Review: Demon Gaze (PSV)

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Title: Demon Gaze
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (436 MB)
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T
Demon Gaze is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.
The PlayStation Network download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy
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Gameplay:
Demon Gaze starts simply. Our protagonist, named Oz by default, wakes up in a strange dungeon without any memories of how he got there and before long is confronted by a strong demon. With the help of a mercenary he manages to defeat and capture the demon using a power that awakens inside him. It turns out that he is a Demon Gazer, a person whose eyes have the ability to capture and tame demons. He is introduced to Fran Pendall, owner and manager of the Dragon Princess Inn, and informed that he has an outstanding IOU with her. To pay it back, she wants him to find and defeat several more demons.

The Dragon Princess Inn serves as Oz’s hub for the game. The various residents of the Inn fulfill various important roles in the game, such as selling items or weapons, reviving dead allies, or upgrading equipment. Talking to the residents can also trigger event scenes, story sections that advance the plot, or may be required to finish certain quests that are started from the bulletin board in the Inn’s hall. Of course, Fran won’t let Oz use the Inn for free, so he needs to adventure out to not only pay off his IOU but also to make enough money to pay rent.

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Outside of the Inn, the game takes on a fairly traditional dungeon-crawler vibe. Oz can move around the tile-based dungeons in first-person view, finding items or secrets while occasionally encountering random battles with enemies. Also in dungeons are summoning circles, where Oz can place gems that will call monsters to fight. Defeating these monsters gives weapon or armor drops based on the gems used and is the only way to find some of the best gear in the game.

Battle with enemies is a standard turn-based affair. Oz and his party have the normal array of battle options: attack, use a spell, use an item, etc. However, being the Demon Gazer, Oz can also summon a demon he has captured to help him and his party during fights. Demons come with a variety of perks, such as giving static bonuses to the player characters, offering some kind of help in dungeons (such as revealing secret passages or nullifying traps), and giving Oz access to additional spells. They’ll also fight alongside the party during battle, although Oz can’t directly give them commands. Instead they’ll attack enemies or cast spells as they see fit, occasionally offering buffs or heals to the party. Keep them summoned for too long though, and the demons will go berserk at which point they’ll no longer distinguish between friend and foe with their attacks.

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On the whole, Demon Gaze’s adventuring and battles feel pretty generic. The system surrounding the use of captured demons is the game’s main unique feature but it often feels more like an annoyance than a breakthrough. Not being able to control the demons in battle means it is hard to rely on them, especially the ones that are focused more on support than damage. The game also touts a push and pull between keeping a demon out and knowing when to ‘close’ the demon to prevent it from going berserk but, at least on the default difficulty, I rarely had the Demon Gauge drop to a remotely low value even when I left a demon out for the majority of a battle. Also on the default difficulty, I found there to be several fairly large difficulty spikes. For example, in the first area of the game, I was easily plowing through normal enemy encounters, rarely taking any damage at all. Then I got to the boss who was capable of killing my party members in only two attacks if I didn’t proactively heal them.

That’s not to say it is always bad that the game is on the generic side. Demon Gaze’s slow introduction of systems gives less experienced players a good introduction to the basics of a dungeon crawling game while still engaging more veteran players in the story of the game. The character creation offers some nice variety and lets the player build their party exactly how they want it. And while the default difficulty (“cool” on the scale of “cold,” “cool,” “warm,” and “hot”) may have some spikes in difficulty, the easiest difficulty should provide an alternative for players who would rather experience the story without too much grinding.

Speaking of the story, it’s mostly the kind of game NIS America is known for localizing. There are a lot of silly events, and at least a few that have some mild fanservice (you may want to avoid some of these when in the company of family or friends). Things get more serious as the game goes on though, as certain details are revealed about some characters. Story isn’t typically a huge draw for dungeon crawlers, but Demon Gaze does provide some nice incentive to keep playing.

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Visuals
Dungeons fare the worst in the visual department. The areas are somewhat bland and uninteresting with each area getting a small palette of colors to use. You’ve got your mostly green forest area and largely purple poison swamp and red-hued lava-destroyed town. 2D art for characters and backgrounds run the gambit from the run-of-the-mill enemies to the colorful player characters.

Sadly, while the character sprites look nice (especially in comparison to the rest of the game), there isn’t a whole lot of animation or variety in them. NPC sprites don’t have a huge variety of expressions for the story sequences, mostly getting by on just one or two variations, and the party-member sprites are little more than a filler to stick on menu screens.

Audio
Similar to the visuals, Demon Gaze comes up lacking in audio. What’s there isn’t bad; some vocalized background music for each of the areas and for battles which are decent. But it can start to become tiresome after a while in each area and there are even a few that seem to forgo the music in favor of the pitter-patter of rain.

There is a large selection of voices for created characters, thirty each for male and female, but each one amounts to just a couple of shouts for attacking or defending in battle. Event scenes aren’t all voiced as well although the game offers the option to put voices in English or in Japanese to suit your preference for dub or original voices.

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Online/Multiplayer
This game is single player only although it offers a few simple online features to enhance the game. One is similar Dark/Demon Souls, where players can leave chalk messages on the ground for other players to read. These can give hints about where to find hidden treasure or that a tough boss is ahead. Be warned though, they can also be used to spoil story elements (I’ve already seen at least one note that spoiled a twist in the story) so tread carefully. Additionally, there seems to be some sort of Near sharing functionality in the game but I have been unable to test it yet.

Conclusion
Although lacking in a huge budget for visuals or audio, it’s hard to fault Demon Gaze much. The overall experience is generic, but what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in the familiar and solid formula.

Demon Gaze also serves as a nice gateway for new players of the sub-genre of dungeon crawling games, especially when set to the easier difficulty settings. The whole package rounds out to a fun RPG that’s worth a look for those willing to overlook a few flaws.

Score:
7.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built-in screen capture feature.

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