So, it appears the Vita is becoming the system to put out dungeon crawlers on and the latest is Demon Gaze. Can this latest bit of a trend keep going? Let’s put on our +1 Helm of Enlightenment and find out.
Demon Gaze starts you off in a bit of a training dungeon where you must navigate your way out in order to defeat the first “boss”. This battle (and dungeon) turns out to be a total pushover and the game then spits you out into the game’s bit of introductory storyline that sets up the rest of the game. It turns out that you are a special type of person known as a “Demon Gazer” that can not only trap the souls of the demons that have overrun the world, but can also control them in order to use them to defeat other demons as well. The game’s hub is an inn and tavern called the Dragon Princess Inn, the name of which alludes to a significant development later on. The inn is run by the alluring and cute Fran who, through making the right choices, allows you to “get to know her better”. However, even though you’re very important to saving the world, you don’t get to stay at the inn for free. No! You must earn your keep by going out into the world and killing monsters to take their loot and money in order to keep staying at the inn. Every time your party returns to the inn from the outside world, no matter the reason, you must pay your rent as soon as you enter the inn. Don’t have the scratch? That’s ok, you can always pay Fran later, just don’t get too far behind or you may find yourself incurring her fiery wrath.
As you progress, the game has a series of side quests to unlock that can gain you access to better loot or stronger gear. The game is very heavy on the grinding as being able to take down bosses involves working out the right strategies (sometimes) and being strong enough to handle their attacks (ridiculously high amounts of damage). The only problem with the grind though, the encounter rate is horrendously low and the monsters cough up very little in the way of experience points. Eventually, I found myself making my way to any corridor in a dungeon that had a high rate of walking through doors as that seemed to increase the possibility of an encounter or two. Also, want to increase the size of your party? Well, Fran can help with that too! For a nominal fee, of course.
The game’s controls are actually pretty straight forward and almost always on-screen in case you forget them. The D-Pad or the Left Stick is used to navigate menus and move around in the 3D first person perspective dungeons (more on those later). The Right Stick can be used to move around as well, but without changing the perspective (think strafing). The X button allows you to kick a wall in dungeons and is the “Accept” option in menus. Square brings up the dungeon maps. Circle is the “back out” or “cancel” button. Triangle is, of course, the menu button outside of combat, while it is the “repeat last actions” button in combat. Most areas outside of the dungeons is menu-driven, so you’ll be finding yourself using the X button an awful lot. Once you’re done messing around in menus in the inn, you can head out into the world to run around a sparsely populated dungeon in order to fight monsters using even more menus. So, get used to seeing menus on top of menus and even more menus.
Ah yes, the graphics. Usually the high point of even the most mundane major release, this game’s developers decided to go in an entirely different direction. Back to 1992. The dungeons are the saddest looking things I’ve had the displeasure of seeing in a long time. I haven’t seen 3D graphics this bland and generic since 2002’s Metropolismania (yes, I played this “Engrish” filled game, and actually kind of liked it.) The only redeeming part of the graphics is in the hand drawn graphics of the NPCs and the various options for members of your party. Honestly, some of these graphics are so full of near nudity, I think that they are about the only reason this game was actually made. The background graphics of the various areas of the inn and certain other specific rooms are also done in nicely detailed 2D graphics that compliment the character sprites quite well. In battle, the entirety of the enemy “animation” consists of either the sprite bouncing about or expanding and contracting a bit.
The music is another bone of contention I have with this game. The vocal tracks that accompany most of the music tracks, while at times quite nice sounding, start to get aggravating as they repeat over and over since you will be hearing them every time you make your way back to the inn in order to pawn your loot off on the shopkeepers. Also, the lack of variety in the styles of music tends to wear on you as you have to hear the same six or seven tracks since you have to keep wandering about trying to level up your party in order to maybe be able to take out the next boss, although that will probably wind up with you getting your posterior handed to you on a gold platter. The voice over work suffers from two major problems, one: very poor translation/localization work, and two: just plain poor acting. Most of the voice overs sound like they decided that emoting meant that the director wanted them to yell into the microphone a bit louder on this take. That or speak in such a pitch that only dogs and bats might understand.
There actually is a bit of an online component in that other players can leave little notes on the floors of the dungeons that can either be helpful, spoilerific, or just plain lewd. Most of them are the last one.