Demon Gaze is your perfectly pleasant, typical JRPG dungeon crawler whose easily-over-forty hours of gameplay will end up either coming across as joyfully addictive, or a monotonous grind as you move from dungeon to vapid dungeon. This is mostly going to come down to how into dungeon crawlers you are in general, and how behind Demon Gaze’s story you can get. Fortunately, the title is presenting you with deeper characters and story than most RPGs (like the similar, Etrian Odyssey), even though it’s still largely derivative of the standard model. Basically, as Oz, the game’s amnesiac hero, you’re meant to defeat and capture demons (who are the game’s bosses), which then allows Oz (your party’s resident Gazer) to use these demons in combat, almost like a sixth wildcard, renegade party member. Simple enough, right? Use your Gazer to Demon Gaze. Like in any video game, when in doubt, consult the title.
What’s special here is that the story’s presented with such energy and enthusiasm, it’s hard to not get on board with it. The level design however is pretty mediocre and stilted, offering players stock battlefields (like the forest, the graveyard, ruins) with equally monotonous puzzles in them. In fact, many puzzles are reused throughout levels to the point that they can become increasingly tedious. It’s one thing to use tired puzzles, but at least have variety to them. The game is all presented to you in first person, which elevates these areas up a bit, but doesn’t revolutionize the gameplay either.
Some of the ways in which Demon Gaze breaks free of this though and allows you a unique gaming experience is the degree of customization that it allows you for your team’s party. There are seven classes you’re able to choose from, as well as five races (although you’re stuck with Oz, a Gazer). The most impressive thing here though is that you can even customize your characters’ voices, which is a pretty neat idea (especially if you find one of them to be particularly annoying and don’t want to hear them chirping at you for fifty-some-odd hours).
Another of Demon Gaze’s assets comes in the form of the gorgeous, bright art style that the game is soaked in. There’s some really beautiful stuff being presented here that makes this journey all the better. In spite of this, there are lazy character portrait-style cutscenes used, but they at least show varying emotion in them, which is more than some games. There’s also voice acting being used here to an effective degree, and it certainly adds some depth to the non-playable characters that you encounter. Oz does most of his interacting with them, and the game does a remarkable job at making these NPCs feel established and like people with real history and backstory here, which does leagues for the experience. Elsewhere the audio also does a good job at standing out, providing you with catchy music and impressive vocal effects on the voices of characters too.
As you start moving through Demon Gaze’s story, you’ll realize that there’s extremely linear gameplay (which makes it a good introductory game to the dungeon crawling genre, if you’re new to it) that sees you responding to quests on the bulletin board of your inn, that take you to corresponding dungeons. There’s a lot being thrown at you initially in terms of the bulletins posted, but this becomes less overwhelming after you realize these quests are all connected and actually integral to the game’s main story and not in fact sidequests. Sidequests do still exist, in the forms of 1. Gathering soul skulls; 2. Gathering black mushrooms; and 3. Buying and selling a rare set of clothes to the game’s resident stylist. These are all integrated well enough, and not overly cumbersome, but you won’t be screaming for excitement when you find a rare black mushroom either. In spite of the linear nature of the game, it does still allow you to do what you want, whether it’s focusing on demons, loot, abilities, or conquering dungeons.
The way that these dungeons operate is that basically you’re throwing gems into Demon Circles, fighting these demons to unlock more Demon Circles, before eventually reaching the boss of the dungeon. There’s an automap system in place here to help you find your way around that makes the game easier than other entries in the genre that often have you construct your own (again, Etrian Odyssey), but at the same time, they still could have gone further with this, like having the ability to add markers on your map.
On the topic of markers, there are interesting little touches throughout the game called “Gazer Memos” left by other players, almost like signs, attempting to warn you of dangers, treasure, or just generally waste your time (as you are at the mercy of random online whoevers). They’re a creative idea, but almost seem better in theory. Due to the sheer amount of them, they can become quite cluttered as well as ruining some of the game’s mysteries. Then again, you can always just ignore them, too.
The meat of the game, Demon Gaze’s combat system, is fluid, albeit static, with a lot of reused monsters with palette swaps going on, which only bring more attention to the possible tedium at work here. Again, the first person perspective is maintained, but as interesting as that may be, the combat may be the game’s biggest fault due to there being very little strategy involved. For instance, there are different elements and in turn, monsters with unique weaknesses, but the extra damage inflicted is barely detectable. Ailment attacks additionally barely last, and bosses that have indicators like “Fire” in their name don’t have elemental weaknesses, which is more than a little confusing. You can basically win your battles by just mashing the “Slash” move, while periodically managing health and defense. There’s even a “Repeat” button to make this even more mindless if you see fit. It’s important for a battle system like this to feel like it has purpose, especially when there’s so much grinding to be done, otherwise it just seems like a waste of time. The difficulty as a whole (at least on the “Cool”, normal difficulty) is also wildly inconsistent, with bosses either being instantly beatable or far too challenging. There needs to be more of a balance found. The best thing to be said here is that hopefully this all meshes with you so the constant battling you’ll be doing passes by effortlessly, keeping you up late into all hours of the night, rather than having you frustratingly scowl at the clock as you hit “Slash” for the umpteenth time. Demon Gaze is far from perfect, but it’ll be a triumph for some, and for that it’s at least worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre.