As many new JRPGs are attempting to diverge from the tried and tested formula, Demon Gaze looks back to old school dungeon crawling while also adding several unique twists to give the game its own individual identity. With gameplay that’s quite reminiscent of 1st person dungeon crawlers like Shin Megami Tensei or more recently, Etrian Odyssey, you’ll be spending most of your time in the game exploring the labyrinthine paths and passages of various dungeons and fighting all sorts of monsters that may be lying in wait.
Set in the land of Misrid, your story begins shortly after your character (which you can customise at the start), awakens in a dark dungeon with no memory of their past and has to wander around to find the exit. Upon escaping, you meet Lancelorna, one of the main story characters who quickly gives you some info about your ability to capture the souls of demons using the titular ‘Demon Gaze’. With the brief introductions over, you’re soon told that the dungeon you were stuck in was actually underneath the Dragon Princess Inn and the manager , Fran Pendoll has generously allowed you to live there following your recent amnesia.
At the inn, a variety of hunters and mercenaries gather when they’re not out trawling through dungeons and fighting monsters to earn money. As a new dweller of the inn, Fran reveals your debt won’t be repaid until you capture some more demon souls using your special ability, setting up your reason to head out into dungeons and fight your way to the demons that control each area. For the most part, the fact that you have no recollection of your memory isn’t really touched on in the first chunk of the game’s story, instead having you focus on using your Demon Gazer powers to hunt the demons terrorizing the land.
In each dungeon, you’ll explore the area in first person, while looking for the demon in control of that area, as well as special monsters, event icons and items. Battles use a standard turn-based format with you selecting either to attack, defend, use a skill or item for each of the characters in your party. Presented as flat sprites with batley any movement, enemies can appear alone or in large groups arranged in multiple rows. As the Demon Gazer, you in particular have the ability to call one of the demons you’ve captured into battle to fight alongside you against the enemy. When a demon is ‘open’, it will behave autonomously and will either attack the enemy or support your party with spells, which will deplete your ‘Demon Points’, indicated by a gauge in the top corner. If the Demon Points reach 0 while a demon is open, it will go berserk and start attacking the party. To prevent that from happening, you’ll need to close the demon before all of your demon points are expended. Using the power of the demons you defeat is a great way to boost your party’s battle capabilities and certain demons will also give you certain status effects in dungeons, such as being able to see hidden paths or walk on thorns and fire without receiving damage.
Fights against the monsters within a dungeon can start from random encounters, which occur as you would generally expect from a dungeon crawler, and from demon circles, which are basically portals for monsters and demons to appear from. Once you have control of all the circles in a dungeon, the demon controlling that area will appear for you to fight and attempt to capture. When using the circles, nothing happens on a circle until you place a gem to act as bait and lure a monster out. Multiple types of gems are available, with each one affecting the type of loot that you’ll get from defeating the monster that appears. In Demon Gaze, Loot plays a big part with weapons, armour and items randomly dropping when you beat a monster or just scattered around a map for you to find. There are even treasure maps you can find which will lead you to rare hidden items stashed away somewhere in a dungeon.
Finding loot is not just for equipping your party with effective gear, but also using unneeded loot to sell and earn money, which is also very important to have. Because you’re now living at the inn, Fran will be eagerly awaiting your arrival whenever you return from a dungeon so that you can pay rent, which increases depending on your party size and level. Since this will be payable whenever you return to the inn, you’d want to make sure you have enough money before you end up in even more debt. If you’re unlucky and a party member falls in battle, you’ll also need to pay to be able to revive them back at the inn once you return. If you want to add another person to your party, it’s time to pay up again for the extra room your new member will be occupying. It looks like money definitely makes the world go ’round in the Dragon Princess Inn, so make sure you have enough if you want to stay on top of things.
Back at the inn, there are several different people you can talk to during your downtime when not slaying monsters or chasing demons. There’s both a weapon shop and an item shop for you to buy & sell gear, a mortician who sleeps in a casket in the basement to handle your character revival needs, as well as item storage and weapon enhancements, and a stylist hanging out in the bath area in case you get the urge to change your main character’s look. The main hall provides a general meeting area where you can see quests left by other people at the inn on the bulletin board.
At certain points, you’ll be able to interact with the inn’s inhabitants as your relationship with the characters develops during the course of the story. Most character interaction is fairly basic, with some cases having voiced lines for the characters, usually for important sequences relating to the main story. Even more rare are the full screen images to accompany specific events, which seems to be primarily reserved for ones that have been deemed important enough (or fanservice-y enough) to warrant a unique illustration for it.
When you’re not out and about, it’s nice to be able to talk to the other mercenaries and inn staff during cutscenes and story events. This is where you’ll find most of the game’s story and interesting dialogue between the characters as your relationship develops over the course of the game. Some are prone to partaking in crazy antics, which is always fun to watch unfold. You’ll also learn more about the individual characters, helping to get a better understanding of the different personalities you’ll be in contact with at the inn.
If you’re the type who plays RPGs primarily to go through the story, you’ll find that the majority of Demon Gaze will be centered around going in and out of dungeons to find demons, battle monsters, find loot or training your party to beat a tough foe. At any time, you have the ability to change the game’s difficulty via Prometh, the mortician at the inn. This would be particularly useful for anyone who doesn’t fancy spending too long in a dungeon or grinding to beat a hard demon and would rather get through those sections quicker in order to get to the story events.
As a Dungeon Crawler, there’s a lot to satisfy fans of the genre with large, multi-area and sometimes multi-tiered dungeons to give you plenty of areas to map and explore while fighting baddies along the way. The ability to call out monsters with the gems on the demon circles gives you greater control over what loot you acquire, which can be addictive when you’re hoarding loot to get money or looking for new weapons and armour to kit out your party with. Battles are pretty much straightforward as far as turn-based battles go, you select an action, change to next character, and then rinse & repeat. Choosing to open a demon and have them fight with you add is usually a good choice to increase your chance of success, but you never really know what your demon will do or if their attacks will be focused on the enemy you want to defeat first.
The difficulty of enemies seems to increase steadily as you go along, so if you’re fighting all of the monsters that you encounter while you go through the dungeons, you should generally be in a good position to face the end boss of each area without having to deal with much grinding. Equipping your weapon loadouts with higher specced gear for each character can compensate for this or you can simply lower the difficulty to get past certain areas if you’re still having trouble. In some areas, you’ll need to do a fair amount of backtracking either to find a hidden path to proceed, pick up a specific item or locate the demon, which can leave you feeling a bit bored of traipsing through the same area over and over again. If you’re heading back to an area you’ve already explored, the process of walking there can be sped up a bit by selecting the destination on the map and using the auto-move function to have the game move you to that point automatically, helping to relieve some of the tedium involved somewhat.