The PlayStation Vita has recently began to see no shortage of role-playing games. The most recent addition to its catalogue is Demon Gaze, a first-person dungeon crawling game in which players assume the role of the Demon Gazer– an individual that has the ability to command demons.
Developer: Kadokawa Games, Experience
Publisher: NIS America (EU/NA), Kadokawa Games (JP)
Genre: Role-Playing Game//Dungeon Crawler, Fantasy
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: April 25th, 2014 (EU); January 24th, 2013 (JP)
Rating: 12 (PEGI)
Players assume the role of the amnesiac Demon Gazer, who has woken up in a cell trapped with a demon and forced to conquer it. The silent protagonist is recruited by an Innkeeper to battle other, similar demons for an undisclosed reason, while also paying their rent. The setting is strange and alien, and appears somewhat post-apocalyptic, but very little time is spent dwelling on the setting before the player is forced to quickly accept this hazy reality and embark on their quest to pay their keep.
There’s little motivation for the player, and the exposition is dissatisfying in its lack of context for both the player’s task and location. There’s potential for a mystery to be developed, but the world is lacking enough establishment to make anything matter, though this may be a result of the title being set in the same continuity as a previous, Japanese-only release, the title shouldn’t require background knowledge to understand its context. Instead, most players will either be driven by the raw and, admittedly, bare-bones gameplay, or by the interactions with the characters. While the cast is comprised of characters that are rather one-dimensional, there is a vast number of jokes often at their expense. Furthermore, fan-service is in abundance. Between the breast groping, and the exposed female character sprites, fans of anime-style fanservice will be pleased. For others, though, this may offend other players or just provide a shallow experience. An additional note should be made that players may customize both their own avatar and that of their party. A player character can take the appearance of a number of sprites, voices, classes, and races; however, regardless of their appearance the protagonist will remain a male in the context of the narrative. This is an odd and actually quite jarring decision which displays a lack of polish on the customization aspect of the game.
The narrative is progressed in a visual novel style–a background is displayed, and the talking character’s sprite will be displayed. Actions aren’t seen, and everything is propelled through dialogue in the form of text boxes. All important dialogue exchanges are voiced. As for gameplay, the player advances the story by returning to the Inn after making enough progress in a dungeon, but they are not often required to clear it immediately.
To complete their objective, players must enter various dungeons and conquer every “circle” in the area. A circle is an area in which players will challenge a group enemies drawn from a pool of random encounters from the area, but will receive a greater reward than usual. Upon conquering the circle, players will be granted with benefits such as being able to save or swap their currently assigned demon. Eventually, after challenging enough circles, players will face the boss demon for the dungeon. Defeating a demon will unlock that demon for combat.
Each dungeon is structured like a maze. In a rare example for the genre, a dungeon is split into a number of areas dominated by a circle. Each area looks somewhat distinct, but will still follow the theme of the dungeon (ie. ruins of a city). It’s a refreshing design choice in a genre that is often plagued with dungeons that grow increasingly stale as players challenge them. Furthermore, hidden areas conceal treasure chests, and areas of a map can be locked behind an ability that is to be unlocked later, so there is enough reason to return to previous dungeons and enough loot to motivate exploration.
While players will often battle demons that command circles, they will also likely come across a number of random encounters while trawling through the dungeon. These may strike at any time, and will involve any potential group of enemies located in that area of the dungeon. Conflict is turn-based, and players will be expected to plot out every member of their party’s actions, except for any demons, for that turn before any action may be executed. It’s very typical combat for the genre, but will often not be very strategic. Rather, combat is very heavily influenced by the character’s statistic values, though attack and spell choices will have some impact. Consequently, the gameplay can gradually become tedious, with players finding themselves spending a fair bit of time dealing with random encounters to obtain experience in order to level up their characters and improve their stats. In addition to circle encounters being drawn from random encounters, and requirement of all circles to be conquered before fighting a dungeon’s boss, the title can suffer from being too simplistic and drag on.
Unfortunately, battles are also not very animated. While this is typical for the genre, the bare-bones style of gameplay leads more to be desired and more pleasing conflicts could have reduced the tedium. Instead, only enemy sprites are visible and attack animations are often bland. The impact of attacks are also displayed via a text box log, and sometimes lack any clear visual feedback. There is a little bit of strategy involved that could help with the grind, but this is mostly surrounding the decision as to whether or not to summon a demon. Should a demon be summoned for too long, they will enrage and may also attack the party.
At its core, the title is fairly well put together, but the repetitive nature can result in the player seeing everything that it has to offer early into their play time. It’s a real shame, because while role-playing games are plentiful on the PlayStation Vita, similarly styled dungeon crawlers are all but non-existent. Demon Gaze may scratch that itch for players on a system like the Vita, but with other, stronger releases on the system’s competition, it’s also a little bit of a let down.