"What the hell is Demon Gaze?" was my first response when I heard about this new game for the PS Vita from Kadokawa Games. The game was released on January 24th in Japan under the genre of "dungeon RPG," and almost immediately sold like crazy. Well… relatively crazy. It is a Vita game after all, and there aren't as many of those in circulation compared to the 3DS or the PSP. In its first week out, Demon Gaze sold 25,793 copies, according to Weekly Famitsu. Pretty impressive considering the initial lot was only 25,000 units. Game retailer Sofmap even tweeted that their restock quickly sold out much to the surprise of the developer spokesperson. As a Vita owner, I had to find out what the hubbub was all about.
My first problem was finding a copy of the game. A download version of the game is available on the Japanese PlayStation Network store, but, as a bit of an old school gamer who likes having a physical copy, and because I was curious to see if the sales rumors were true, I went out to my local retailers to see if they had the game in stock.
They did not.
It was only at the fifth store I went to that I managed to snag the last copy they had. With my arms wrapped around my precious cargo, I scampered back home to give the game a try.
I'll be honest: it could be because I'd just come off of playing Far Cry 3, but my initial impression of Demon Gaze was that it felt cheap. The simple interface, the gameplay (I'll get to that), the vocaloid soundtrack, the semi-voiced dialogue, the very visual novel-esque character design and conversation cut scenes… this is definitely not triple-A game material. Normally, I could see myself putting the game down almost immediately and never bothering to play it again. But there had to be something about it to garner such high sales numbers, so I pushed forward, past any initial personal judgments I may have had about the game's design.
Demon Gaze is very much a dungeon crawler RPG in the vein of games like Wizardry. The basic flow of the game is that you take a party of characters into a 3D dungeon, a la the old Windows 95 3D Maze Screensaver, where you explore, battle monsters in basic turn-based combat, collect treasures, level your characters, return to a base of operations to recuperate and sell off excess items to buy better items, and head back into the dungeon to explore further. It's all very straightforward. My own experience with these types of dungeon RPGs is somewhat limited. I played but never cleared the original Wizardry on my father's Mac back in the 80's (P.S. Trevor sucks), and I played the Game Boy game Wizardry Gaiden 2 -Curse of the Ancient Emperor- so much so that I ended up with a party of characters with over 3,000 hit points apiece. Those are my only real points of comparative reference, so I don't know how Demon Gaze stands up to or compares with more recent dungeon RPGs.
In Demon Gaze, you play the role of a Demon Gazer. A warrior with the ability to capture the souls of demons and, utilize them as allies. Using this rare ability, you set out as a bounty hunter to defeat and capture the many demons that plague the realm. The game is much more plot driven than any dungeon RPG I've ever played (which isn't much) with a colorful cast of side characters who you interact with and drive the story along through your adventures. Much like with Wizardry games, you can create your own party members from a selection of appearances, races, and classes.
The game starts off slow, but the tutorial is well-integrated into the gameplay and plot so that by the time you've well gotten the hang of things and the game lets you off the leash, there is a real sense of achievement that gets you hooked. Demon Gaze's biggest selling point, the demon system, works well with the combat as well. You choose to link with one (or more, depending on how far along the game you are) of the demons you've captured in your adventures. Simply linking with a demon provides special bonuses, like the ability to see hidden passages or protection from harmful environments. Demons can also be summoned during battle to assist in combat and are powerful enough to turn the tide in tight situations. However, demons have a "demon gauge" that slowly depletes the longer they participate in battle. When the gauge runs out, the summoned demon goes berserk and will lash out at enemies and allies alike, something that, unless you're extremely unobservant, never happens under normal circumstances.
As mentioned above, when compared to triple-A games, the game looks cheaply made overall, which will be a big turn-off for people more used to big budget blockbusters. The character design is also obviously geared for a male audience, with busty female characters and fetishistic fashion senses. The dungeon-exploring gameplay and combat are simplistic, but at the same time are solid and rewarding enough to be addictive. The game also pulls a twist by the end of the initial tutorial that, by the time it comes around, you're already invested enough in the game for it to suck you in. I've logged about 10 hours of gameplay but I'm fairly certain I'm hooked enough that I'll be sticking around with this adventure to its conclusion. Demon Gaze is a surprisingly solid game. It's probably not the savior of the PS Vita, but it's a good start. My biggest complaint is that it didn't come out with the initial launch lineup where it could have done the console much more good.
Demon Gaze is currently available in Japan and on the Japanese PlayStation Network. At present, no western release is scheduled.