Back when the PSP was on its last legs, the device became a bit of a safe haven for lower-budget JRPGs. Publishers like XSEED, Aksys and NIS were thriving, able to release tons of low-risk projects that would undoubtedly end up purchased by their niche audiences at budget prices. Now that same process seems to be approaching the Vita. Unfortunately, the Vita hasn’t been around nearly as long. JRPGs have certainly seen a sort of underground resurgence this generation, but the fact remains that these games are, more often than not, slapdash titles designed to pander rather than appeal.
Demon Gaze teeters on the line, but ultimately fails to set itself apart from the crowd, relegating itself as a sign of decline rather than a breath of life for the struggling handheld.
What we have here is a first-person, customization dungeon crawler not unlike Wizardry or Etrian Odyssey. Demon Gaze has two gimmicks: One, the player can capture the boss characters (demons) and use their abilities in a limited capacity inside and outside of combat. Two, the player must pay rent to remain in the game’s central hub and not paying on time can result in penalties. So, in a genre that already tends to be grindy by default has additional emphasis on money management.
The flow of the game itself is brisk enough for the grind to not feel so arduous at first, but that quickly fades in the wake of some really awful balancing. Even from the get-go leveling up takes a long time, so the usual gap between normal monsters and bosses hurts a lot more, more often. It’s especially bad when you finally defeat a boss, go back to the hub to advance the story and find yourself facing another, significantly more powerful boss. You can adjust the difficulty, but that base lack of balance is still present.
The party-building is also pretty boilerplate and doesn’t give the player many options. You can pick your character art and voices, which range from pretty cool-looking to creepy and sexist, but once you pick your class you’re done. Each level up lets you place a single stat point (which often doesn’t feel like enough of a reward due to how long it takes), but learning skills and abilities is automatic. Comparing Demon Gaze to the likes of Etrian Odyssey does it a disservice.
In a gimmick within a gimmick, on the way to capture a demon, you have to hunt it down by placing gems in designated spots until there are no spots left for the demon to hide. Gems are divided into types of equipment and other miscellaneous effects. Using a gem starts a battle that may or may not be difficult, and you get a relevant piece of equipment if you win. This way you’re supposed to be able to get good items without paying thousands of gold. It’s a neat idea in theory, but you end up with tons of junk items the game encourages you to sell in order to make rent. Grind.
Demon Gaze is pretty and competent but grindy and pandering. It’s an alright adventure, but it never goes the extra mile to stand out.