I've been having a blast these past few days playing Demon Gaze for the PS Vita and I wanted to write something. At first I wanted to do a sort of guide to dungeon crawlers, then I sort of fell more in love with the game and wanted to write a review, then...well, I decided I could mix the two. So here we stand, are you willing to risk perils and danger, permadeath and starving to set foot along the halls of the endless dungeon?
Now this title does not have permadeath, it has game overs and doesn't institute auto-saves. It doesn't have starvation. It actually kind of does a lot of things to make the experience, dare I say it, more accommodating for the uninitiated?
Yes, on the heals of Dark Souls 2 we have another title that spins its wheels attempting to make it's rough going a bit more appealing. Unlike Etrian Odyssey titles, another in the list of games using first-person dungeon crawling decades after the format has faded from popularity, There are a number of things this game uses to differentiate itself from the harshest of the genre's norms.
Save In Dungeons
That's supposed to be in bold...fuck kinja. Any how, yes, the mazes in this game are actually pretty tough, windy and yet with enough walls that don't totally obstruct your view to figure out where you might want to go next. The sense of exploration that these titles demand is something you kind of either have or you don't, but at least with how they set up the save system you have more of a reason to go out of your way and find these anchors.
So Demon Gaze is about getting demons. Each dungeon has one, and you fight them at a circle. Circles are spots on the map where, with the use of a few gems, you can summon demons to fight and get items from them like equips and more gems. You fight the big demon twice in each dungeon, once randomly at a later circle, and once you've cleared every circle on a "demon circle" that exists just for the boss fight. Once you get through the boss fight you can go back to the inn and turn it into a key. Now you can use the demon for useful stuff like finding hidden treasure and walking on damage floors or just call them up to whoop ass in a battle.
Get as much done at the Inn as efficiently as possible
So the game has the 3 pillars: the hub or home village, the mazes, and the combat. Every time you leave the mazes and go back to the Inn you have to pay rent. Rent rises with all your roomies and their levels. So it pays to go after extra challenges in dungeons, as well as to make sure you don't leave the Inn without getting everything you want in tip top shape.
Make sure you have every quest you want, make sure you've sold the items that monsters drop as vendor trash, and make sure you've upgraded weapons how you want. Really you have to strike a balance between upgrading your gear and selling what you find, because you do need to make money but the only way to strengthen your weapons is to destroy weapons of the same class.
So this system, running around all the circles in a dungeon getting demons to drop items for you, going to the inn and selling what you can and upgrading your gear, then going back and taking down the boss, it gets pretty straight forward for you hopefully. When you're at the Inn you can advance the story in different ways, and every time you defeat a demon you have to have the manager turn it into a key so you can use it.
The more circles you have under your control the easier it is to switch demons up when you're out mazing, as well as giving you more spots to pick up gear. But one of the interesting things in the game has to be the class system.
Etrian Odyssey gives players lots of control as they level up. You decide what skills you are going to use, you decide what sub-classes you're going to make. But, it's also a lot to mess up. No Demon Gaze hasn't simplified classes to the level of Diablo 3 where you just worry about one stat, but you do get skills at level marks and deciding what stats to invest in usually aren't difficult decisions. If you're dual-wielding you need to keep putting points into agility fairly often so that your second weapon suffers less of a damage penalty, if you're healing you need to raise your MYS stat for extra MP and better heals.
Artifacts really seal the deal
Every skill in the game is basically able to be given to every class through artifacts you get using artifact gems in circles. Not feel like raising a wizard for 2 skills? Give them to your healer. Want to make a great character stronger?
Even beyond min/maxing artifacts make the combat just more robust and enjoyable. The options they give you aren't necessarily staggering, though some might be game breaking, but they definitely add to everything in an inventive way. You can really break out of a rut by giving a few artifacts to your characters. They're one of the more limited things in the game though, so be thoughtful.
Really use the map
Unlike Etrian Odyssey, which has players map out the mazes, something people playing the older games had to do by hand, Demon Gaze does fill the map in for you. This can give you a pretty good idea of what a level looks like at times, and if there's some sort of spot missing from the map you might want to look for a hidden passage. Even better is the auto-move system, so if you see an item on the other side of a wall you can find it on the map and have the character move there.
It doesn't sound that useful but trust me, it's super useful. It's pretty easy to get lost wandering around even short distances, I mean they're called mazes after all.
There is a story
While a dungeon-crawler usually doesn't have a story, or at least just a thin thread of a thing to keep some semblance of plot to explain the world, Demon Gaze does have a story. It's got a story, characters, plot, and they all fit within the world you'd imagine a dungeon-crawler would have.
Mercenaries who are basically treasure hunters 2 steps above bandits, shop keeps 2 steps above mercenaries, and a manager of the inn 2 steps below a mercenary. The voice acting helps make the characters writing stand out, as these people do have that comical NIS sensibility yet seem more rounded than their usual fare.
The humor is actually one of the game's secret weapons. Without it the game would devolve into just the combat and the mazes, you might not really have enough of a relief from the dungeons.
Demon Gaze is a stellar dungeon crawler. Definitely a simplified version of dungeon crawling, but also something that can keep people's attention. Combat is not just interesting but as artifacts and classes start to work together you really feel like you've built a great team of adventurers ready to take on these bosses. The writing is good, and while a person might think based on the art style that the game lacks any sort of serious edge it's actually a well crafted tale with characters you can enjoy.