More Like Male Gaze
You have just awakened in a strange place with no recollection of who you are. Strange women with questionable taste in clothing show up and start ordering you around, because apparently you’re a Demon Gazer with the power to subdue the creatures that are tormenting this world full of ruins and broken dreams. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to brave dungeon depths and bend demons to your will—all while making sure you keep paying your rent on time. You might as well accept it. You’re a Japanese RPG protagonist, what else are you going to do?
Welcome to the world of Demon Gaze , the latest dungeon-crawler to arrive on the Vita, which is turning out to be quite a solid little JRPG machine. It’s a title that manages to be more welcoming than many of its ilk, but which ultimately narrows its audience due to pacing issues and thoroughly unnecessary levels of cheesecake.
It’s not difficult to get into Demon Gaze . There’s a reasonably strong tutorial that doesn’t overstay its welcome, quickly dropping the player into the action. Gameplay is divided into grid-based dungeon exploration and time spent in the player’s home base, which allows the party to rest, buy supplies, and spend time with the locals. The game’s story is generally entertaining, enough that it’s a shame that the developers felt the need to pander to the lowest common denominator with scenes that are described as “heart pounding” but are embarrassingly lame excuses for close-ups of anime girls in lingerie.
When it comes to the meat of the game, Demon Gaze is generally solid. There’s a nice amount of character customization which allows the player to choose from a variety of races and classes, as well as choose from a dizzying array of portraits and voices for each party member. Individual party members don’t have personalities, but the game often integrates them into the background of story scenes in the mansion, which is a nice touch. There can be up to five characters in the party, but it takes some time to save up enough money for more than three.
Exploring the dungeons with the Demon Gazer’s party involves traversing the grid-based environments, mapping things out, heading towards icons that denote events of interest, and capturing demonic portals in order to lure out the local “boss” demon. These portals also serve as save points and the main source of equipment for the party, as the player can place tokens onto them in order to summon and defeat demons which drop particular kinds of equipment. As with many dungeon-crawlers, saving early and often at these portals is the order of the day. There’s a certain randomness to dungeon battles, and especially at the beginning it’s all too easy to stumble into a fight with enemies that can wipe the entire party out.
The 3D dungeons are colorful and have a good amount of variety to them, but they can seem lifeless while exploring. Enemy encounters are sparse and places of interest are marked by floating icons rather than graphical depictions of what’s there. On one hand, this gives the game a unique graphical identity and a kind of comic book feel to it. On the other, it would have been nice to see more objects in the environment in order to give the twisty corridors more visual interest. Although they don’t show up on the map, the 2D monster sprites are attractive and interesting, especially the unique demon bosses who are destined to become the Gazer’s servants.
The demon controlling mechanic is a nice twist that enlivens otherwise standard turn-based combat. Defeating a boss demon allows the player to summon its tame form into battle. There’s no way to control what a demon does while it’s summoned, but they have powerful spells and abilities that can turn the tide of the battle. The twist here is that the Demon Gazer can only keep these demons under control for so long. If the Demon Gauge in the top-left corner of the screen runs out, the summoned demon will enrage and attack the party. The “close demon” command is always available, though, so unless the Gazer is incapacitated, it’s easy to keep demons under control.
There are a few annoyances in the way that the game has been put together. In particular, the battles don’t auto-scroll, requiring the player to press X in order to advance every piece of battle text—and there’s a lot of battle text. Also, many of the game’s helpful features aren’t well-introduced or explained, either. Important features such as auto-movement and treasure maps will need to be figured out by the player. This game may be easier to access than some of its Japanese dungeon-crawling cousins, but it could still do a better job at helping the player get the most of its many features. At least the help menu is fairly extensive, so players with a good amount of initiative will be able to figure out how to best get things done.
The biggest turn-off in terms of gameplay, however, is the difficulty level paired with slow pacing. Beyond the randomness factor that threatens sudden party death, there are often moments when the player will hit a brick wall in the form of a nasty demon boss, and the only real solution is leveling up and collecting stronger equipment. Even with a good battle strategy, the numbers are simply stacked against a party that’s too low-level for certain encounters. This is par for the course in hardcore dungeon-crawlers, but the problem in Demon Gaze is just how long it takes to level up and make money.
When it’s time to grind up some levels, the low encounter rate, which is a blessing for exploration, becomes a curse. You could use auto-travel to go from one end of the dungeon to another in hopes of enough random encounters, but it’s more effective to travel from portal to portal, summoning demons in hopes of a good roll of the random equipment drop dice and watching experience bars go up ever-so-slowly. It can be quite tedious, and while I enjoy difficult dungeon crawlers, it feels like Demon Gaze isn’t balanced quite right. Thorough exploration of a dungeon should yield sufficient experience for a skilled player to tackle its boss challenges, and that simply isn’t the case here.
Dungeon crawler fans who can look beyond this balance issue will find plenty of fun bits to play with, and no, I’m not talking about the ones that are busting out of various barely-there bodices. There’s equipment customization, a nice array of side quests that include story elements, upgrades that allow for further exploration of completed dungeons, and various other RPG goodies. The game’s main narrative is more interesting than that of most dungeon-crawlers, too, although I suspect many players will never make it to the end of the story.
Demon Gaze is the kind of title that only a particular group of players will appreciate. It requires an appreciation for death via random number generator, patience for the grind needed to progress, and tolerance for the game’s cringe-inducing attempts to titillate. There’s a solid game behind those elements (and the random deaths will be a positive feature for some), but it’s not for dabblers or gamers looking for a breezy or well-balanced game. I’d like to see where the developers at Kadokawa go in the future, but they’ll have to call me back when they’ve improved their pacing and are confident enough in their product that they don’t feel the need to constantly undress their characters.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
The 2D art, particularly the monster design, is quite nice, but dungeons can feel sparse. 3.0 Control
It’s not the worst offender when it comes to ease of use, but pressing x through every line of battle text really drags. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Tracks are standard-issue and the voice acting is of unexceptional quality. 3.0 Play Value
Pacing issues and juvenile sexuality will turn off many players to an otherwise solid game. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best