Review: Demon Gaze


Look deep into my eyes...

There's something comforting and satisfying about Japanese turn-based RPGs, growing your party and exploring the unknown in the name of loot and power. Every progressive inch forward is one step closer to realizing your ultimate demolition team, and along the way are formidable opponents that continually challenge you to step up your game. I'm admittedly a little picky with my RPGs, but when I find one I enjoy, it's just like curling up with a good book -- and Demon Gaze is undoubtedly one of them.

Demon Gaze (PS Vita) 
Developer: Kadokawa Games
Publisher: NISA
Released: April 22, 2014
MSRP: $39.99

It might make a tiny digital footprint on my Vita but make no mistake, this is a large-scale game, easily taking 50 hours to complete. Demon Gaze is a marathon: a rewarding and challenging grid-based dungeon crawler by Kadokawa Games.

Demon Gaze's presentation is likely to impress. The vocaloid music can seem odd at first, but it quickly grows on you -- don't be surprised if you catch yourself humming these themes incessantly between game sessions. The art consists of gorgeously painted high-resolution CG paintings that really pop on the Vita screen. It's even more impressive when you realize the sheer amount of unique characters and enemy designs there are. The only weakness in the visuals are the 3D renderings of the dungeons you navigate block-to-block on a grid, where the environments are noticeably low polygon and muddy-looking.

The game is split into two parts: Your time spent in the inn, where you can accept quests, advance the story, and buy/sell items; and your time spent in dungeons, where all the battling, looting, and demon gazing takes place. How you balance the two becomes vital.

Your main character is a rare Demon Gazer, someone with the ability to capture demon souls after you've tamed them, allowing them to assist you in battles. Your amnesia-riddled self is taken to an inn run by a energetic young lady named Fran, who houses fellow dungeon crawling sell-swords, as well as quirky merchants and traders you will quickly befriend. The colorful cast and the warm greetings really make you feel at home, making it a welcome site to return to after a hard day's work of dungeon conquering.

The battle system is turn-based and you can have a party of up to five members. While your class is unique as a Gazer, the game gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to recruiting party members. You have lists of options, from the character art, voice, class, and race, balancing certain strengths and weaknesses. They all start from level 1 when you recruit, so using your gold to add party members quickly is a good idea.

Each class has fixed skills they will learn as they gain levels, but there is flexibility and customization in the form of artifacts. Each artifact will teach a skill to any of your party members, regardless of their class, allowing you to create unique builds based on your needs. You can also receive furniture as rewards, which give varying levels of stat boosts that go into effect by placing them in your party member's individual rooms at the inn.

Whenever you visit your party members' rooms, the game gives you a randomized little description of what they're doing, which is a nice touch. As little as it affects the game, hearing that my Healer is using the fluffy bed I got her as a trampoline, or that my Fighter is admiring the shelf I acquired, put a smile on my face every time I dropped in.

Despite its fairly easy opening sections, Demon Gaze is not a walk in the park, especially once the game gets going. Your objective in each dungeon is to defeat the resident demon of each location. There are specific capture points called Gem Circles you need to conquer to make a demon circle appear, where you will finally face the demon and acquire it, if you are victorious.

Successfully capture the boss demon, and you will be able to equip it, bringing it in and out of battle per turn. Demons come with a limited number of turns they can take fighting the enemy before they go berserk and start attacking your party indiscriminately, so it becomes a balancing act where you want to save your demons for harder battles, though it becomes less of an issue later in the game as your demons level up and their turn counts rise dramatically.

Between the number of capture points spread across the map, one of them will actually house the resident demon, introducing itself and giving you a taste of its abilities with a preliminary battle. These battles are often intense, because these demons don't mess around. They give no quarter, and you'll be dead very quickly if you're not prepared. Facing each demon for a final showdown is a battle of attrition, making every move and character ability count. Trying to brute force might get you through some tough enemies, but rarely ever bosses. Demons are here to stand as difficult walls for you to conquer, and facing each one is an exciting, if not terrifying, process.

Gem Circles are also areas of interest to you because they are prime areas for loot drops and saves. I've found each capture point to be lifesavers as the game went on, especially when the maps begin to get larger and require a long stretches of battles between each one. You will acquire specific item gem drops from enemy encounters, which you use to activate these capture points. If you successfully capture it by winning the following battle, you will get drops depending on the gem you put down.

There are a wide variety of different gem types, ranging from bows, swords, and staves, to hats and underwear. It's a much better alternative to buying weapons and items in the overpriced shop, so using gems often is recommended. There are also special gems for rare drops that tend to summon stronger enemies to defeat.

Demon Gaze keeps you on your toes with each new area sporting stronger enemy types, and even stronger resident demons. As you progress further into a dungeon and gain some levels, the common enemies will be noticeably easier to defeat; a promising sign of progress, and you might be tempted to mash through every random encounter. There is a mechanic that lets you auto-battle in fast forward, activated by pressing triangle, but mashing on it confidently is a sure way to lose party members, as one or two stronger enemies in the mix could make fast work of your party if you're not careful.

There is a very helpful map you can bring up that charts everywhere you've gone. In addition to tracking your progress through a dungeon, you can select any part of the grid that you've already walked across, and have your party automatically navigate to the selected block, making backtracking incredibly simple and painless.

Whenever you return to the inn after a session of dungeon crawling, you're expected to pay rent, which Fran collects with glee. The higher level and more party members you have, the higher your rent rises. In the first half of the game where money is harder to come by, you probably won't be able to afford the egregiously overpriced revive items, so the best way to bring back fallen party members is to retreat back to the inn, pay the rent, and have the resident basement dweller revive your party member for, you guessed it, an additional fee based on your fallen comrade's level.

You could add more party members, but each requires you to buy an extra room (with a price that doubles with each additional member), and your return fee rises even higher. This game has you practically bleeding gold and it can get downright brutal, but soon enough you'll figure out how to strategize each outing to get the most out of each dungeon, allowing you to stay out longer and accrue enough gold to make the additional payments a non-issue.

I would be remiss not to mention that Demon Gaze is a game with a lot of charm. Everyone you share quarters with is affable and entertaining, with something different to bring to the table. The ensemble cast is made up of characters coming from all walks of life and give you the feeling that you're part of their wacky family. Some of the quests you accept give further insight into your fellow inn-mates, and there's a quirky sense of humor embedded into the writing. A good amount of story and character interactions outline your dungeon looting, and it provides a good break when you have your fill of battles.

I won't mince words; if you hate grinding, spending lots of your time comparing character stats, and loot gathering followed by harrowing bosses you might die to over and over again, this game may not be for you. Demon Gaze is a very traditional dungeon crawler following the likes of Wizardry and Etrian Odyssey, down to its challenging and heavy grinding roots, but also provides a decent story and an endearing cast you'll miss when it's all over. Whether you're newly interested in the genre or a hardcore veteran, this is an engaging and addictive Vita game that comes highly recommended.

9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)

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Demon Gaze reviewed by Dae Lee



A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide


Dae Lee
Dae LeeContributor   gamer profile

I can't stop watching anime, listening to idol music, and playing video games. It's a wonder I'm still alive. Do the twitter thing @NewSchoolDae more + disclosures



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