Anime inspired dungeon crawlers have had a resurgence in the past few years, with series such as Etrian Odyssey and Shin Megami Tensei leading the pack. However there’s always been a running issue with these games in their accessibility and difficulty, often making it hard for newcomers to get into the genre. Demon Gaze, the latest dungeon crawler from NIS America, is no different, but it’s gratifying gameplay and stylistic art design make it a great Vita exclusive.
Demon Gaze takes the same approach as Etrian Odyssey when it comes to characters and gameplay mechanics, meaning that there are no 3D character models and the entire game takes place in first person. The game starts with the player creating their own character before setting them out into the dungeon filled world to try and slay all the demons. The story isn’t all the riveting and is there only to justify the hours upon hours of dungeon exploring that take place. While a story isn’t needed to enjoy these types of games, it would have been nice to have a proper incentive from the get go.
When it comes to dungeon crawler mechanics, Demon Gaze manages to perfect some aspects, such as the exploration of the dungeons, but also fails to achieve what makes other games in the genre so successful.
The game heavily relies on the player having a well balanced and organized party, but starts the game with only the player and one other party member. Acquiring another party member costs gold, and every other subsequent party member costs double the amount of the last party member. What this means is that the first 10 hours of the players time will be spent grinding in the same two areas to raise enough money to buy enough party members to form a reasonably powerful group, but by the time the player makes enough money to buy a new party member they would be a great deal higher of a level than the new party member who starts at level one. This means that the player will always have an unbalanced team of randomly sporadic levels for the first portion of the game, and while this does sort itself out later on in the game, the early game is made a lot more tedious and unbalanced than it should be.
The game holds no secret to be difficult, making early bosses the bane of most players’ early game. It’s clear the game wants the player to take their time traversing through areas, having each area have its own portal that, once conquered of demons, allows the player to save. And you will save, a lot, as death of the whole party in Demon Gaze can come swiftly, and will kick you back to the title screen without a moment to waste. It’s clear that the game doesn’t want you to win, and that’s why it feels incredibly rewarding when that demon that’s been tormenting you for hours with cheap deaths is finally defeated.
One of the more interesting mechanics is the demon gate. The player has, at all times, follower demons that they can call to summon in battle. This demon could be a mixture of any of the typical roles, the first demon being a healer mage. These demons, while extremely powerful and useful, have their downsides. The uncontrollable demons can only stay out in battle for a certain amount of turns, staying out for too long causes them to become enraged and begin to wildly attack everyone, including party members.
Having the limit makes the demon a trump card only to be used in emergencies, and having the possibility of them turning on the party makes them something to be wary of, as leveling up makes the stronger against enemies, but also more of a threat if they turn against the player. It’s an interesting way to give the player another party member, but the lack of an ability to manually control the demon causes a lot of frustration when it keeps doing the opposite of what is useful in battle.
The only real issue I had with the game was with the female character designs. While the demon designs are highly sexualized, my real issue stems from the main female characters. The game takes a very “kawii” look to the majority of its female characters by having them look like 15 year old lolis. While this in itself isn’t an issue, what I was a little taken aback by was the fact that the characters are incredibly sexualized. Within the first hour of the game, the manager of the inn (who looks about 15) takes off her clothes in front of the player and tells them to feel her body to “prove she’s human”. It felt a little weird and extremely out of character, as if the scene was inserted just to make teenage boys feel funny in their tummies.
What’s even worse is that the person who revives dead allies is a nine year old girl who walks around in her bra and panties. It made me extremely uncomfortable watching her being sexually forward toward my character, seeing it as just a small child being sexually objectified. The game tires to defend this by saying that she’s a vampire and that “she’s really 600 years old”. But that argument holds little baring, as they could of chosen to make her any age, but no, they had to objectify a child. Issues like this are why a lot of people find Japanese games hard to take seriously.
Demon gaze isn’t the best dungeon crawler out there, but by no means is it bad. It tries to change up the formula with party management, but ends up only making the early game a grind. But once the grind is over, the game becomes a bigger and far more engrossing. While the artistic choices for the female characters leave an unsettling feeling in my stomach, the game is still an enjoyable dungeon crawling experience. While it’s no way near perfect, Demon Gaze is a great addition to the Vita’s library.
Thanks to NIS America for supplying a review code