For those of you that read my review for Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi, you might remember that I wrote it while in the middle of another Experience Inc. dungeon RPG. Right after finishing Undernauts I dusted off my PlayStation Vita and started playing Demon Gaze. During its heyday, the PlayStation Vita was the go-to system for dungeon crawlers. Demon Gaze feels like the game that started this trend. Not only does the game show how at-home these games are on the Vita, but it also shows how to make a fun game in an otherwise tedious genre.
Demon Gaze starts as most in the sub-genre do: character creation. You’re able to select from an impressive array of illustrations to represent your main character. Once finished, you’re thrown right into it. You wake up in a musty prison unaware of what’s going on. As you explore further, you encounter a nasty demon called Comet that is ready for battle. Things don’t look good until you meet a woman named Lancelorna. With her assistance, not only do you defeat the demon, you seal it in your body thanks to the powers of your Demon Gaze – an eye that can trap powerful beings within your person. Lancelorna guides you to the Dragon Princess Inn: a hub for mercenaries and adventurers. The inn is run by Fran Pendoll. Fran is eager to have you as a resident at her inn. Perhaps a little too eager. She wants you to seal the rest of the remaining demons terrorizing the land. But, what is Fran’s endgame? How was Lancelorna able to guide you so easily? Just who exactly are you? There are lots of questions from the start that will get answered as you embark on your new adventure of demon gazing.
After the opening sequences, you’ll meet other residents of the inn. The inn is home to a lot of unique personalities. Demon Gaze has a lot of character development and story. I liked this because most dungeon crawling RPGs are light in those areas. Getting to know the good, bad, and ugly of each resident was an enjoyable distraction from the monster slaying and dungeon traveling. Everyone at the inn has some connection to the narrative which contributes to moving the story forward. Once the introductions are over, you’ll be able to recruit a party member to aid you in your quest. Demon Gaze features a robust job system with lots of possibilities. There are paladins, samurai, rangers, and much more that let you build a party of your liking. Your Demon Gazer gets his own set of unique abilities to round things out.
Unfortunately, it will be a long time before you’re able to build a full party. It took me close to five to six hours before I had a complete team. In the world of Demon Gaze, money is everything. Obviously, it’s used to buy and upgrade equipment. It’s also required to recruit new party members; new party member recruitment fees increase with each new hire. Money is also required to pay rent – whenever you return from a dungeon you must pay Fran some money. It’s expensive to be a resident at the Dragon Princess Inn. There’s a lot to deal with during the game’s start, but the central issue all comes down to money. Since money is so scarce you must spend a lot of time going back and forth from the first dungeon until you have big enough nest egg to survive moving the story forward. You likely won’t have a full team until the fourth dungeon.
Luckily, and technically, your hero is never alone. Along with your party members, you’re able to bring up to three demons along with you. Not only do they provide you with passive bonuses, but they can be summoned in battle. The AI will take control of them as they help your team with healing and buffs, or assist in attacking enemies. Demons also gain experience and will acquire new abilities as they level up. But, there’s a catch. If you use a demon’s ability too much and/or keep them active for too long, then they’ll go berserk and begin attacking either friend or foe. The good news is that this rarely happens. Battles are swift, turn-based affairs. Even when you’re starting out with the Demon Gazer, the first party member, and only one demon, combat is always quick. Boss battles are much more challenging. Early boss fights will rely a lot on luck.
One of my favorite things about Demon Gaze is how you acquire loot. Every dungeon is filled with Demon Circles. By placing varying types of gems within these circles, you’ll summon enemies for combat. Upon victory, you’ll be rewarded with a specific type of loot. Demon Circles also allow you to save your game, reassign your demons, and more. Clever manipulation of the Demon Circles (and a bit of save scumming) can get you some badass loot. Extra loot can be used to enhance your favorite pieces or sold for profit. Other nifty features in Demon Gaze include adding furniture to rooms for additional combat bonuses, equipping Artefacts, and participating in rewarding side quests. Demon Gaze’s foundation is that of a standard dungeon crawler. The formula works but it’s the extra touches that make it extra fun.
Demon Gaze looks great. Every dungeon has a theme and is filled with uniquely designed monsters. The character art is colorful, varied, and popping. Spell and attacks are functional but not flashy. There are even a few CGIs thrown in if you fulfill certain requirements. The Vita may not have been fully pushed but that doesn’t take away from the overall presentation. Unfortunately, the music is questionable. Nine times out of ten, the music features a young girls’ choir singing in the background. At the inn, exploring, battling – chances are you’ll hear young ladies providing back up vocals to the tracks. All audio can be turned off if any of it gets too distracting.
Not surprisingly, Demon Gaze is a long game that can be made longer thanks to some hefty postgame content. I called it quits after about 45 hours. Watching the credits was satisfying but getting to explore some of the new content after the main story was like extra icing on the cake. Still, there came a point where the grind got to be a bit much. For now, I’m calling it quits but I can see myself returning for more in the future. Demon Gaze is a great title for newcomers and veterans of dungeon crawlers. The rough start might sound imposing but stick with it. There’s a lot of variety and customization available that gives you the ability to overcome those obstacles. If push really comes to shove, then the difficulty can be lowered or raised to your liking. I’m excited to see more Experience Inc. dungeon crawling adventures. Undernauts, and now Demon Gaze, have proven that this is the company’s niche.
Overall, 8/10: A trendsetting dungeon crawler? Indeed. Demon Gaze vigorously kickstarts the trend of making the PlayStation Vita the go-to portable for the sub-genre.