May 27, 2014
Unlike some other dungeon RPGs, battles are random encounters outside of rarer static encounters that are clearly marked on the map. You can avoid some of the random encounters via items and spells, but that only lasts so long and you’ll end up needing the experience anyway in the later dungeons. Thankfully the developers didn’t go crazy with the encounter rate, so if you liked the pacing in games such as Atlus’ Etrian Odyssey series you’ll find the same here.
In battles you can have up to five different characters make up your party, ranging from the generic healers and mages to more exotic classes like the defensive Paladin and the all-out attacking Samurai. Each character has a unique battle sprite, sex and voice that can be picked out when creating them with a plethora of different options to choose from so you’ll likely find a combination you prefer unlike some other more limiting dungeon RPGs. Picking the right party combination is extremely important, though, as bosses hit hard and fast. At times you may even end up having multiple members wiped out initially from turn 1, requiring classes such as the defensive variety to protect the party until you can fully regroup. It sounds sadistic, yes, but once you beat that boss it makes victory that much sweeter.
Tying into the game’s namesake you take the role of a “Demon Gazer”, a person who has the ability to capture the souls of demons and use their power in battle. Each demon obtained in the game has their own unique active and passive abilities. Some are more passive allowing you to see objects on the map, while others are more active letting you deal elemental-based damage to enemies. There’s eight demons in total as your goal in the game is to capture all eight of them to protect the realm and the inn in which you reside.
Of course it would be too easy to abuse this power without some restrictions so there’s a “demon gauge” that slowly depletes during a battle. Once the gauge hits zero the demon starts to attack the party as you lose all control over it. It’s a unique system to say the least, but it isn’t an end-all to your issues as you’ll still need to grind for experience to make it out of the dungeons alive.
The inn in particular is where some of the old-school tendencies of the genre rear their head. Each and every time you return from a dungeon the innkeeper will ask for rent, which increases depending on your party size. Because of this mechanic, it becomes paramount to strategize your trips inside the dungeons as you need to stay alive and have enough resources to pay for your return entry fee.
This sounds almost sadistic in a way, to be sure, but Demon Gaze does a great job at making you feel like you’ve progressed as you gain new levels, equip new items and put more points into your character’s stats almost immediately after doing so. It makes the grinding process a lot more visible to the player in a simple but effective manner.
That said, the dungeons aren’t anywhere near being a cakewalk even with grinding. Unlike games like the Etrian Odyssey series the auto-map only fills in the basic paths, doors, enemies and traps with the player having to remember the more exotic locales on the map, which becomes a noticeable issue later on in the game’s latter dungeons. The developers did try to get around this somewhat as there’s a Demon’s Souls-like note system that other players can leave on the map, although in practice most of the notes are useless as there’s no way to filter out the obvious joke/troll notes from the real ones. It’s a neat touch that would be an even better idea with some tweaking in a possible sequel.
Graphically and musically the game is a mixed bag. The 2D artwork is a real treat for the eyes due to the characters and environments being highly detailed, but there’s a lack of voice overs and character animation during cutscenes that you would expect from the artwork. The music is alright but if you hate Vocaloid-style singers you won’t enjoy the soundtrack.
Demon Gaze feels much more budget-like than its competition as it feels cheaply made at times, but it does have a unique set of mechanics that help it rise above some of the forgotten games in the genre. It’s rough around the edges, but despite this, fans of the genre will still find elements to enjoy, as well as a few more that they might not be used to.