While the 3DS had its share of first person dungeon crawlers such as Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers and Etrian Odyssey, the Vita was pretty much dry in that area. Brought to us by NIS America, Demon Gaze is a successor to a Japan-only 2010 title, Students of the Round. Vita owners can finally jump into a genre they were missing out on for so long.
Typical to every JRPG you play as a silent amnesiac. After escaping from a dungeon you defeat a demon with the assistance of Lorna, a big chested eyepatch wearing women. You then discover that you are a Demon Gazer, a person with the ability to control defeated demons at his will. You soon get a stay in the Dragon Princess Inn where you are told to explore the world of Misrid in order to capture more demons. The reason for many things is kept secret until much later in the game, allowing for a genuine dose of mystery. The story gets more enjoyable as it progresses, since there is a good amount of twists and turns along the way.
The main element that holds everything together is the interesting characters. When you are introduced to the residents of the Dragon Princess Inn some characters might immediately seem irritating, but as things progress they will grow on you. You will get to spend a lot of time with most of them, making it feel as if you were living with these people. Each of the characters also has a vital role in the inn. You have Fran, the manager, who while kind, can be quite strict when it’s time for you to pay your ever increasing rent. Lezerm is an elf and the item shop keeper. He loves to get butt naked every time he is drunk. Prometh is a mysterious girl who rarely wears anything except her undies. She is a huge help, as she revives your fallen party members for a fee, as well as upgrades your weapons. Most of the characters also have a back story which you will learn more as you spend time with them.
The game can also get a bit too sexy at times. What’s more jarring is that these scenes feel more like flashing, as a semi nude girl pops out of nowhere and disappears in less than a minute, making you question what the hell just happened. Fortunately they don’t happen often, but this can make playing this game in public a bit awkward.
Once you enter a dungeon the gameplay switches to a first person view, allowing you to walk on a grid. You will explore large maze like dungeons, which can span multiple maps and floors. What I loved about this title is the fact that some areas will be initially inaccessible, because you don’t have the required item (for example to breath underwater) or just because the tiles you walk on do damage. Getting a specific demon or item opens up these paths for you. While this does mean there will be backtracking, it’s still nice to really see how large the level is, because of all the areas you missed on your first go.
Battles are your standard fare, as you can attack, defend, use a skill, use an item or escape. Only the main character can summon captured demons. Initially there might be little depth, but quickly you will gain skills, special equipment and various special items, all of which add needed depth to this title. The game features both skills and magic. Skills unlike magic don’t use up any MP. Each class can only learn specific skills, but some artifacts allow any of your party members to use skills that are not inherit to their class. This allows for flexibility in what each character can do.
Capturing demons is only limited to bosses, but it’s generally done well. Each demon you capture has its use while exploring and in battles. Some demons will allow you to see hidden items, while others will allow you to traverse over hazardous terrain. In battles you can summon demons and even though they act independently, they are still a huge helping hand. Every turn in which a demon is summoned your demon gauge will deplete. If it reaches zero the demon will go berserk doing much more damage but also attacking your party in the process.
In order to get any kind of equipment you need, you can summon monsters from Gem Circles by placing 3 gems at a time. Each gem corresponds to a specific equipment piece. Win the battle and you will earn three new items depending on the gems you placed. This is also important as the boss demon will only appear if you find every Gem Circle on that map and beat the enemies there.
I can’t stress how important it is to save often, as you never know what kind of horrific monster will pop out murdering your whole party in a matter of seconds. While I rushed through every enemy on the field with ease, bosses and rare enemies can be extremely challenging. Defeating them requires a lot of planing. You must level up as much as you can and in addition you need to upgrade your gear rigorously. Fortunately the game never feels repetitive so the preparation process doesn’t feel like a hassle.
Grinding isn’t really an option in this game. Once you hit a specific level the experience you gain from enemies will rarely be enough to justify grinding in an area for too long. This means that you will have to rely on getting better gear and upgrading your existing one.
The inn is your main hub for all the activities you will be doing. You can get more party members by renting rooms for them. More rooms means a higher rent so keep that in mind before you go all out. You start out with two party members and are limited to a maximum of 5, but you will most likely think about getting new ones as soon as things get rough.
In the main hall of the inn you can check the bulletin board for side missions. But unfortunately almost all of them are mandatory, making it just a question of weather or not you will complete them before the story says you must stop what you are doing in order to clean up the remaining side quests.
Weapon upgrading is quite different from what you might come to expect. In order to level up an item you need a set number of ether and the only way to gain ether is to extract it from useless weapons destroying them in the process. Each weapon will require ether from that type of weapon, meaning if you find a lot of axes you can convert them to ether to use on upgrading existing ones.
You also have a memo system not unlike the one found in Dark Souls. Using magic chalk you can leave a memo using a predetermined set of words which other players can view. Most of the time these are quite useful showing you a secret treasure, passage or warning you of a strong foe. At the same time this means that treasure maps more often than not are useless as there will be a memo telling you where exactly to search for it.
Demon Gaze features an auto-battle mode allowing you to plough through battles by just holding the triangle. This will use the previous commands and repeat them on the current turn. If this is not enough you also have the ability to open the map screen and select your destination, after which your character will walk there using the shortest possible path. All this automation makes for a more enjoyable experience especially if you are returning to the same dungeon in order to collect something. If the game is still too difficult you can even change the difficulty between two easier modes and two harder modes.
All the characters you make including yourself can be fashioned at the stylist. In reality this means you can re-customize the look, voice and name of your character. Unfortunately this really kills any feeling that you and your party actually exist and are not just some image and voice slapped onto a bunch of stats.
Visually the game is a mixed bag. It features a more cute art style when compared to its 2010 predecessor. While it looks generally quite pleasing, it is also very inconsistent. The artwork can be so varied that two characters may seem like they come from two different games. Your party as well as the enemies look nice, but they have a jarring omission, none of them are animated. All the enemies feel like a pasted image which doesn’t react when attacked or attacking.
Likewise the soundtrack is also all over the place. Some of the songs sound like the typical JRPG fare while others I could have sworn are from a Miku concert. Thankfully they are all pretty good. As for the voices you can choose between Japanese and English, but dialogue is extremely scarce in both, as you will only hear occasional words and grunts at the beginning of a sentence.
Demon Gaze feels like a cheaper title. It’s definitely evident in a lot of elements that this game wasn’t made by a huge team, but at the same time none of this should really matter. Nothing is badly implemented, nor does anything feel unpolished. Even though the gameplay is kept simple, it still adds its own elements making the experience feel new. The story and characters are better than the majority of RPGs that recently came out so that’s always a plus. In the end if you are craving for a dungeon crawler for the PlayStation Vita, look no further as Demon Gaze is sure too keep you entertained for a very long time.
Demon Gaze is out today in North America and on April 25 in Europe, exclusively for the PS Vita.