demon Gaze’s gameplay. As standard, you can attack, use items or even flee when the going gets tough, so fans of Final Fantasy will feel right at home here. Other mercenaries from the inn can join your team, giving you the option to charge into battle with up to a party of five. Take all the help you can get because the enemies in this game don’t hold back. Some extra special abilities at your disposal in exchange for a night’s rent is worth having.
Of course, as a demon gazer, you also have an added trick up your sleeve in the form of summoning captured spirits and putting them to work. Not only can these new found allies deal out extra damage, but they can heal your party when health drops below a certain level. Dungeon crawlers beware however, as keeping these demons in play for too long sends them into a raging fury and they’ll soon turn on you, making your battles even more difficult. Triumph before this happens though and your demon will gain experience by become more loyal. Having the extra firepower is worth the gamble, but should you fail then you’ll be punished dearly.
Capturing demons doesn’t happen too frequently in the game. It’s not like Pokémon where every beasty is up for grabs. Only the boss characters can be given the anger management treatment and wrangled into your roster of summons. These battles are without a doubt the hardest in the game, but getting to them is even more difficult. Closing the circles requires luring out demons with gemstones, resulting in a battle that could be considered a mini-boss fight in itself. Thankfully, victory means great rewards in the form of weapons, armour and items that can aid you on your quest, or sold for coin.
Additional items can be purchased at the inn but you’ll not get anywhere near the shops unless you pay your rent. Flirting will only get you so far with the scantily clad innkeeper and the more members in your party, the greater the rent you’ll have to pay. The inn offers up a number of services during your stay, but upon clearing your debts and meeting the characters inside, you’ll have wished you’d stayed outside and taken your chances with the demons.
One character, who mopes about the inn’s basement in her underwear, has the power to revive a fallen party member. Another one can change your character’s appearance (not that it matters because this is a first person game, and you character will always be regarded as male anyway) by simply giving you a bath. Finally, there are two squabbling shop keepers who are both so irritating, you'd rather save your money and find the items in the wild for yourself. The characters in Demon Gaze are definitely more odd than comical. They only serve to progress the thin storyline as well as provide some rather questionable humour between missions.
Thankfully, Demon Gaze has a far more interesting social element to offer once you leave that wretched inn. Taking your Vita online will give you the chance to find messages left by other demon gazers across the world. The legacy of Dark Souls has firmly left its mark on Demon Gaze and not just with its high difficulty. There are plenty of secret paths and hidden items located throughout the game and these generous messages can prove to be crucial in finding them. It doesn’t redeem the faults in this flawed role playing game, but it certainly proves that it has more to offer than awful characters and unnecessarily difficult gameplay. Praise the sun!
The character creation conundrum at the start of Demon Gaze will be a huge turn off for most and for those who do venture on with the game will probably give up shortly offer. Without a doubt, this first-person dungeon crawler is designed to appeal to a small, dedicated, niche group of Vita owners with a fondness for Japanese anime naughtiness and the patience of a saint. But for the majority, Demon Gaze provides too little reward for far too much hard work.