Demon Gaze Review: Your rent is due
I will admit that I don't play many first-person roguelike RPGs. I've tried my hand with the fantastic Legend of Grimrock, but generally stayed away from games like Etrian Odyssey and SMT Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. Turns out, I probably should have brushed up on this genre beforehand, because it and Demon Gaze have thoroughly kicked my ass before I understood its mechanics.
Demon Gaze is a tough game. Even turning down the difficulty doesn't make that much of a difference. I admittedly had to completely restart my game at some point because I mistakenly released one of my companions and never made enough money to hire a new one. Thankfully I wasn't that far into the game.
But let's start with the basics. You play as a custom character with the power of the Demon Eye. With this power, you can defeat and ally with various Demons and utilize their skills in combat. Your base lies within an Inn comprised of a wonderfully colorful cast of characters that all come with their own unique backstory. Oh, and to earn your stay at the Inn, you have to continually pay rent after each dungeon run. And you thought video games were the perfect place to escape thinking about things like rent.
A bulk of your time will be spend in the game's massive, inter-connected dungeons, which take you anywhere from fiery ruins to a crypt where the undead reside. Like many first-person roguelikes, your exploration is tied down to uncovering a square at a time. Monsters don't move around on the battlefield, and instead you'll have to deal with both random encounters as well as static ones based on the layout of the dungeon.
Fights are freaking hard. Battles are turn-based, but there's never a clear indication of who will strike first. All commands are always entered at the start of each turn, and then you sit back and watch them play out. Sometime my party was able to wipe out the enemy at the very beginning of a turn, but other times they would all attack us first, wiping half my party out before they got a single hit in. It's a slightly frustrating mechanic, but one that you grow accustomed to the more time you put into the game. Boss battles especially, will kick your ass over and over, and force you to grind until you're prepared to take them on.
The Demon mechanics are easily one of the better aspects of Demon Gaze's combat system. Each time you capture one, you'll be able to summon it in battle alongside your party. Each Demon comes with a certain set of skills, and utilizing the right one for the right occasion will make all the difference. However, they can't be used as crutches all the time. A Demon Gauge counts down with every turn you use a Demon in, and once gone, the Demon will turn against your party, giving you another tough enemy to worry about. Balancing out when to summon them and when to keep them benched is the key to success.
Demon Gaze lets you customize your party completely from scratch. You'll pick the gender and look of your companions and decide what class they are, allowing you to build any party combination you can think of. If you think a party comprised entirely of five sorcerers is a good idea, go for it. However, it's important to note that having a balanced party will fare much better in the game's tough as nails dungeons and boss fights.
Band of misfits
It's a shame that combat looks the way it does. Even though I can pick and choose the looks of all my companions, they end up being nothing more than a portrait picture. The first person combat style completely diminishes any sort of connection you could make with your entire party. Add disappointing spell effects to that list and overall, combat isn't just very fun visually.
With that said, I'm a sucker for the character art. I generally say this about most of NIS titles. Yes, the cast is mostly comprised of busty, barely covered Anime cliches, but don't let that stop you from enjoying the overall cast of characters. Dungeons on the other hand do tend to look rather bland. Even though thematically they're vastly different, you'll soon begin to see each dungeon as a color swapped version of one another.
In-between dungeon runs, you'll spend some quality time in the Inn, getting to know each and every NPC. Sidequests help flesh out each character's personality, like learning that the hairstylist is eager to cut his new clients hair because she's extremely attractive and that he has a butt fetish. Of course, each time you come back, a day passes and you'll have to fork over your hard earned cash for rent, adding a little more tension and stress to your Dungeon runs.
As a sucker for Hatsune Miku and vocaloid songs in general, I loved Demon Gaze's soundtrack, which is mostly comprised of tracks sung by one. Whether it's the more upbeat and laidback tune of the Inn, or the more intense battle theme, I found the soundtrack to be quite amazing.
Demon Gaze can be frustrating, and the lack of polish is certainly noticeable. It could have benefitted from a few extra tutorials, especially when it comes to gear management. Still, when all is said and done, I found the repetitive structure of the game to be quite addicting.