|System: PS Vita|
|Dev: Kadokawa Games|
|Pub: NIS America|
|Release: April, 22, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 544p||Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol|
by Becky Cunningham
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.