Dungeon crawlers are like the Gordon Ramsey-certified Beef Wellingtons of Role-Playing Games. They either come out perfectly from the creator’s mind and can consume your existence in time-warping bliss, or they are underdone, raw, and need so much development that the potential idea goes into the garbage can. Did Demon Gaze come out of the oven on a high, or does it get someone thrown out of the kitchen? Read on to find out.
The first thing that gamers will notice is the anime art style, that while similar to a lot of NIS games is a bit of a decoy as the game is developed by Kudakawa Games and only published by NIS in the west. A lot of RPGs are increasingly using an anime style, from Hyperdimension Neptunia to Dragon’s Crown, but the polish of the artwork is beautifully done that stands it apart from the others.
Being a dungeon crawler, the character artwork is important because the party is entirely void of personality except for their appearance. Every character portrait makes it clear what is their default class, but half the fun is picking the paladin and making him into an assassin. Additionally, due to the structure of the game every character, including the main protagonist, is a catch-all one. It’s one of the boons but also banes of the dungeon crawler sub-genre. There is a lot of min/maxing with stats as you only get one point per level. Learn it early and you’ll be golden. Learn it late and you’ll be restarting if you botched your MC.
There is not much of a story going on in the game, which is disappointing. It basically revolves around a mysterious amnesia, the fact you’re the chosen one and must defeat all of the demon’s to save the world. The twist is the story revolves more around the manager of the inn everyone lives at, rather than the MC, as you try to figure out her back story and goals. Will it win an award? No, but it does enough to keep the player interested in getting from point A to B.
Combat is where this game shines as the development team struck the right balance that makes the game suck-up hours upon hours of your life in the blink of an eye. In the beginning you start out solo, but with time and money you can recruit up to four more members for your party, as well as a few backup characters to play around with when you get bored of your current roster. Also, when you defeat the boss demons they join you, giving party bonuses and an extra body in combat when summoned.
The balance in combat comes from it being a grind-based affair, albeit in a good way. It takes a long time to level up, so the focus of your grinding is for gems that are used on summoning circles. Use them, win the battle, and this is how you get your equipment and most of your money. It’s slow at first when you only have the MC, but when the party is full it becomes quicker. It keeps the player hooked like opening up a package of Magic cards because the items are always random, and is the only way to get good gear. It is grinding in a fun way.
A neat trick that the developers added to really speed up the monotony of combat was adding a few ‘auto’ options. This is nothing new but they mapped it out in combat by just pressing triangle, and having it remember it from combat to combat. In addition, they added that function on the map, allowing you to auto-navigate already explored parts to make traveling faster, like if you only want to go weapon grinding. A small little tweak like that gives the game that small edge that can keep a person not getting as bored. One button is quicker to do, and mindless, compared to pressing up and a button. It made my life on the subway ride to work that much easier.
Anyone who has been keeping up with my reviews knows I’m a hard marker when it comes to music, and Demon Gaze is no exception. Inside of combat is some catchy, immersive anime tunes that work seamlessly with the art style. Part of me wishes combat didn’t end so quickly cause I only get to hear the first five seconds before the ‘you win’ theme takes over. Outside of combat is a mixture of nothing for some battle environments, literally just wind, or something better apt for the safety and happiness of a town not in the grips of a demon world. It is a sad shame, but the boss battles more than make up for it.
Since Demon Gaze is a first-person dungeon crawler the graphical output needed is little to none. While the backdrops and settings are fine, and mesh well with the spectacular character designs, it would have been nice to see that anime style as the setting as well. It is just the same stock, static images being navigated so it would not have been a huge leap to accomplish, and set it apart from the rest of the pack.
This is an old-school dungeon crawler laced with anime overtones. If that sounds appealing to you then this game will be enjoyable. If Wizardry-esque dungeoneering or anime is not your thing then it’ll be a tough sell, but not out of the question. Being a PlayStation Vita-exclusive, it is a perfect part of any RPG fans collection.