If there’s one thing that the PS Vita is known for, it’s niche Japanese RPGs. Western triple-A support has died for the underappreciated portable platform and indie game ports have slowed to a trickle, but despite this, Japanese game developers continue to churn out material for system, and dedicated localisation teams like NIS America continue to bring them overseas for faithful fans of the underdog Playstation handheld.
Still, it’s obvious that the Vita is heading toward a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Japanese games have been popping out with Vita and PS4 versions, and for the more graphically intensive properties, many series have already jumped to having no Vita versions at all. On top of all that, Japanese game companies have finally discovered how large the potential playerbase on PC is and are putting out their games on Steam more and more frequently. Experience Inc. dungeon RPGs like Demon Gaze and Operation Abyss seemed like they could only truly call the Playstation Vita their home, yet here I am, reviewing Demon Gaze 2 not on a Vita, but on a Playstation 4 home console. And like a sock in the dishwasher, you can tell this is not the system that this game belongs on.
Demon Gaze 2 sees you playing as an amnesiac warrior who was kidnapped from his group of Resistance fighters, and experimented on heavily. These experiments have given him the power of a Demon Gazer, letting him capture demons and use them as allies. Together with your rag-tag group of outcasts, you look to use this ability and their guerilla-radio broadcasts to overthrow the leader of Asteria.
Demon Gaze 2 is hard to pin down in terms of style and setting, and it’s this confused visual language that was my biggest issue with the game. Some characters wear high fantasy armor and robes, others wear modern jackets and accessories, or striped bikinis and Japanese school uniforms. One character straight up wears a gold chain and a green track suit. Environment and monster designs are equally jumbled. Instead of feeling like a consistent world with an identifiable time period or set of laws, it just feels like a million random ideas all mashed together.
To be fair, though, this mishmash of designs lead to a favorite scene of mine, where generic JRPG characters like Prometh and Cassel introduced me to another team member… an old dude named Gary.
Unfortunately, even Gary couldn’t save me from the other visual faults of the game. Everything that was on my screen at all times felt stretched. Dialogue boxes were huge, text was too wide, and dungeons felt claustrophobic. If you’ve ever streamed a Vita game to your living room TV, the experience is identical. It’s painfully obvious that this was an experience designed for the Vita, and then quickly retooled into an unpolished home console release.
The narrative of the game is unpolished as well, albeit in a typical second tier JRPG fashion. The game tries to serve equal parts of comedy, drama, and fan service, but instead of acing one of those, it just barely delivers on all three. The comedy is probably the strongest part of the game, with a lot of your dialogue choices offering hilariously dry replies that paint you as the most uninvested RPG protagonist ever. Some of the drama and twists are satisfying, especially in regards to the true motivations of the leader of Asteria, but it’s never something that’ll leave you thinking after the credits finish rolling.
One thing I was thinking about after the credits rolled, though, was how thankful I was to not have to hear this game anymore. The English voice acting is hit and miss, but mostly miss. On top of that, most of the soundtrack is rather generic, but a handful of songs employ synthesised Vocaloid computer singing, which was always jarring, and never fell in line with the already confused style of the game.
Demon Gaze 2, like it’s predecessor and seemingly every other Japanese Vita game, is a dungeon crawler. You’ll be exploring environments from a first-person perspective, avoiding trap tiles and engaging in turn-based combat encounters. There isn’t a lot of depth or any game-changing mechanics to the combat, which I honestly kind of appreciated. You’ve got melee focused characters and magic focused characters, and an array of weapon types and equipment to customize them with, as well as a variety of skills and abilities that help you in and out of battle. Fights can be tough if you’re not prepared, but are mostly just a matter of knowing enemy weaknesses and when to use which skills.
There are also some great quality-of-life features, like being able to repeat your actions and instantly go through a phase of combat with the triangle button. Combined with the wide variety of difficulty options, there are a lot of tools in place to help make Demon Gaze 2 a breeze to play or an engaging challenge, depending on your mood. I appreciated being able to mindlessly plough through battles when I was backtracking or grinding, especially because I’d be doing a fair amount of both.
Your reason for going into dungeons is usually the same. Secure five demon zones by battling the enemies there and you can make the dungeon boss appear in order to fight and capture them. You’ll go into a dungeon and explore every path to try and find each demon-point, which you can then place up to three gems into in order to make specific item types drop from the monsters. It was a pretty good way of enticing me to go through the otherwise bland and uninteresting dungeons, and felt like something I hadn’t seen many other JRPGs do.
Once you capture a boss demon, they join your party and open up a few new options. Your first task is to grind their levels up because they almost always start at level 1. After that chore, though, you’ve got a capable new team member who you’ll probably be swapping in at some point for the varied types of encounters in the game. In combat, you can “Demonize” your party members to change their appearance and buff their attacks for a few turns. You can also eventually fuse with demons for even more powerful combat options.
Outside of combat, one of the major features to try out is demon maintenance. I’ve gotta hand it to Demon Gaze 2, I played hours of the game and barely any cheesy, generic Japanese fan service reared it’s head. It seemed like the game was above all of that, so I experienced some severe whiplash when I discovered that demon maintenance sees you poking a demon’s body to find their sensitive areas in order to increase their affection toward you, so you can go on dates with them… Even in this mode, though, things are rather tame beyond what you see in the written word during date events. Even the poking mini-game itself is just holding X down on their default combat sprites.
Demon Gaze 2 expands and improves on everything from the first game, but when the first game was the video game equivalent of 3am fast food, though, those improvements don’t amount to a ground-breaking new title in the genre. Demon Gaze 2 is just a fairly decent, quirky JRPG.
It’s a pretty nice way to spend some time with your Vita, but a poor way to spend time on your PS4.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4