Friday, April 18, 2014

Demon Gaze (PS VITA)

Demon Gaze is what you would call a minimalist's JRPG. You are given a very vague story, are introduced to only a handful of different main characters, and are thrust into the adventure with a bare minimum of tasks to take on. As you progress both the story, character interactions, and the chance encounters expand in greater detail though. It's like becoming a hero with amnesia, and trying to remember exactly what it is that you should be doing. When the game opens up, and the initial maze encounter ensues along with it's theatrical credits you will find that you have been descended from the heavens into a den of demons. Upon opening your eyes for the first time you are greeted by a frightened mercenary who tells you to RUN! Try as you might though you end up facing your first demon regardless of your attempt to flee the decrepit dungeon-like castle you happened to wind up in.

With the aid of a battle scarred female you stand your ground, and triumphantly capture your first demon with your "Demon Gaze". Little by little things are explained to you by your female savior. The "Demon Gaze" is among the many revelations that are learned during your one-on-one conversations. As the title suggests you are a chosen "Gazer" who has the inherent ability to capture demons with a special ability known as the "Demon Gaze". With this ability you can either be mankind's savior, or use your powers for evil purposes. Lorna, the retired mercenary who saved you hopes that you will aid them in their quest to rid the world of demons instead of the latter choice.

As the hero, or main protagonist of this JRPG adventure you are duped, or rather persuaded to stay at an inn for a regularly rising fee. It seems that the lady who saved your ass (Lorna) has ties with a special group of treasure seekers who each do bidding for an odd inn manager named 'Fran'. Fran being the greedy, and powerful person that she is requires some things from you in exchange for your rescue, and your stay at the inn. These things include capturing demons with your Demon Gaze ability, and traveling to various destinations to collect treasure for rent purposes. Inside the illustrious inn that is Fran's you'll find three floors filled with guests, shops, and adventuring services. There's a Elvish item dealer named Lezerem, a weapons dealer named Cassel, a mentally absent mortician named Prometh who revives the dead (near-dead), and a migmy barber you can get you a different look upon request.

Before the encounter with your first demon you are given character options with which to personalize who exactly you are in this intriguing tale. Things like appearance (Several different anime inspired avatars), class (Samurai, Healer, Migmy, Ney ...), voice (Battle, Damage, Death), gender (male/female), and name are put into place for your personal choice. There's plenty of male, and female character designs available including all sorts of traditional fantasy, and anime inspired creations. While you won't see yourself during the first-person maze explorations within the game you will see your chosen appearance every time you level up as well as every time you perform an action in battle.

Once you have your character creation set you will be thrust into the game via the intro that I spoke of at the beginning of this review. Lorna, the retired Demon Gazer who saved you earlier will explain your situation somewhat, and accompany on your first outing to help you get familiar with the game's unique JRPG mechanics. The story that is told through Lorna's perspective is vague, and to the point. She simply states that you are a "Gazer", and that you have the ability to capture, and use demons in battle. As far as "The Battle" goes it's about as simple as the story itself. You will basically travel through the labyrinth-like 3D mazes, and fight random, and initiated battles against demons.

The mazes, as I'm going to refer to them as hold a collection of various floating icons that each serve a different purpose. Some of the icons which look like demon faces, and skulls are obviously battles. They are activated by simply running into the demon/skull faced icon. Other enemy encounters come in the form of gem circles in which you can place gems of various types to attract treasure totting enemies from the depths of hell. The gems which are basically named after all of the weapons, equipment, and artifacts in the game will reward you accordingly. If, for example you use a "Sword Gem", and defeat the enemy/enemies that emerge from activating the gem you will be rewarded with a sword of some type. The same goes for undies (yes, you heard me right. Undergarments), Shields, Swords, Katanas, and so for and so on. The advantage of using these specific gems is that they can sometimes reward you with rare items.

Aside from enemy icons, and gem circles you'll find other types of floating icons that will also benefit you in your fight against demon-kind. If you happen upon a chemistry symbol/icon all you have to do is run through it, and you'll earn some useable items. Things like food items (Beer, Chicken, Jerky, etc., ...), and condition cures are amongst the many items that you'll find in these icons. While there are plenty of icons scattered across the massive maps you will have to engage your enemy wisely, and use your items sparingly. Life goes by fast in the heat of battle, and having a limited supply of healing/curing items will not save you from an untimely death forever.

When it comes to battle your created, and chosen character can have with them up to four more party members, for a total of five characters. Keep in mind though that with each new member comes a spike in the amount of rent you have to fork over to the innkeeper. Before a new party member can be added you must first pay up 1,000 or more in-game currencies, and must follow-up with your jacked up rent payment after each outing return. As such it's best that you spend some quality time engaging the enemy before heading back to the inn to suit up your soldiers, and whatnot.

The battle system in "Demon Gaze" is based on traditional RPGs where turn-based attacks, and defenses are dealt in an automated, and random manner. There's no way to tell who will strike when, or who will do what, but initial actions can be put into play to eventually do what it is that you instructed your character to do. Through a four option onscreen menu you can attack, defend, use a skill, or use an item. Each character in your party has the same action options, but each characters' attacks, defenses, and skills will vary according to the current characters' class capabilities/abilities. Aside from the standard four option menu the main character (which is you) has the added options to run, and to summon a captured demon to the battlefield.

In order to summon a demon you must first defeat them in battle, and use your demon gaze to capture them. The demon gaze capture part of the ordeal is automatic, and simply requires the successful defeat of the demon in question. The demon battles are a lot like every other battle in the game. Hits are dealt, and strategic choices are made until you hopefully come out on top, and defeat the demon before you. If you succeed you can summon the demon to aid you in future battles. Demons carry with them special skills as well as attacks, and assist at will after being summoned. Before you can ever actually use a demon though you must return to Fran at the inn, and have her turn the captured demon into a "Demon Key". This is a necessary step in the process that will help you gain control of the demon you have captured.

There are a couple of things that you must keep in mind when summoning a demon into a fight. The most important thing of all is that each demon has a numerical chain of actions that must be kept in check. If the red chain meter above their battle avatar drops below zero they will transform back into their enraged state, and begin attacking you. With each action that they contribute the number beside the red chain will drop a single digit. While this definitely carries a negative outcome if not managed properly it can be avoided by "Closing" the demon before that number reaches zero via the demon menu option. Of course the opposite (Open Demon) must be done before you execute any actions if you hope to bring your demonic assistant with you for the fight. Demons, like party members can level up in rank through continuous battles.

In order to reveal a demon for battle you must cleanse all of the appropriate enemy icon battles within a given labyrinth/maze. Upon doing so the name of the final location of the demon will be shown onscreen, and will be marked with a more ominous looking demon icon. If you can find the location you will be allowed to engage in battle with said demon upon running into the final demon icon. Demons are a huge asset in the fight against other more powerful demons, and lesser foes. By accessing already used gem circles within the labyrinths/mazes you can change which demon/s you take with you, and can even save your progress if need be.

One important thing I forgot to mention in regards to battle scenarios is that formation matters. By going to the main menu via the (TRIANGLE) button you can setup your characters in a front to back order. Of course you will want to have your strongest party members up front, and will want the weaker supporting characters in the back. In this way you can put up a proper damage dealing fight while keeping your stronger character's HP status in check with applied items, and healing/support spells being dished out by the back row party members.

The formation menu in "Demon Gaze" requires that you select the number of party members that are up front. After you've chosen the appropriate number you will then be prompted to put each character in the proper row/position. While some JRPGs completely bypass the formation aspect of battle "Demon Gaze" demands that you learn how to use it properly, or die. To say this game is unforgiving is an understatement in that respect. It is brutally difficult from the start, and will require some repeat dungeon outings as well as some level grinding in order to prepare yourself for the more difficult demon battles ahead. Even the smallest of enemies can deal death to your entire party if you don't manage things well. If your main character survives, and the rest of your party dies off you can always head back to the inn, and into the basement for some revival though.

As you make progress in the game you will encounter conversational interactions with various inn residents that will possibly lead to side quests, and other opportunities. While battle, and treasure hunting are the core feature of this unique JRPG additional side quests can afford you some worthwhile benefits should you initiate them, and take them on. While some side quest starting chats lead to extra quests certain side quests will also come in the form of bulletin board notices. These particular extra quests will reward you after completion of the task/s, and after you have visited Fran in the inn for a follow-up visit. One way to initiate a special side quest is to answer a character's inquisitive questions with one of several multiple choice answers. By following up the asked question with the appropriate answer (you'll know when the character reacts) you can extend the conversation being had, and possibly get some interesting rewards in return for your efforts. As far as the "bulletin board" goes you just have to check up on it, and see what quests are available as well as which quests you have completed. It's always best to talk to the inn residents when their image appears along with an exclamation mark, or question mark in the overhead view of their current whereabouts within the inn. It's also good to check the bulletin board frequently.

Another thing you should know is that your party members' five rooms each have a significant purpose. The main character's room includes all the in-game character, enemy, and item knowledge as well as details on your stats throughout several menu choices. Demon info can also be accessed here if you so choose. Each room, whether it's the main, or support character also has the ability to be equipped with furniture. The furniture's purpose is simply to add attribute (Vitality, Strength, Defense, Intelligence ...) boosts to the character who resides in the room. Like every other obtainable item in the game the furniture pieces are graded alphabetically with 'A/S' being the best, and 'D' being the worst. Things like  various types of desks, and even "Busty Mannequins" are all things you'll find listed furniture-wise in the inn's item store. Keep in mind that each time you visit a room to check up on one of your party members a dialogue box will open up stating what the characters are doing including what they are doing with their own personal piece of furniture.

Irony & Extras ...

Within the many labyrinths of 'Demon Gaze' you'll find a familiar assist feature that will help you avoid some of the more dire situations. Applied online warnings in the form of 'Gaze Memos' will warn you of what's ahead, and how to prepare for a battle your moments away from facing. The "Gaze Memo" feature is a lot like that of the memo feature in "Demon's Souls", and "Dark Souls" in many respects. Ironic, I know. Players who have the special 'Magic Chalk' in-game can leave messages in the form of "Gaze Memos' to help out new players in their quest to beat the game. Keep in mind though by choosing to activate the "Gaze Memo" option before a maze outing you are setting yourself up for some sound, and not-so-sound advice. Not every memo that is left behind carries with it truth. As such you need to discern these truths, and falsehoods with an observant mind.

In the way of bonuses you'll find that Kadokawa Games, and NIS will be offering those who buy the game some special Disgaea DLC for free during the first moth after the game's release (4/22). This free Disgaea DLC will allow the player to play as one of a handful of different Disgaea characters. Etna, Flonne, Sicily, Asagi, and NISA's Prinny will be among the choices of character appearances you can use when adding a party member. This DLC will be free to everyone for the first month after the initial release, and does not require a pre-order of the game. The DLC will be available North American gamers only.

For those of you looking for a collector's edition of 'Demon Gaze' NISA is offering such a deal in their online store. This exclusive "Demon Gaze Limited Edition" comes complete with the PS Vita game, a soft cover art book, a single disc soundtrack with jewel case, and a special collector's box. Looking at the NIS store image (Demon Gaze Limited Ed.) I can tell you the limited edition looks sweet! Keep in mind though that getting your hands on this NISA exclusive will require some online shopping on your behalf. As far as I know retailers such as Gamestop are not offering this limited edition in stores.

Now on to the verdict ...

Demon Gaze is not a JRPG that will appeal to everyone. It has a classic look, and feel about it that harkens back to RPGs of old. Not only that, but the severe difficulty presented during the first labyrinth/maze of the game will no doubt test a gamers' patience. If you can learn the game, and manage your in-game party properly you will be able to prevail without having to change the difficulty setting though. All it takes is some time invested, and some infamous NISA level grinding. I strongly suggest sticking to the first labyrinth/maze (Red City) for a while before venturing out further into the game's lands. This will not only allow you to gain extra spending money, but will also help you level up your party members as well as equip them with the best equipment possible. If you can manage this, and not get discouraged you'll begin to enjoy your playthrough as I did.

The graphics, soundtrack, and overall design of "Demon Gaze" is impressive in it's own unique way. It's a huge departure for previous NISA releases art-wise, and soundtrack-wise, but it still has that NISA charm about it. My only complaint, if any would be that the story is a bit vague, and that the battles are a bit rough at the start due to their lack of turn-based action notifications. Part of the severe difficulty in the game lies with not knowing when an enemy is going to attack, or when they are going to attack multiple times in a row. I do understand what the developer was going for though, and as such the battle system is manageable if you know your RPG setups. 

As far as a recommendation goes I'm gonna say that it's worth a buy. It is, however a game that will not be impressive to everyone. The battles to be fought are brutally unforgiving, and will require proper party management in order to overcome the insurmountable odds. If you are a fan of classic first-person dungeon crawlers then you'll probably like this one. If not you might want to rent it, or borrow it from a friend before committing to a purchase. Never judge a game until you've played it for yourself though. You might find yourself liking something that someone else hated.

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