Welcome back, it’s time for Under Your Radar! Today, we’ll be covering Demon Gaze, a first-person dungeon crawler by Experience, Inc. and Kadokawa Games for the PlayStation Vita. It was localized in the West by none other than NIS America. It is a distant sequel to the PSP game Students of the Round, which never left Japan.
The story is a simple one: You are Oz, a half-demon and a gazer. Gazers are being with powers in their eyes that allow them to enslave demons, provided said demons have been sufficiently-weakened beforehand. You end up at Dragon Princess Inn, where you get to stay at so long as you pay up your room fees and also hunt down the last remaining demons and prevent a catastrophe. This ends up also becoming a love story between the player character and the innkeeper, who’s a dragon taking the form of a girl.
Demon Gaze has very basic dungeon-crawler gameplay, with an up to 5-character party (all fully custom-created except for the somewhat-restricted protagonist) fighting in two rows and the enemy having a bunch of rows of however many enemies they please. As is usual with this sort of system, magic is infinite-range and MP is very limited while melee weapons generally have limited range.
Unlike the norm with these systems, however, you are able to make magic fairly spammable by the endgame if you know what you’re doing. This allows you to actually use magic-based characters instead of them being something you need to be extremely careful with. This is one of many systems Demon Gaze uses to be more forgiving, and thus more actually penetrable, than most dungeon crawlers while being legitimately difficult at times.
Most of the game’s bosses are demons, and returning to base after capturing one with your eyes has the innkeeper make the demon into a key that you can use to summon the demon to do your bidding in battle. This becomes an important strategic centrepoint, as you have to make sure you carry the right demons into each dungeon, be the the exploration demon, the healing demon, the demon that wildly attacks everything for you, the one that tanks all of the hits, etc. You also can’t just keep them out all the time, or you’ll eventually lose control of the demon. Furthermore, some demons are required to receive certain items, so you may need to return to the inn and swap your keys, then return multiple times for all of the items.
Demon Gaze features something that a lot of dungeon crawlers desperately need but refuse to widely adopt. Aside from proper tutorials (though it has that too – the whole first act of the game). Difficulty settings. I’m not even joking. There are multiple difficulty settings available, with the tougher difficulties giving more money and experience and the game allowing you to change the difficulty at the Dragon Princess Inn whenever you please. This allows anyone to be able to finish the game so long as they’re willing to adjust the difficulty to what they need.
You can also change the character sprites and voices for the entire party at the inn whenever you want, in addition to the stores and other various systems available. However, this is where another mechanic of the game comes in. Dragon Princess Inn is where your storage is, and where you can do all of these things, but you must pay your rent whenever you return to the inn, regardless of how long or short your outing from the inn was. If you can’t pay, you can’t access most of the stuff in the inn until you pay what’s due.
The story actually makes fun of this at one point early on, and it’s hilarious. This only really affects things early-game, though. Later in the game, while you can’t buy too many items from the store with the money you have, the rent becomes a non-issue. As such, instead, you start receiving bonuses for properly paying your rent on time and consistently.
But the importance of this mechanic is in the first half of the game anyway. The rent is based on your level, but that’s not the only thing. You also get changed rent per room you’re renting, with up to 5 rooms being available – one per party member. Yes, this means the mechanic actually limits your party size in an indirect manner by charging you more per visit to the inn unless your keep your party at only the required size until you reach the midpoint of the game, where you can afford five rooms without issue (though the issue then becomes babying the final party member until their level catches up).
As you rent rooms, the game recommends set party members to you if you don’t want to create your own. I played with the recommended party and it did really well, though I was unable to use some equipment at all throughout the game. Most will recommend using the default second party member, a paladin, due to how outright necessary some of the abilities available to this stalwart ally can be. I’m no exception to this, as the paladin can literally draw in all of the attacks and gets immunity to instant kill moves approximately when enemies start getting instant kill moves.
Using a paladin with the defensive demons can prevent you from dying in places where you’re clearly underleveled. There are ideal party layouts that completely break the game wide open, and these generally involve the front row being just your paladin. Most classes are similarly useful and unique, but the paladin is a necessity.
Something of note is that most cutscenes will acknowledge your party members in text form (be it them looking for you when you go missing, drinking at the bar during a party, or other characters telling them to watch your back), and the default party is visible on the game box and at the end of the game in one final shot with the rest of the cast.
I haven’t even gone into the music yet. The music is all very atmospheric and fitting, but what I have to give special note to is that most tracks in the game use a vocaloid. Specifically, IA, an obscure vocaloid who sounds like a cross of two of the more popular ones. This vocaloid isn’t singing lyrics, but being used an an instrument. It gives the music a unique identity. I still listen to tracks from the game on occasion. I’m actually kinda disappointed that the final boss theme was just a medley – I was curious what they could come up with.
One more thing I have to simultaneously commend and complain about is the game’s community features. You’re allowed to place notes on the ground throughout the game, which are loaded if you have an internet connection when you enter an area. Many of these are helpful messages saying to do a certain action to get a secret. Others are trolls, but there are messages warning about them. However, whoever made this system also decided to put terms like “butt”, “straddle”, “ecstasy” and “in and out”, leading to the lion’s share of the notes being perverted in nature. It can be easily ignored, but it was also easily preventable.
Overall, Demon Gaze is everything I want a dungeon crawler to be. Tough at times, but fair, not ridiculously tough with unexplained systems out the wazoo like most games of the genre tend to be.
If you want to try the genre out, but dislike how impenetrable most games in it are, I recommend giving this game a shot. I’m more than willing to play Demon Gaze 2 when it comes out.