It’s not often that I sign myself up to review something I’m almost completely unfamiliar with, but such was the case with NIS America’s Demon Gaze. What I found was an interesting trip down memory lane from a genre I hadn’t played in ages. Yep, Demon Gaze is an old-fashioned dungeon crawler matched with some traditional JPRG elements, and that proves to be a largely enjoyable mix.
There’s not much to keep track of here, but somehow Demon Gaze feels sloppy during the only section where you’re actively controlling your party: moving around the grid-based dungeons. You can use the d-pad or left/right analog sticks to accomplish this, though it feels backward since the right analog stick, which is typically used for looking around, strafes your character while the left one both looks and moves. Uh, OK. Pretty much everything else you do is menu driven.
If I may dip into the legendary Jim Ross‘ bag of clichés, Demon Gaze is “bowling shoe ugly.” The 3D dungeons you explore would’ve been more at home in an 8-bit game, and the game’s pre-rendered cast of characters is saturated in well endowed (and scantily clad) females and effeminate males. There are no animations to speak of, either, as static NPCs and enemies just sort of float therewith criss-crossing swipes denoting action.
Things aren’t much better on the audio side, either, as the soundtrack is all kinds of forgettable. The voice acting isn’t bad, but much of the dialogue is presented via walls of text as only bits and pieces actually get the vocal treatment. It’s a pretty rough showing all the way around.
You play as Oz, a hero with the unique ability to seal demons thanks to his magical eye — a skill known as, you guessed it, demon gazing. This is of great use to Fran, who runs the Dragon Princess Inn where you’re contracted to stay, and she tasks you with capturing various demons threatening the area. To do this you’ll need to venture into the surrounding dungeons and capture eight circles, at which point you can confront the demon in its true form (read: boss battle time).
It’s a relatively straightforward objective that utilizes some clever mechanics to accomplish. For instance, to capture a circle you’ll first need to summon monsters, and this can only be done by using gems found or looted from defeated foes. There are numerous types of gems, each one of which leads to your summoned enemies dropping a different kind of loot; shield gems force shield drops, sword gems mean sword drops and so on. It creates a need, beyond leveling up, to fight random encounters.
Demon Gaze isn’t an easy game, however, so if you think you’ll just fight a handful of random foes, conquer the eight circles, collect your demon and move on you’re in for a rude awakening. The game can be punishingly difficult at times, and there are plenty of times throughout you’ll find out the hard way that you and your party were ill prepared for a particular battle. It’s good in the sense that it extends the experience into the dozens of hours, but if you’re not keen on investing in that kind of a grind you should seek your entertainment elsewhere.
Even if you’re on board with the grinding, Demon Gaze will still test your patience with a number of momentum killing text walls and boring assignments in between the dungeons. This contributed to my occasional confusion as to what to do next or how to do something important, not because I was actively skipping the written conversations, but rather I’d eventually zone out and stop retaining all the relevant information.
Ultimately, though, it’s the combat that’ll determine whether or not this is worth your time. As noted, there are no animations, so fighting monsters consists of selecting an action from the appropriate menu and then reading text boxes that indicate if you hit, missed, what damage was dealt, what status effects were applied and so on. It’s pretty dry stuff, and I found that I typically just focused on the sidebar where I could monitor my party’s hit and magic points.
There are some wrinkles thrown in, with the ability to summon vanquished demons rating as the most interesting. These creatures can be “opened” at any point during combat, and they appear in the corner of the screen as an NPC, casting spells or attacking your enemies on their own. Each one has a gauge, however, that when fully depleted causes them to go mad and turn on you. This prevents you from learning on their assistance too liberally.
Beyond the original stuff, there is also plenty of standard RPG goodness. Your party is customizable with several different character classes to recruit, leveling up is a lengthy process that requires seeking out random encounters and searching for the best loot is a game-long endeavor. Of course, you never get to actually see any of that loot; yet another reason Demon Gaze is an acquired taste.
Despite being thoroughly unimpressed upon booting up the game and never warming to its outdated presentation, I got sucked in to the world of Demon Gaze because I enjoyed the straightforward nature of grinding and searching for loot. It’s a niche title to be sure, but if you’ve been hunting for a new dungeon crawler to feed your Vita, this should do nicely.