When Demon Gaze was released in 2014, the PS Vita had a scant number of dungeon crawls. But in the ensuing years, labyrinth-based skulking proliferated on the portable, with titles like Stranger of Sword City, Dungeon Travelers 2, Operation Abyss, Operation Babel, and Mary Skelter each adding their own nuance to the genre. Given this abundance of peers, it’s not surprising that Demon Gaze II shuns being a carbon-copy of its predecessor, pushing the franchise in a daring, and largely admirable new direction.
Head into the Vita or PlayStation 4 title, and you’ll discover a substantive narrative that energizes exploration, drawing distinction from the utilitarian motivations of its contemporaries. Set several years after the original game, it’s immediately apparent that some sweeping changes have occurred in Asteria, producing prosperity for many. The reason for the newfound affluence is rooted in the rule of Sirius Magnastar, who is covertly sacrificing citizens into a mysterious, metaphysical furnace.
Players assume the role of a customizable amnesiac, who like Oz from the first game, is a ‘gazer’- someone with the ability to recruit defeated demons and have them fight alongside you. Soon, you’ll meet a pair of sisters named Muse and Prim, who are leaders in a clandestine revolutionary faction hellbent on revealing Magnastar’s intentions and removing him from power.
As titles like Final Fantasy VII have demonstrated, games that depict radical insurgency are often compelling, especially when they explore the ethical quandaries faced by each side. And while Demon Gaze II sporadically flirts with moral scrutiny, it’s slightly disappointing that the title doesn’t make players second (and triple) guess their identification with the main characters. Some of the challenge in doing that stems from the game’s format; it’s a bit difficult to wax philosophically when you must take regular breaks for dungeon delving. But these minor issues aside, Gaze II should be commended by offering a storyline worth caring about.
Whereas Demon Gaze offered divergence from most dungeon crawls by building parties from autonomous akuma, there were a few issues with the formula. Fundamentally, artificial intelligence is no match for human aptitude, and occasionally the decisions made by these support characters would put the entire party in danger. Another drawback was the tendency for demons to go berserk, indiscriminately damaging antagonist and ally alike.
With the sequel, players have more control over demons, which removes the sting of rash mutiny. Now, there are rightful party members, showing subservience to the main character. But more importantly, each new acquired ally serves a particular purpose. The first demon you find can uncover hidden doors, at quality that can make life easier when you’re scouring a dungeon looking for a way to open a gated-off area. Later, you’ll enlist demons that who are adept at healing, or whose combat abilities make them an indispensable addition to your front or back fighting formation.
But Gaze II forces you to make difficult decisions since you can only take four of the game’s sixteen demons with you while adventuring. When you take this quartet with you, they level up alongside the main character, with each rank allowing players to select from a list of mutually exclusive skills as well as assigning points to base stats. Beyond giving a demon their own room at your headquarters or engaging in a mini-game that has you poking parts of their body, Demon Gaze II also allows you to go on demon dates. Regretfully, the nuance of Persona’s social links is missing, with these digressions offering mostly stats boosts and a bit of back story. It’s mildly diverting, but you’ll likely wish developer Experience Inc. did a bit more with the dating.
Yes, that’s another minor transgression as not where you’ll spend the bulk of your time. Predominantly, your party will be exploring the tile-based dungeons, generating an auto-map as you reconnoiter the trap and monster-filled Restricted Zones. Eventually, your aim is to seize control of demon circles, where players will fight a succession of foes to control these rings. Once all of the circles are commandeered, a gateway to the demon realm opens, presenting players with puzzles as well as an elevated challenge. Pleasingly, your labors are suitably rewarded. Conquering circles also demands item gems, and the type of gem offering not only influences what kinds of creatures you’ll fight but also the kind of loot you’ll obtain. Like many of Demon Gaze II’s other mechanics, it nurtures a gratifying amount of customization.
When playing Gaze II on the PlayStation 4, you’ll definitely recognize that the lead platform was the PS Vita. While character portraits are attractive and drawn in high resolution, there’s an unmistakable constraint of animation. Techniques like using rotating the appendages on bosses attempt to offer fluidity, but come across looking like a shortcut. Likewise, the game’s angular environments use a constrained pool of assets, creating visual monotony. Sonically, the game’s soundtrack is solid while the dual language option is an appreciated attribute, especially when a larger number of titles are exhibiting single-language voice-over.
Sequels often proclaim transformation, but often deliver a modicum of modification. Surprisingly, Demon Gaze II feels remarkably divergent, extending rousing exposition, a variation to the demon system, and softening the difficulty spikes that afflicted the first game. Although there’s some missed opportunities present, the title offers more than enough dungeon crawling delight (and an ample amount of post-game content) to justify its cost.
Demon Gaze II was played on the PlayStation 4
with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 4, PS Vita
Developer: Kadokawa Games and Experience Inc.
Publisher: NIS America
Release date: November 14th, 2017
Price: $49.99 (PS4), $39.99 (Vita) via the PlayStation Store
Languages: Japanese and English text and voices