Demon Gaze casts the player in the role of a young man, Oz, who awakens in the Dragon Princess Inn. When he's attacked by a demon, he discovers he has the special power of the Demon Gazer: a magical eye that can capture and use the power of demons. Conveniently, the inn is also a meeting house for mercenaries who want to conquer dungeons in search of profit. Fran, the innkeeper, has stuck Oz with a hefty IOU in exchange for room and board. She seeks the souls of the demons who are plaguing the land, so Oz must set off to clear his ledger — and maybe save the world at the same time.
Demon Gaze's plot generally feels like an excuse to have wacky anime characters end up in uncomfortable situations. The game is full of sexual humor, and a there are numerous scenes where a barely dressed female character (or, in a few cases, a male character) is paraded across the screen. There are also some uneasy scenes involving bathtubs or stolen undergarments. The title even warns you at the outset that if you choose to play as a female character, the plot will continue to treat you as a male character.
The basics will feel very familiar to fans of dungeon crawlers. Your home base is the inn, and from there, you set out to conquer a variety of dungeons. You can return to the inn at any time by using a return mirror or a spell. The only downside to returning home is that Fran demands rent from you. She'll also want extra money if you want to rent additional rooms, which add party member slots to your party. Fortunately, getting a full party takes a minimal amount of cash, and you'll be rolling with a full squadron by the second or third dungeon.
Conquering a dungeon requires the capture of its demon circle, which is the source of the dungeon boss's power. You can't fight the boss until you've captured every circle in the area. To capture a demon circle, you need to sacrifice gems to summon a demon. Once you defeat the summoned foe, you earn equipment based on the sacrificed gems. This is the primary way to get new weapons and armor, and it's also the main method of earning money since the items can be sold at a high price. Defeating the enemy also purifies the demon circle and turns it into a save point. You can continue to feed gems to a captured demon circle to farm items, but it usually involves leaving the dungeon and coming back to let it recharge.
Equipment is also your principal method of earning ether. Unnecessary items can be ground down at the mill to create ether, which you use to power up armor and weapons. More powerful equipment generates more ether but also requires more ether to strengthen. Most equipment can only be modified up to 10 times, but unique items can go beyond that.
As a demon gazer, you can capture souls and summon the demons to fight with you. You can't directly command a captured demon, but each one has a distinct personality and focuses on performing actions that best match the personality: Some heal, some buff, some attack, and so on. You can also use special demon abilities to attack enemies or buff your party.
Your ability to control demons is powered by your Demon Gauge. Each round a demon is out takes away one point from your gauge. If the gauge is empty, a demon who is summoned will rage, which makes it more powerful and causes it to attack wildly, targeting friendly units. You can eventually sacrifice your demon gauge to get a "friendly" version of the raging demon, but even that can turn against you.
By default, you can keep one demon equipped at a time but eventually gain the ability to have more at once. In addition to fighting, each demon can also provide a passive buff to your party, such as increasing item drop rates, protecting you from environmental hazards, and increasing your party stats. Each demon has a loyalty meter that fills up, and the higher the loyalty, the more abilities are unlocked. A particularly loyal demon also has a random chance of summoning itself even when it hasn't been summoned. These random summonses only last a turn but give you a free bonus in combat without wasting the demon gauge. A demon's stats are also partially influenced by the demon gazer's stats.
The demon summoning system is interesting but feels fundamentally flawed. There's an obvious disparity between certain demons. Perhaps this stands out most with Chronos, the defensive-oriented demon. Her special ability is nullifying damaged floors, so she must be equipped in certain dungeon areas. It becomes less of a pain once you unlock your second demon slot. Once you get beyond the early part of the game, it's easy to keep the demon gauge full.
The dungeon design is straightforward and fairly by the book. Expect to find a lot of familiar gameplay elements, such as forced scrolling floors, rotating floors, poison floors, etc. Since you can see the map, it's very difficult to get lost or wander in the wrong direction. The biggest barrier is the existence of hidden doors that lead to plot-mandatory demon circles or other important places. However, your first demon can make demon circles glow, so it's rare that you'll be stuck for a significant amount of time. You also have the option to "auto-move" to any location you've previously visited on the map, which makes backtracking through the dungeon a low-effort task. Other players can leave "Gazer Notes" via a Dark Souls-style ground-writing system to point out hidden doors or treasures. They're not bad, but they're not great, either.
If I had a serious complaint about the gameplay, it would be that the difficulty curve is pretty off. There are very few times I felt like I was hitting the "sweet spot" when it came to enemy difficulty. Most of the time, enemies were too weak. I would auto-battle through every encounter with specific skill setups, and the enemies couldn't wear me down since my party was smashing them with area attacks. With mid-bosses and bosses, it didn't feel like my character had a chance against the enemy. To the game's credit, it doesn't take long to go from too weak to too strong, but it would feel better if it was a more natural blend.
Demon Gaze is remarkably unimpressive-looking for a Vita title. The entirety of the artwork is done with static character work. Some important scenes are highlighted, but for the most part, it's either bobbling heads talking or static art that waggles slightly to give the impression of movement. The attack animations and spell effects are basic, and the voice acting is reasonably well done, although it's about the quality expected from NIS dubs. The soundtrack is pretty good and has some memorable songs, but it isn't anything you'll remember after the game is done. The entire thing feels relatively low-budget, but this isn't uncommon for dungeon crawlers, and fans of the genre probably won't find it very distracting. It also keeps the gameplay moving along quickly.
Demon Gaze is a perfectly serviceable, if unexceptional, dungeon crawler. It doesn't break the mold, and it does little to stand out from the crowd. The game seems designed to sell based on its scantily clad cast. The title is playable, and it does a good job of scratching the dungeon-crawling itch. Vita owners who are looking for a dungeon crawler — and have a high tolerance for anime-style quirkiness — will have a good time with Demon Gaze.
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