Demon Gaze Review (PS Vita)
That’s my first reaction to many of the JRPG’s that I end up playing for review, and that’s my first reaction to Demon Gaze too. There’s no getting around it, the designs of the female characters are questionable to say the least, and while some of the males are also similarly and weirdly sexualized, there’s no doubt that this sort of art style is off-putting for a large portion of western audiences. You can explain away overtly sexual depictions of young girls as a cultural peculiarity of Japan, but this style of character art just isn’t what I want to see in any kind of game. It’s not only inappropriate, it’s just inherently…. I dunno….. lame. And completely out of touch with modern games character design, which is (with the odd exception) generally getting better.
You won’t spend that much time at your characters or your sidekicks when actually playing Demon Gaze though. As a sequel to Students of the Round, this is a Dungeon Crawler. Most of the game will be seen from a first person perspective, with the occasional break between each level to go back to the inn, chat with NPC’s via static text screens and buy and sell items and equipment.
Within the dungeon crawling part of the game you’ll be moving around a step at a time through a largely empty 3D world. It’s one of those old fashioned maze games. The most recent and similar would be Legend of Grimrock, but this genre goes all the way back to the very earliest RPG’s. You move through a dungeon, uncovering squares on a map as you go, and you get into random encounters with enemies, at which time you’re taken to another battle screen. It then becomes a typical turn-based JRPG, where you choose your actions for each character from a fairly standard selection like attack, defend, item or skill.
The main twist in the combat section is that you have demons which you can summon to help you. Determining when to summon the demon is key to your success, because while they will help you in combat, they will only be helpful for a few turns before they turn on you and attack you as well as your enemies. To that extent the game has a lot in common with the Persona series, as you enlist demons to help you and even change the abilities and appearance of those demons by leveling them up.
You can have up to four characters to control in the game, including your own avatar. You need to arrange them in a two by two grid formation, so putting the melee character at the front and the spellcasters and ranged characters at the back is the standard approach. You can change the look of any of the characters (including your own) at will with no associated cost or consequence, so you can have four bearded manly axe-wielders in one mission, and four leather wearing dominas and fetishized per-pubescent bunny girls in the next. Diverse!
Your main character (Oz) has no personality and no character traits, so I guess he/she is the stereotypical blank onto which you are supposed to project yourself. With no preset appearance or names, your companions have no discernible personality either, and you don’t even interact with them. Instead the story (such as it is) is conveyed by the various personalities that stay at The Inn.
There’s an overwhelming jauntiness to Demon Gaze, and it’s most evident in your interactions with the other inhabitants of The Inn. There, you can chat with the manager who will chastise you if you’re late with rent, but always let you off the hook when you’re short on cash. There’s also Lorna, a pirate-type character with an eye patch and some of the most poorly drawn, exposed breasts I’ve seen in a game, and Prometh, a child who sleeps in a coffin in her underwear and brings your dead teammates back to life for a few gold pieces.
As a result of the flippant, lighthearted and disposable nature of the story, nothing has any real consequence. Prometh tells you that no on really dies, but, “don’t tell anyone or they’ll be killing themselves all over the place”. With a lack of a real antagonist, a reason to fight (beyond grinding for money) and a real narrative direction of any sort, you begin to wonder what the point of it all is.
As a result of the general casual atmosphere you get in Demon Gaze, it can be a bit of a shock when you are killed quickly and brutally in combat and thrown back to the title screen. For all the jokes and joviality, it’s often a tough game with spikes in difficulty being both unexpected and unwelcome. Early on, when you are still getting used to all the games systems and haven’t yet earned enough buy to buy a whole four character team, you can often be wiped out quickly if you advance into an area before you are ready. As you would expect from a JRPG, the solution is to grind for a bit. When the combat system isn’t very engaging, the enemies are all the same and there’s no real animation or spectacle to watch, the prospect of grinding to push forward a plot that’s already glacially paced isn’t too enticing though.
So the real problem for me is that I didn’t have fun with Demon Gaze, and I can’t imagine ANYONE having fun with it. Moving around a basic map, square by square, with nothing to see and nothing to do (beyond random battles) is soul destroyingly tedious. Even when there are set encounters in the 3D world part, you don’t see the enemies. Instead, there’s a big ugly floating icon that lets you know that when you move into that square you’ll be fighting one.
And while exploring the dungeon to uncover the layout square-by-square and filling out your minimap is vaguely satisfying, even this small pleasure is compromised by bad design. You can only see a square on your minimap when you have actually walked over it, so you end up meticulously going back and forward and back and forward in concentric circles to uncover each individual square. And some of those squares have terrain which hurts you (like lava), so if you want the mindless satisfaction of uncovering everything, you’ll take damage doing so.
Gameplay aside, the story is light, shallow and pointless. There’s a lot of very childish humour, and as a result it often feels like it’s a shonen manga aimed at young boys, but then there’s lots of awkward sexuality and objectivication of the characters, making it a deeply uneasy gameplay experience for me as a grown man. I was embarrassed to play this on the train and be spotted, so I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to play it either.
So what’s good? Well, the music is cheery, full of surprisingly lush orchestration, and there’s some nice design on the less overtly sexual characters. The games menu and interface is actually very slick, with responsive controls for everything and it’s all laid out well. As a result, actually playing, while never exciting, is also never really very frustrating. I also kind of like the design of the Inn, and moving between the different floors to chat with the cast of characters is curiously relaxing.
The real problem for Demon Gaze is that the Vita has some fantastic JRPG’s now. Persona 4 Golden and Final Fantasy X HD are the obvious big budget ones, but there’s a ton of other more niche titles like Danganronpa or Disgaea 3 that are full of great ideas and deep, involving gameplay. In comparison, Demon Gaze is too plain and pedestrian to interest anyone. Unless you like badly-drawn anime breasts.
1.5 boobs that look weird out of 5Demon Gaze Review (PS Vita),