Dungeon crawlers are nothing new, but they’ve been a steady staple in RPG gaming for decades now. Reigning from the table-top days of Dungeons & Dragons, geeks like ourselves have taken time out of our lives to willingly enter dungeons crawling with the worst our imaginations had to offer – and even well into 2014, we continue to do so; to the extent of venturing through a labyrinth concocted by some workaday Japanese developers.
Demon Gaze – reserved exclusively for the PS Vita – is another take on the long-lived genre. Bringing appealing anime-like art and a tale that’s bound to throw some spanners into the works of your preconceptions, it does things a little differently to some other dungeon crawlers; but nothing too out of the ordinary.
While you’re welcome to choose between 40+ avatars when creating your in-game persona, you’re bound by the game’s text to forever be referred to as a human male. While not a huge problem by any stretch of the imagination; those hard-core enough to take their role-playing seriously will be knocked out of their immersed state on the odd occasion in this colourful, yet oddly dismal, world.
By promise, Demon Gaze is a simple enough affair. You’re found shambling around a prison-like maze and brought to the ‘Dragon Princess Inn’ – a safe haven for the hunters and merchants living under the roof of its straight-talking manager. While there, you’re tutored a tested by the building’s retired ‘Demon Gazer’; a woman who utilizes the same Demon-controlling prowess as your own. Hearing of the story of the demon that toppled her run as as the manager’s go-to gal, you’re requested to fill in for her to try to achieve what she couldn’t.
Having captured the demon residing in the game’s tutorial maze, you’re given dominion over the creature – a high-pitched little girl donning a wizard hat – and sent on your way to carry on the mission for whatever reason the inn’s manager needs to see resolved.
You’ll venture through a number of different settings and scenes accessed through the world map upon exiting the inn’s 3-tier menu-based; forests, swamps, ruined towns and eerie graveyards all play host to a multitude of static-image enemies that gladly never lack detail in pure looks. Sometimes coming in on their own, and sometimes in droves, there’s no real pattern to when or what shows up – meaning even if the last fight did little to stop your 4-man squad and demon, the next fight could very well be your last.
Fights play out in fairly standard procedure with a maximum of 5 party members (yourself included) setting out into the wild at any one time. Choosing from the usual array of classes, you’ll likely want to set up a balanced group of damage, tank, heal and support all lined up on their preferred row to carry out their duty.
Melee attackers and damage walls tend to reside on the front lines ready to receive – and provide – back-up from the helping hands on the back row. Attacks are chosen and used on a turn-based system with yourself having the extra ability to summon one of the many boss monster demons you’ll come to capture in each zone and you annex the ‘circles’ dotted around their abode.
Demon Gaze sometimes feels a little like a certain well-loved monster capture/battle game in terms of progression. You’re constantly entering and exiting a zone after having a look around; treading new ground with each visit.
Essentially grinding your way through each area, your main task is locating a number of ‘circles’ that spurt out monsters who drop items based on the ‘gems’ offered in ritual. Once enough circles have been capture, you’ll find the area’s ‘Demon’ flying out of the next and eventually coming to rest in a static area of the map ready to go head-to-head before being captured for use in your set-up.
Each offers both active and passive abilities that can either aid in battle, or used to open up paths to another demon’s lair. Between that, there’s plenty of Notice Board level errands to undertake, and treasure maps to chase after. While certain aspects of the game’s purpose lack proper instruction and direction, there’s not really much to complain about when it all fits together so fluidly.
Demon Gaze appears to know that it doesn’t stray far from a very old formula. Perks like Auto-pilot and Speed-up takes the edge off the repetitive task of traversing old ground and fighting packs of weak enemies – meaning there’s more time to fight the meaningful battles and less time being spent on walking all the way back to the spot that proved a little too tough after the first 5 struggles.
It’s clear the game’s perks lie in its level of battle tactics, seemingly luck-of-the-draw demon system and the story’s enjoyable cast. And while the music seems to fall a little flat, it certainly manages to wedge itself into that mysteriously uncontrollable whistle gland and doesn’t budge until forced by another track. Demon Gaze is a welcome addition for those looking for a trip back to the days of turn-based combat; and offers enough subtle differences, enjoyable – yet sometimes explicit – tales and vivid artwork to put your PS Vita back into the grasp of your hands.