Demon Gaze II (PlayStation Vita) Review

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In a time long passed, Asteria was a city thriving in music and mischief, dance and dazzle. Bit by bit, the city changed. Warped by the magic of Magnastar, its citizens find themselves spellbound, unable to oppose his ominous rule. It falls to the Revolutionist Party to stand against this absolute rule.

Eyes First Opened

Demon Gaze II (DG2) opens in a surprisingly dissatisfying manner. With nothing in the way of opening cutscene or title sequence, the first impression comes from what feels like a fairly standard menu and a slow music box theme. It’s not to say the menu theme isn’t fitting or enjoyable, but when trailers like this exist, I simply found myself expecting more. Games like Xenoblade Chronicles find themselves memorable for their simplistic, almost iconic title screens. While it might be unfair to compare the two titles, the difference in payoff speaks volumes to me.

After a brief and mysterious introduction to the world of DG2, you are presented with a series of choices to establish your character. The first of these is something I found particularly interesting, asking for your character’s alignment—Good, Neutral, or Evil. This is a permanent decision which ultimately affects the way you play the game, tailoring it for different play styles. Being Good puts a focus on defence, and as such, both your character and demon allies will have a much more defensive skillset. Evil puts you on the opposite end of the scale; a tyrannous Demon Gazer with a heavy focus on offence. And finally, one of Neutral alignment finds a balance between the two, ultimately learning a bit of everything—a jack of all trades. I find this a brilliant idea to mix up the game and add a layer of replayability outside of difficulty alterations. It also allows for a more personal experience, and a greater level of understanding with the main character as they mirror your style of play. It really does make me happy to see games deviate from standard clear-cut role definition. Being forced to think ahead and reflect on your own way of playing the game, before even experiencing gameplay, is mysterious and somewhat exciting to me. The rest of the character creation is what you might expect; pick a look, pick a voice, a name, and a skill to go with your alignment. As far as customisation goes, DG2 doesn’t have much going for it, but it offers enough to make the character feel your own. While it is fairly standard for the most part, it feels in no way lacking.

Amnesiacs Anonymous

Character created, you are thrust into a hazy world where you… Can’t remember who you are. Naturally. Use of generic tropes alone isn’t enough to truly irritate me. Generic tropes can be built upon to great effect, deviating, developing it beyond the scope of what originally made it generic. The joy of such tropes comes in twisting what people expect from them to a satisfying end. While DG2 does make attempts at this, they aren’t made soon enough—and those made feel lacklustre, unable to fully justify our almighty amnesiac. The most obvious use of the protagonist’s forgotten past is to put you on the same level of understanding, allowing the game’s characters to interact with him as they would you; explaining each of the game’s features in an unnatural way without breaking the fourth wall. It ultimately feels lazy, with character development largely revolving around remembering past details, in oppose to actual progress. It’s as if you’re fighting with a book to get to the first page.

Dungeon Depths

Of course, the core of the game lies in its dungeons; and I have to say it does not disappoint in this respect. The areas go a long way in feeling alive and active, far more so than I expected. Parts of the scenery move in the background, steam dances through the passages of a steampunk factory. It feels as though great lengths were gone to ensure immersion. Even with the lower resolutions seen on the PS Vita version, the game feels alive. The battle system is largely standard, with demons being its unique twist. As turns in the battle go by, you build up your Star Gauge. The higher this value, the longer you can demonise your team for. Demonisation transforms each demon in your party to their true form, bringing with them stat boosts and some fantastic new designs—changing them from anime girls to something far more representative of their names. If a team full of moe girls isn’t something you’re particularly fond of, DG2 offers you further customisation in your comrades’ appearance, giving you a choice between the default cutesy style, or a darker fantasy portrait. With the game also presenting you with a chance to date your demons, being able to change the way they look could also make this feel less of a crime with some of the younger-looking demonic entities.

The battles can be either engaging and tactical, or a simple affair depending on what you want out of them. Through difficulty changes and team composition, the game can be made really quite easy, allowing for somebody far more interested in story and exploration to do what they love. On the other hand, for thrill seekers and tacticians, DG2’s battle system provides enough depth and engagement to feel you are actively at the helm, controlling the fates of those in your team. Combine this with an excellent selection of difficulties and random battles throughout a dungeon, and you have everything I really want out of a dungeon crawler. My only real complaint here is that there is no indication of a random battle as it’s about to happen, such as what is seen in Etrian Odyssey, but I feel that more a privilege than something I should be expecting from every similarly styled game.

Textual Traversal

The word of DG2 is built impressively from the get-go, establishing lore and mysteries well to entice you further in. Aside from the trope mentioned earlier, the content comes across in a well written manner, and I found myself really wanting to enjoy it. Even so, I struggled. The content itself was no issue; I can find little fault in it being engaging and interesting. Where the game finds difficulty is presenting it in a way as not to become tiresome. In the first two hours of the game, I found around 60 to 90 minutes occupied with text upon text upon text. I wanted take it all in, I wanted the world to be built around me, but there are limits to just how much I want to sit through at once. The introductory section is broken up using a limited and scripted dungeon which does alleviate this to some extent, but it would be easy to see this putting people off before getting to where this game truly shines. It’s a difficult balance to get right where you have something brilliant to express in a style of game that presents few creative means of doing so.

DG2 does a lot in trying to keep the text interesting. My favourite of these efforts by far is the choice presented to you during dialogue. I question whether these choices have any real effect on the course of the game, but they definitely kept me engaged. They gave me a reason to pay attention, if only to snap back at the NPCs in the sarcastic manner to which I am accustomed. I felt a great deal closer to the protagonist through these choices, and while I don’t believe these alone justify the wall of text early on, they do go a long way in showing what the game has to offer outside of dungeons.

The Voiced and the Unvoiced

To accompany the text, DG2 offers a myriad of fantastic voice actors to further bring the game alive. It feels natural and really does go a long way to further immersion, even voicing minor characters who die only minutes after saying their lines. It gives the impression early on everything will be voiced; but this isn’t the case. I perhaps got my hopes up a little too much, but with how the game presents its voicing, I found it difficult not to. After the first hour or so of voiced lines, the game appears to pick and choose lines to voice seemingly at random; with some unvoiced lines preceded with voice snippets, almost fooling me into thinking what was to follow would be voiced. This is again a difficult issue to address, and one that may simply stem from my wanting of more things to justify the text. The lack of voice acting in areas only becomes more noticeable as I enjoy what voice acting is present more and more; ultimately worsening as the game gets better.

All in all, DG2 reminds me the Vita is not dead. Even considering its slow start and use of tropes, it presents a well-polished, visually appealing, and most of all, fun addition to both the Vita’s unknowingly hefty lineup and the comparatively small array of portable dungeon crawlers. It easily stands aside a game like Etrian Odyssey, sharing some of what makes it great, as well as presenting its own ideas in a unique and appealing manner. Stick with this game, you won’t regret it.