The story of Demon Gaze is a structurally familiar one. You are an amnesiac protagonist (yes, another one) who wakes up in a cold, dark dungeon. After a brief of series of events, you find out that you are a demon gazer, a being who is able to quell the rage of demons, capture them, and use them in battle. Not only that, but you’re are a demon gazer with unprecedented potential! (Hello, “chosen one” trope.) As such you are given a roof over your head, and a job with the Dragon Princess Inn to capture demons and help wherever it may be needed while you try to recollect your past.
You may have noticed in that rough synopsis that I pointed out some tropes that the game follows. Unfortunately, those aren’t the only ones. Demon Gaze’s story is filled to the brim with JRPG tropes, predictable plot twists, and a narrative pace that can slow down to a patience-testing crawl. Despite the story itself not being all that memorable, I did find something I really enjoyed; that being the bunch of misfits that inhabit the Dragon Princess inn. They are by no means your stereotypical heroic archetypes. A jaded elf, a perverted cat lady and a money grubbing innkeeper are just some of the characters that often get into comic mischief that I looked forward to seeing after turning in some quests and barely making it out of a dungeon alive.
Note: In terms of its presentation, Demon Gaze is aptly named, this game is partially developed by Kadokawa, a studio becoming somewhat notorious with its sexual imagery, for better or worse. In other words, wink wink, nudge nudge, there’s a lot of fan service. I’m not going to go into the whole ‘fan service being bad, sexist, objectifying sexes, etc.’ I say, to each their own, live and let live. Personally I don’t mind it, but if this is an issue for you, at least you’re aware it’s in the game now.
Demon Gaze’s presentation is a mixed ordeal. First person dungeon crawlers aren’t particularly famous for their visuals and Demon Gaze is definitely not going to change that. Monster re-colours, constant reuse of tile assets couldn’t be more apparent, and even then the 3D environmental art itself lacks any kind of impressive detail. It looks like all the textures have a Gaussian blur applied to it. It sounds harsh, but it looks something from the end of the PSP era. All that being said, the 2D art used for non-playable party members and monsters are all impressive; but otherwise archaic. NPCs share the common anime-esque art style, while monsters feel like they were ripped from straight from an Emily Rodda book. If anything, I appreciate what they did to make up for the lack of animation. Both in battle and in events the portraits of characters and monsters can slide around, zoom in an out have small flourishes surrounding the portraits. It may not sound like much, but it saves the game from being akin to a boring visual novel.
The audio work overall for Demon Gaze is superb. I honestly wasn’t expecting much from the English voice acting, to my surprise I ended up sticking with it through out the entire game. The soundtrack does a fantastic job both of setting a scene whether it be somber piano compositions or a jaunty sunny day tune. The same is true with the battle music, though it’s comprised of J-pop and J-rock, as well as heavy use of what sounds like Vocaloids (synthesised singers). At first I thought adding vocals was a somewhat risky choice, seeing as battle themes have a high risk of becoming tiresome and utterly unbearable due to the frequent nature of them. Thankfully it never got to that point, battles have a tense atmosphere thanks to their difficulty and the music didn’t diminish that. I call that a job well done.
Demon Gaze falls into the dungeon crawler genre, and it plays much like its ancestors Wizardry, or to use a more recent comparison, Etrian Odyssey. It has many of the genre’s conventions, from choosing what classes comprise your party to the brutal difficulty that usually comes with the genre’s territory. Demon Gaze does add a few of its own tricks to the tried and true formula, which does manage to set it apart from the rest. The most notable of which makes use of your gazer skills, the ability to use demons. While in battle demons use a resource called the Demon Gauge, whether you are just using a demon skill or summoning the demons as an uncontrollable extra party member, this resource is depleted accordingly. If the Demon Gauge reaches zero while a demon is still summoned they will go berserk, which will result in massive damage to friend and foe. So the use of demons in battle is not something which you can just recklessly use. Thankfully they also have passive benefits ranging from additional defense, to not taking damage from environmental hazards while exploring. What it all sums up to, is that you have more ways to shore up your party’s odds of survival and offensive capability, which, in this type of RPG, is invaluable. The Demon Gauge prevents you from using demons haphazardly, so the extra help doesn’t feel like it’s sacrificing the genre’s conventional difficulty. That being said, for those who just want to enjoy the game’s story and world, they offer an easy mode for anyone seeking that.
The other noteworthy tweak they have bought to the table is in the loot system. Along side your gold and other equipment items, you will also gain gems. These gems are used at Demon Circles, set points of conflict you have to conquer to progress through the game. Gems are placed on the circle before the conflict and if you succeed, you get the corresponding loot tied to that gem (e.g. three hat gems equals three hats dropped at the end of the encounter). The rarity and value of the equipment is still randomised, it’s just a small tweak that circumvents the frustration of never getting the gear you want; which makes things a lot less frustrating when leveling and gearing a new party member.
Which leads to my only real gripe with the gameplay itself, getting a new party member feels much more a hassle than the exciting prospect it should be. Since you have to pay rent at the Dragon Princess Inn, there is a small degree of money management involved. Buying a new room to acquire a new party member gets expensive quickly, and then you need to level and gear them up from scratch. Everything else about the gameplay itself makes for a really well put together dungeon crawler.