Generally any console or handheld relies on the company that created the device to put out titles that will help it thrive. However in the case of the PlayStation Vita, Sony has mostly dropped the ball in this regard but thankfully numerous publishers have taken up that ball and ran with it. One such publisher is NIS America who has brought numerous niche Vita titles to the West with their latest release being 2013’s Demon Gaze. So now that Demon Gaze has been released in English, is it a worthy entry into the Vita’s line-up of English titles?
Demon Gaze starts out with the extremely familiar premise of an amnesiac hero named Oz (his name can be changed to whatever the player wishes) who suddenly wakes up in the land of Misrid down in a dungeon. After being chased by a demon, Oz faces off against the demon and manages to defeat it and seal it away thanks the extremely rare power of being a Demon Gazer.
As a Demon Gazer, Oz has an ‘Evil Eye’ that allows him to capture defeated demons and carry them into battle as assistants. Because of his lost memories, he begins to live with the people who found him and brought him back to the Dragon Princess Inn. However since he has already been there for a while, he has an IOU to pay off and the inn’s manager, the mysterious and oft-scary Fran Pendoll, is asking for Oz’s help to seal away a number of demons to pay off his IOU as well as pay rent anytime he returns back to the inn from his time in the dungeons.
Along with Fran, who has an unknown mission that centers around Oz’s success, besides the penny pinching manager Fran the inn is the home to many other residents and mercenaries including the listless Prometh, an ambitious Elven alchemist and item shop owner named Lezerem who always bickers with the weapon shop owner Cassel, a perverted maid named Pinay, and most important, the former Demon Gazer Lorna who Fran leans on for support.
While a number of these characters may seem like they simply fill a basic NPC role at the inn, many of these characters have their own ambitions and are likable and funny enough to stand out of their basic role. This is especially true with Fran, whose odd behavior and abilities are slowly hinted at as the player progresses through the story and as more information about each character is revealed this creates an interesting narrative that players will find themselves sinking hours into to see the next tiny piece of the story.
Unfortunately thanks to the way the game is set up, not only do the clearing of the dungeons take quite some time to complete, there are many times that the story will slow down to a crawl as the player has to complete a basic task before advancing and certain story elements will be introduced only to sit idly for hours despite the player progressing in the game.
Demon Gaze is a dungeon crawling RPG through and through. Players are able to customize their player from the get-go with a number of character portraits ranging from male to female and numerous races, though the game will always act as if the player is a male. The same option is given to any party members you wish to bring with you into battle as each character is created as the player wishes, which is a necessity for a game as difficult as Demon Gaze can be.
After shelling out a large amount of money to Fran, players can “rent” an extra room for a party member to stay in allowing up to five total fighters to join the player at any given time. Players can choose to accept a randomly generated fighter of Fran’s choosing but players will want to create their own as they will be able to choose the race, class, and portrait for their new ally. It is worth noting that as mentioned before, anytime players come back from a dungeon they will be required to pay a certain amount of rent money that increases depending on the amount of characters in your party as well as the higher their level is. If you cannot afford to pay your rent Fran may forgive you for a bit if you pay it back quickly, but you don’t want to make her too angry…
Creating a balanced team is essential in Demon Gaze as the title pulls no punches when it comes to venturing through the numerous dungeons in the world. While the player’s first endeavor or two into the first dungeon will seem easy, it is merely there to help players get used to the game before throwing them into the fray. This means setting up a team where your party can be split into two rows, usually with melee fighters in the front and spell users in the back, is essential and a healer is almost always a class to have.
Anyways, once you venture into a dungeon it is very much what one would expect from this time of the game with players traveling through the dungeon in a first person perspective where hidden paths and items can be found and battles with enemies occur randomly and at specific spots where monster icons are located. The goal in these dungeons is to find a certain number of circles that are hidden in the dungeon and use gems obtained from enemies or the item shop to summon monsters through.
By battling these monsters players will be able to seal the circle which can then be used as a save point and once every circle has been sealed, the demon of the dungeon will appear and allow the player to fight against it. It is worth noting that these battles are often accompanied by huge difficulty spikes as these demons are nothing to scoff at and can easily eliminate even a battle hardened team which makes saving often at conquered circles a must.
The battles themselves are fairly simplistic but fun at the same time, as players will generally fight against mobs of monsters in rows, sometimes four deep, and they can take them out in turn based combat where players make use of melee attacks, skills, ranged attacks, and magic to eliminate the enemies. However even the most simplistic battles can be dangerous and although there is a button you can press to always repeat your last actions, it is a good way to find a member of your party dead and the rest of the team in danger.
Earlier I mentioned that defeated demons can be used to help the player in battle and they are able to make use of them in a number of ways. These demons can be equipped to give the player various assistance while traveling through the dungeon, with Chronos being an absolute must at times thanks to hazardous floor panels in many areas, as well as summoned into combat. When summoned into a fight, the demon will act as an independent fighter that can use various abilities at their own volition and also receive damage from enemies. This is helpful for many fights but if your Demon Gauge, which depletes every turn the demon is out but can be replenished from defeating foes, reaches zero, the demon will become enraged and attack the player as well.
Now if you haven’t been paying attention, Demon Gaze is a challenging game as players can be sometimes run into a large number of enemies or face off against a boss that they are ill prepared for and death means an immediate return to the menu screen with a complete loss of progress. This means that players will often need to grind for experience points to make sure that their team is up to snuff, which can also be problematic as newly recruited team mates start at level 1 and there are a few gimmick dungeons which limit the player’s capabilities.
Not only does Demon Gaze require the player to grind for experience points to level up their party, but also for equipment. The gems I mentioned earlier all are named after certain equipment pieces, such as shield gems, light armor gems, spear gems, etc. and using these gems at circles ensures that the summoned enemy will drop that item. Unfortunately the item can be anything from a useful and powerful addition to your arsenal to a trash piece of equipment.
Herein lies the grinding for equipment issue where players often need to hunt for better equipment as buying it outright is extremely expensive, though junk equipment can be sold for money or converted into ‘ether’ which can be used to upgrade gear a little bit into the game. While this difficulty may seem insurmountable at times, it is a real thrill to conquer a boss after fighting hard to level up and gear up for the fight and the combat is fun enough to never feel like a chore. Plus, if you really have to, there is an option at the inn that will allow the player to change the game’s difficulty but even then do not expect a cakewalk.
Since Demon Gaze is a first person dungeon crawler players will be traveling through a number of pre-set dungeons that each has their own theme ranging from the ruins of a city, a jungle, a dungeon literally underwater, and more. While it is unfortunate that these dungeons aren’t randomly changed up, it has allowed the developers to create nice looking dungeons that have varying mechanics.
As for the designs of everything else, the player has a large number of character artwork to choose from and each of these portraits are amazing looking which will make it hard to choose your team’s appearance at times, though this can always be changed at the bath. As for the enemies players encounter there is a nice amount of variety for each dungeon with some intricate looking designs, but some of the more basic looking creatures do suffer from a bit of palette swapping.
Now it is worth noting that this game does have a bit of fan-service here and there. A fair number of the character portraits expose a lot of skin of some races such as the Elves or Ney, plus there are a number of scenes here and there in the game where players will encounter either Pinay doing something perverted or one of the other girls in their underwear but this is limited at best and is enjoyable for gamers who like a bit of fan-service here and there such as myself.
As with most of NIS America’s video game releases, Demon Gaze sports both the newly recorded English voice track as well as the original Japanese voice track. The option to switch between these tracks is available at any time and the English dub sounds suitable enough though the only time most of the dialogue is actually voiced is for story segments.
As for the game’s sound effects when players create a character they can choose from a number of grunts and yells that that character will make in combat which adds some variation here and there. The game’s background music is actually filled with some rather enjoyable tunes that accompany traveling through a dungeon well and the battle music is actually accompanied by Japanese lyrics which does wonders for these fights by making them feel more intense and worthwhile.
The bottom line is that Demon Gaze is a great dungeon crawling title that takes everything that makes these games worthwhile and excelling at it. Sure things can be challenging from time to time but rarely does the game feel like it is being unfair as players are encouraged to learn through experience and grind through levels to gather up all different kinds of gear to equip their party however they wish. With a story that picks up pace as the player progresses, a charming cast of characters back at the inn, and an engaging battle system that never grows old Demon Gaze is a must have for any fan of this genre.
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