Demons, and Dungeons, and Dating, oh my!
Ah, good old Experience Inc. I can’t help but respect them. They know what they’re good at — creating DRPGs — and, instead of making a bunch of half-hearted attempts to branch out, they do their very best to hone their craft. And that dedication is noticeable. While all of their games that I’ve had the pleasure of playing are good, it seems to me like each new title is, at the very least, just a little bit better than the last. For the most part, anyway.
I’m happy to say that Demon Gaze II follows this trend. Sure, some of that is because it further fine-tuned the high-quality dungeon crawling that we’ve come to expect from Experience games, but it also features a nicely fleshed-out (no pun intended) story, with likable characters who feel like they really matter. Oh, and it also implements a mechanic that lets you power up your demon allies by going on dates with them. And we all know how well mechanics like that are usually received. (Quite well, in case you were wondering.)
Here’s Looking at You
Demon Gaze II begins with protagonist Signa waking up inside of a mysterious facility, not quite sure of how he got there in the first place. Soon after, he is greeted by a friendly looking girl who, after introducing herself as Peg, offers to help Signa escape. Or so she says. Not surprisingly, the whole thing is a setup. It turns out that Peg is actually a demon named Pegasus who has been tasked with throwing people into a special incinerator, in order to convert them into energy known as Star Power. Fortunately, Fate had other plans in store and, thanks to the help of a young man and woman who claim to be allies, Signa manages to defeat Peg and escape from the facility.
Unfortunately, the problems don’t end there. It turns out that Signa’s rescuers weren’t lying — they really are his allies. …Only Signa doesn’t seem to remember that. Or anything, really. Whatever happened to him in the facility apparently wiped out most of his memory. But not for nothing, though. While he may now be an amnesiac, Signa did gain something during the ordeal — the ability to use Demon Gaze in order to capture and control any demon that he defeats. Thus, with his new ability in hand (er… eye) Sigma once again joins up with his old allies as part of the Revolutionist Party, in order to liberate Asteria City from the diabolical clutches of Sirius Magnastar (although he doesn’t totally get why).
Demon Gaze II‘s story isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it is good. What impresses me most, however, is the fact that it’s coming from Experience. I know that that might sound kind of weird, but just stick with me. Other than Ray Gigant, Experience games always feel like they put the story second. Don’t get me wrong or anything. I’m not saying that the story should always come first. With that being said however, it is nice when a game manages to balance story and gameplay decently.
Demon Gaze II is, most definitely, the best that Experience has done when it comes to creating a story/gameplay balance. Personally, I’d attribute it to the characters. Sure, they’re kind of trope-y, but they’re all very likable. I also appreciate the fact that Demon Gaze II avoids creating a one-dimensional antagonist. It’s obvious from the very first encounter that Magnastar isn’t exactly what he seems. He isn’t (or at least doesn’t appear to be) the tyrannical dictator that your allies paint him to be. It made me genuinely curious to learn more about him. More often than not, it’s easy to sympathize with a game’s protagonist. But when a game makes me sympathize with an antagonist, I have to give it plenty of credit.
Dreamin’ of Demons
Most of Demon Gaze II is a pretty typical Experience experience (hah!), but there is one thing that helps this game stand out from the crowd, and does so in several ways — the demons. In lieu of letting the player fully customize their party, Demon Gaze II features a surprisingly streamlined cast of party members with its 10+ recruitable demons. Although the player does have the freedom to distribute stats as they see fit, each of the game’s demons are already shoehorned into specific classes, complete with pre-defined skillsets and equipment restrictions. This means that, while you can dump all of the Healer’s stats into Strength, she won’t ever be as good as the Lancer at dealing raw damage.
Notice that I also said “recruitable”. Peg the Pegasus Paladin aside, none of these demons are with you initially. Instead, it’s your job to venture into each of the game’s areas, defeat the demons residing there, and capture them with your Demon Gaze in order to convert them from enemy to ally. Truthfully, I’m not sure how to feel about this. On one hand, I appreciate the fact that Demon Gaze II is mixing things up. On the other hand, it also meant that I was constantly swapping party members around as I acquired new ones. That sometimes meant that I would have to go back and grind before proceeding, which was kind of annoying.
There’s also the earlier-mentioned fact that you have to date your demons in order to power them up. I kid you not. While you’re out and about, you’ll come across items known a Tuning Crystals. Once you’re back at home base, these crystals can be used to perform maintenance on your demons. Performing maintenance increases your chosen demon’s likability gauge which, when increased to 100%, will allow you to go on a date with the demonic guy or gal that you’ve been fine-tuning. Dates aren’t just for show, though. Each new date that you go on with your demon will unlock special abilities for them, and will also permanently power up Signa. Love AND power? Talk about a win-win!
Roads and Riddles
Demon Gaze II is a DRPG with iconic dungeon crawling mechanics through and through. Simply put, your goal is to make your way through each of the game’s dungeons and defeat the bosses that await you. It’s not quite that simple, though. Dungeons don’t necessarily feature “ends” in the typical sense. At least, not right away. Rather than journeying through countless floors in order to fight the boss at the very end, Demon Gaze II will have you engaging in what can best be called “territory wars” thanks to its Demon Circle mechanic.
Scattered around each area are special points known as Demon Circles. In order to make the boss of that area appear, you’ll need to capture each Demon Circle. And, as you can guess, you capture them by beating up the monsters guarding them. But things don’t stop there! For some reason, the monsters aren’t just hanging around there like you would assume they would be. Instead, you have to summon them by using Gems. If you haven’t played the game (which I’m assuming most of you haven’t), this might sound like a hassle. But it actually works out in your favor. In addition to summoning enemies, Gems also let you nab new weapons and armor. Up to three Gems can be used per Demon Circle, making it easy(ish) to stay current with your equipment.
Many areas also contain puzzles. Or, at the very least, riddles for players to decipher. They largely consist of things like forcing the player to take the shortest path to a door, or matching certain icons together. Typically, these aren’t too hard. But, if you aren’t puzzle-savvy, they could be tough. The worst (or best) offenders are within the game’s Demon Realms — which appear after the player takes over all available Demon Circles. These puzzles in particular also seem to revolve around concepts like paying attention to your surroundings. In all honesty, I enjoyed the puzzles. Even the tough ones. What I didn’t enjoy, however, were the random encounters that occurred while I was trying to solve them. Seriously, just let me solve the puzzle. Then you can try to kill me.
A Good Old-Fashioned Brawl
Like its dungeons, the turn-based combat in Demon Gaze II is fairly old-school. Favoring function over flair, the game does an excellent job of providing you with the skills that you need to succeed while never making things too easy on the player. In fact, things are pretty tough most of the time. You might be able to breeze through other dungeon crawlers by holding down the fast-forward button, but doing so in this game will only fast-forward you into the grave. Fights aren’t too tough if you plan things out, though. Oh, and make sure to grind. No amount of strategy is going to save you if you aren’t at a proper level. Trust me on that one.
If standard turn-based combat isn’t enough to get your blood pumping, there’s no need to worry. Demon Gaze II is far from being devoid of flashy moves. Along with basic spells and skills that consume MP, the player also has a “Star Gauge.” The Star Gauge is, in essence, a second, special, magic bar that uses SP (Star Power) instead of MP. It’s also incredibly important. By saving up SP throughout your battles, you’ll be able to unleash it all at once in order to perform a variety of abilities like Demonization and Demon Cross.
Demonization is the game’s form of an “overdrive mode”. By Demonizing, you will temporarily, and drastically, power up your entire party, and transforming all demons into their true, demonic forms in the process. Not only does this grant a huge increase to stats, but it also allows access to a number of special moves that can’t normally be used. Many of these moves are basically just powered-up versions of normal skills (often times with extra, beneficial effects), but Signa himself will also have access to a number of unique skills which can only be unlocked by bonding with your demons. They’re strong, but the fact that they consume extra SP (which is constantly being consumed during Demonization) somewhat limits their use.
Demon Cross is an even more powerful version of Demonization. It allows Signa to fuse with a demon to temporarily gain immense power. Unfortunately, it’s also kind of risky. Similar to Demonization, Demon Cross consistently consumes SP every turn. And, once your SP is completely diminished, you’ll revert back to normal. On top of that, however, the demon you fused with will also be temporarily weaker and unable to act. Because of this, it’s really important to use Demon Cross wisely. Going all-out at the wrong time can end up hurting you more than helping you in the end.
Viva La Revalucion!
No matter which way you look at it, there’s no getting around the fact that Demon Gaze II is a very solid DRPG. Not only does it manage to take everything good that we’ve already come to expect from Experience, but it even manages to up the ante due to a larger overall focus on story, and the added quirkiness of the dating mechanic. I’ve been recommending Experience games to DRPG fans for a while, now and, thanks to Demon Gaze II, I’ll continue to do so with more fervor than ever.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Vita ; Publisher: NIS America, Inc. ; Developer: Experience, Inc., Kadokawa Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: November 14, 2017 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $49.99 (PS4), $39.99 (Vita)
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Demon Gaze II given to Hey Poor Player by the Publisher