Just over a year removed from its original Japanese release, Demon Gaze II has made its way to our shores. Combining colorful, anime-inspired visuals with a whole lot of dungeon crawling, Demon Gaze II is the latest game from the minds at Kadokawa Games and Experience Inc. Published by NIS America, the three have combined on Stranger of Sword City, Operation Babel, and Operation Abyss, among other games. With a clear talent for dungeon crawlers, does Demon Gaze II plumb new depths, or does it crawl into the footnotes of history?
The answer is that Demon Gaze II is far more good than bad. The surprising complexity of its systems, colorful visuals and snappy adventuring make for a delightful game. Despite its appearance as a generic, anime-heavy dungeon crawler, Demon Gaze II is pure fun. Sure, there's a thick veneer of anime and tropes draped over Demon Gaze II, but there's a legitimately good game hidden underneath. Demon Gaze II is not without faults, especially when it comes to the dungeons themselves, but the positives make it hard to pass up.
Demon Gaze II is a dungeon crawler that wears its Wizardry influence on its sleeve. It splits first-person crawling with story sequences and opportunities to bond with your numerous demon teammates. Technically falling under the "blobber" family of JRPGs, Demon Gaze II has you, a human, lead a party of demons down streets and through catacombs in a quest to free Asteria City. Demon Gaze II is a dungeon crawler first and foremost, with combat and maze navigation making up the bulk of its runtime. If you're coming to Demon Gaze II looking for hours of story sequences or numerous side activities, a la Persona 5, you're going to be left disappointed. That's not to say there's nothing to do outside of combat, but it isn't nearly as fleshed out as some of its contemporaries.
Although Demon Gaze II's story is limited in length, it makes the most of the opportunity. You play as the "Demon Gazer," a swordsman with the power to seal demons with a magic eye, and turn them into allies. Stricken by amnesia, you join up with the Revolutionist Party to overthrow the tyrannical Lord Magnastar in Asteria City. Along the way, Demon Gaze II melds 1920s-era radio with a swords-and-sorcery tale that's surprising in its execution, and unpredictable. It may not be obvious from my brief description here, but Demon Gaze II draws heavily from astronomy in its inspiration, and your demons are no exception. Major constellations like Centaur, Leo, Vulpecula, Aries and more all have anthropomorphized appearances. Most ignore their mythological representations, but the designs are colorful and distinct for all 19 demons.
Demon Gaze II relays its story through both CGs and brief conversations that feature branching paths and a visual novel-esque backlog. Most of the choices appear to have no effect on gameplay outside of changing some dialogue. This is where you'll get most of your exposure to the Revolutionist Party. The main rebellious cast involving sisters Muse and Prim as well as the "support" of a morbidly obese elf, are all well-developed and feel like complete characters. On the other hand, your demonic allies are underdeveloped, but what's presented is interesting. The CGs, though few in number, do help punctuate important events in the plot.
If you're wondering if you should play the first Demon Gaze, fear not, as the two games are largely unrelated. A few minor characters make a return, but the main plots are disconnected. Gone from Demon Gaze are class choices for your party members, as well as creating your own allies. In its place are the aforementioned and carefully crafted demons to swap out at your leisure. With 19 demons to create your party of four from, there's a staggering number of party possibilities. Demon Gaze II also uses a cleaner UI than its predecessor, and the characters are more detailed as well.
Nowhere is the detailed art design more apparent than in boss fights and transformation sequences. The team is clearly proud of their work creating the various monsters and demons, as they should be. Liberal use of pastels and whites give Demon Gaze II an upbeat feel, even as the story concerns a tale of revolution. While the monsters lack animation, Keeping characters 2D may well have inspired the art team to make better use of color and depth, and it shows.
What is available in the fighting is stellar, however. You crawl through the 3D streets and caverns of Asteria in first-person, encountering enemies and collecting treasure. There are some light puzzle-solving elements, but otherwise, you're grinding and farming. Demon Gaze II is not without challenge, however. Sprinkled throughout the dungeons are glowing "Control Points." Imagined as tests of your team, the control points feature tougher monsters and better rewards. By capturing control points in an area, you unlock the boss stages. These stages feature powerful enemies and puzzles before culminating in fights against Magnastar's demon underlings. After cracking the boss over the head, it's back to base and time to convert another demon to your side.
These control points also allow you to gear up your party. Every time you step on a control point in a dungeon, you can set gems. These gems can increase the strength of the monsters, drop more gems, or give you guaranteed weapon and armor drops. These drops are essential to staying appropriately geared for the monsters you're facing. After a certain point in Demon Gaze II, you're able to buy unlimited gems, unlocking an endless grind for better gear. With the option to set your own difficulty, a harder challenge is only a few menus away.
Knocking over bosses, in addition to progressing the story, also grants you more "Star Power." Star Power is used to activate your strongest skills, as well as power up your own demons through transformation. There's not much Star Power to be had early in the story, but that quickly ramps up. Activating your full breadth of skills during tough fights feels satisfying and empowering. Star Power is conceived in-game as a representation of your power as a Demon Gazer. To that end, Demon Gaze II gives you an excellent selection of powers to use with it.
Combat takes place in first-person, as your party hacks at 2D monsters. The monsters display in detailed sprites, but you and your party get small portraits at the bottom of the screen. It's hard to get more of a "pure" dungeon-crawling game than what Experience makes, at least in terms of representation. Battles often ended in under a second, which justified the relatively high encounter rate. Later on, you can fuse with your demons, gaining access to their skills and powering up your own abilities. While I may have only busted out the fusion on bosses and strong enemies, it made for an excellent weapon. Unfortunately, because of Demon Gaze II's focus on grinding, the dungeons suffer as a result.
Visually, the first four dungeons are nothing spectacular, but the repetition quickly begins to wear on you. The first three acts of Demon Gaze II are the same four dungeons again and again, only with more difficult monsters and deadlier traps. Neither the dungeon music nor the visual style of the dungeons change as you delve deeper further. It feels as though Experience wasted an opportunity to get creative with the main draw of Demon Gaze II. Even with the welcome auto-pathing feature, the dungeons are still dull. Only in the final act do you get any real variety, and the primary, underwater dungeon is wholly unpleasant.
The incessantly repeating music also contributes to the repetitiveness of the dungeons. The same track plays in the major dungeons, and while it's not bad, hearing it repeatedly over 40+ hours does not do wonders for its quality. The lack of any attack animations hamstrings Demon Gaze II too. While battles may take a matter of seconds, it'd be nice to see any of the abilities fire off. Demon Gaze II has aimed for a dungeon crawling experience that hearkens back to the genre's origins. With such a clear reverence for Wizardry and other blobbers, it's hard to fault Demon Gaze II for it.
The music, barring the lack of variety, is enjoyable. Combining big band, jazz, and vocaloids sounds like a recipe for disaster, but Demon Gaze II revels in the diversity. Even as good as the music is, it's a shame there's so little variety. Demon Gaze II would like nothing more than to have you sit back and pulverize monsters to the jazzy soundtrack, so long as you didn't hear the same music everywhere. Thankfully, the voice acting for both demons and humans is almost universally good.
It's impossible to review Demon Gaze II without mentioning the "maintenance" feature. Introduced fairly early on, performing maintenance on your demons, unlocks skills, improves their stats, and awards dates with said demons. The "dates" are nothing more than little asides that round out their characters if you're wondering. How do you perform maintenance? By moving a crosshair over parts of the demon's body and finding the best reaction. Maintenance on the PS4, performed with the analog sticks, is innocuous enough. On the Vita, you're pressing areas of the demons' bodies with your finger. The sexual allegory is obvious and doesn't accomplish much. For a system that seems straight out of Monster Monpiece, it feels wholly unnecessary here.
The rest of the base management is useful and far less lewd, thankfully. You can decorate your demon barracks with stat-boosting furniture, and break down old equipment to upgrade newer gear. All of these systems circle back to one another, and it neatly ties Demon Gaze II together. Whether grinding gems, liberating districts, or exposing your demons to Asteria City, all the systems build off of one another. Demon Gaze II also boasts considerable post-game content, and it's hard to say just how long Demon Gaze II is due to some timer issues, but I would put the main story somewhere north of 50 hours.
Ultimately, Demon Gaze II surprised me. While seeming nothing more than a cheap imitation of Persona 5 or other, better dungeon crawlers, it brought its own visual style and flair and showed it could run against some of the best in the genre. It's a real shame that the dungeons themselves weren't more inspired, especially since they're such a major part of any such blobber, and the biggest knock against Demon Gaze II. Even so, Demon Gaze II knows how to have fun, and in a realm of JRPGs marked by schlocky stories and cliche characters, Demon Gaze II proved it was worth playing.
Our Demon Gaze II review was conducted on the PlayStation 4 with a review code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation Vita
Demon Gaze II aims for purity in a dungeon crawler, and mostly captures the magic of its forebears. While the dungeons themselves are wholly uninteresting, and some may take exception to the "maintenance" mechanic, Demon Gaze II manages to be a fun, worthwhile experience.(Review Policy)
- Polished Combat
- Considerable Post-Game Content
- Well-Written Story
- Great Demon Designs
- Boring Dungeons
- Repetitive Music
- Out of Place Maintenance Mechanic