In Demon Gaze, your character, Oz, awakens in the Dragon Princess Inn with only a crappy sword to his name. He was rescued by from a demon attack, and he discovers that the inn's owner, Fran, hunts demons. Oz also owes Fran quite a bit of money for room and board. She makes a deal with him: He can hunt demons and bring their captured souls to her, and in exchange, she'll forgive his debt. As luck would have it, Oz is the only person in the world who can do this. He has the special power of the Demon Gazer: a magical eye that can capture and use the power of demons.
Demon Gaze is a by-the-numbers dungeon crawl adventure. It features a traditional turn-based JRPG combat system with the usual fixings. The hero and enemy parties are divided into multiple rows, with enemies being less likely to target allies in the back row and allies in the back row needing special weapons to hit enemies. Beyond that, the combat is straightforward. You have attacks, magical spells that use MP, and special attacks that are class-specific. You can also learn different special attacks by equipping powerful but rare artifacts on a character. Even early artifacts can give you the ability to attack an entire row of enemies with a single move.
You can capture and store powerful demons within your eye, and this ability is vital to your success in combat. Fighting alongside a demon increases its loyalty and its rank. Using the demon's powers ranks them up faster. When you've captured a demon, it transforms into a demon key, which remains in your possession and allows you to summon the demon again. At the outset, you can only keep one key at a time, but you eventually unlock the ability to store multiple keys at once. Any demon key grants passive buffs to your character. Cosmos, the first demon you get, lets you see hidden walls in the dungeons. As you use her more, she gains loyalty, levels up, and learns to find rare treasures. Demons also unlock active abilities, including special attacks, which you can use in battle or on the field map.
When you "open" a demon, it's transformed into its demon form to fight alongside you. Demon partners are completely AI controlled, but they can be deadly fighters and effective healers. Their skills are determined by their rank and your main character's equipment. Your ability to bind a demon depends on its demon gauge, which fills as you fight but decreases when you use a demon's active abilities or "open" them in combat. If the gauge runs out while you're fighting, the demon transforms into a more powerful form, but it attacks your party in addition to your enemies. In this form, it can't be "closed," so you need to balance opening and closing your demon eye. Once you "close" a demon, it can't be resummoned right away, so this can be risky in long battles.
Your goal in each dungeon is to find a demon circle, which represents the power base of a main enemy. Demon circles are also one of your most valuable resources. You sacrifice gems, which summon a demon. Defeating the demon purifies the circle and earns valuable equipment based on the offered gems. This is the most reliable way to get weapons and equipment, and you can repeat the process at purified circles, so you should sacrifice as many gems as possible.
Earning weapons and equipment is important for powering up, but it's also your best source of money. Enemies don't drop much loot, but any piece of equipment is worth a large amount of money when sold at the inn. This is important, since you have a number of expenses to pay off. Your landlady expects prompt payment of the rent every time you return to the inn. She'll let you slide sometimes, but she won't be happy about it. Likewise, she'll provide rewards if you're dependable with the rent. You also need money to rent extra rooms. Your party size is determined by the number of rooms you have available. You begin with only two party members, and the cost for each additional room increases significantly. Considering more party members means more power, this is an important early-game goal. Your other party members are created when you buy a new room, although it costs less to replace a room occupant. You can even pay to furnish the rooms, which provides a special passive boost to the character staying there. There are also shops that sell new equipment and important healing items, but you'll probably get more equipment from your dungeon treks.
Equipment is also your primary method of earning ether. Down in the inn's creepy basement is an unused ether mill. Once it's unlocked, you can convert unwanted weapons and equipment into ether, which you can use to strengthen armor and weapons. Base equipment can be modified up to 10 times. Unique items are more powerful than their regular counterparts, but only a single one exists in the entire world. They can be modified at great cost, but it's a boost in power you're unlikely to find anywhere else. Of course, if you sell a unique item or grind it in the mill, it isn't coming back, so be careful.
The dungeons have tons of branching paths, hidden doors, and secret areas to discover. There are also hidden treasures that can't be found by normal means. You'll need to discover them in maps, which can be found in the environment or are dropped by enemies. Demon Gaze also has a cool Demon Soul-style system where you can leave notes around the environment. Leaving a note places it there and uploads its place online for other Demon Gaze players to find. There's a limit to how many notes can be in one area, though, so the notes will be constantly changing.
Demon Gaze doesn't reinvent the dungeon-crawling wheel, but it offers an interesting take on the usual game mechanics. Even in the early segments, there is a lot of freedom and customization, and the "open" and "close" mechanics offer an interesting balance of risk and reward. Considering the limited number of crawlers on the PlayStation Vita, Demon Gaze could be a welcome counterpart to titles like Etrian Odyssey, which is only available on the 3DS.
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