There was a time where JRPGs reigned supreme and dominated the gaming market. For the last few years, there has been a steady plateau of good JRPG releases. Luckily NISA still believes this genre can have a say in the game industry and we are given Demon Gaze. A first person turn based JRPG. This game feels retro, but because it is on the Vita platform it has that modern flair to it. I like to think of Demon Gaze in a modest sense. It is not very flashy, and they aren't shoving those Japanese anime tropes if your face constantly. This kind of traditional JRPG is a bit out of NISA's forte, but hell, I would play the second one if they made it.
You are a Demon Gazer. You have the ability to defeat demons and absorb their soul to use them to fight for you, like Pokemon! However, these demons wish to rule the world and are trying to murder you. You are found in the wilderness and brought to an inn that is in the middle of nowhere. Inside there is a handful of characters including a fellow Gazer and the innkeeper. Since you have no home to go to, the inn because your main place to say, and as such you must work off your debt and save the people from destruction.
The story is alright, there are some pretty interesting twists and turns that happen after you get the third demon and some more plot points come to light near the end game. When you look at it, the game does not look like it has a super interesting story, but Demon Gaze has a story worth paying attention too as long as you do not mind a lot of reading since this is mostly a text based game.
I said Demon Gaze feels retro, and it does. In the early days of Shin Megami Tensei or even earlier JRPGs they had a first person viewpoint for not only traversing the overworld, but for battles as well. In a modern game industry, first person is usually restricted to WRPGs and FPS games. To be frank with you, this simplistic unique design is refreshing to see. Sadly, this limits the art of the game. You only see the wonderfully designed characters in your party by looking at their status in the menu. In battle you just see a portrait off to the right hand side. After you defeat the demons all you see is their portrait as well. There is a lot of cool character design in Demon Gaze but it feels wasted because of the first person viewpoint.
Combat is simple, you give your party members their orders, and they are executed in tandem with the enemy attacks. Whomever attacks first is dictated by the Agility stat. So if you create an archer, odds are that person is going first every time. There are a variety of skills and spells for each of the cast to learn and they are divided up 5 ways. They are Passive, Special, Attack, Spirit, and Heal. Some classes can learn a bit of each while others can only learn Attack/Spirit etc. The Special skills are directly supported by the character class and only that character class can use them. In some cases said ability is on an artefact, this is something you can equip and use an ability linked with it. Some artefacts are better on other classes better. I found that skills like Item Training work better on the archer class because that usually means you get to use two items at the beginning of a turn.
Your Demon Gazer has the ability to control demons. Once you capture them and obtain their key from Fran, the Innkeeper you can use them in battle. These demons also level up and have passive/active abilities. Their stipulation is that if the Demon Gauge runs out in battle, you have to fight them again and recapture. This rarely happened to be because I kept a good eye on that gauge. I suggest you do the same. Every demon has an element they are a master of and skills that reflect that element. For instance, the Demon Mars is a fire demon and she helps boost attack power. While Chronos is Earth based and increases your defense. Yo can equip more demons as your Gazer gains levels.
In addition to the combat, you have the overworld. This is where you do all of your fighting. As a gazer you must cleanse the area of the demon circles. You do this by using item gems and fight whatever decided to pop up. After the creatures have been defeated you control the demon circle, controlling them all makes the demon circle show up and controlling that circle gives you access to the demon that ruled the area. In many instances the demons will show up in a more passive form for you to fight at circles. They are underpowered from their boss versions, but usually at that time, you are underleveled and they destroy you. There are no checkpoints so save often. You will get game over plenty of times trying to fight the demons.
Now a qualm I have with this game is the lack of direction. It sort of gives you access to whatever at the start of the game. I was getting beat up and destroyed by Chronos because that is where I thought I had to go to get to Mars' area. Every demon has an overworld skill, Chronos has the ability to walk over damaging surfaces but you receive no damage. As such, I was supposed to take another path to get to Mars. By the time I got her, I would have been powerful enough to get Chronos with minimal issues. If the game eased me into what to do better, I would have saved myself some hours of grinding. After you get Chronos, things are less arbitrary.
Every area is designed differently and finding the hidden paths can be difficult. Luckily if you connect to the network you can use the Gazer Memos. These work like the hints in Dark Souls left by other players. Many of them are helpful like, “Kick this wall with Mars” Some will troll you so be wary. The game is somewhat difficult because the enemies seem to fluctuate with difficulty. In some cases I have been in battles for 20 minutes because the enemy kept summoning more creatures for me to fight. Sure at the end I got a lot of loot but at the same time I do not want to spend so much time in a random battle. The game is still challenging to a rewarding sense, but it often feels like it is too challenging for your own good.
The rent system can drain your funds really fast if you are unable to complete the totally random and difficult side quests. Fetching skulls for the mortician or mushrooms for the maid are oddly time consuming and difficult to find. The same goes for killing the Mimic in Star Curtain which is so powerful it is practically a secret boss. It is very difficult to get money in this game and that hurts progression. If you do not pay rent, your furniture that gives you stat boost stops working. Early game this isn't a big deal, but later it sucks. The side quests in Demon Gaze feel really out of place and not fully integrated into the game.
If you have the patience, Demon Gaze is a great JRPG to add to your collection. It is a great game to play on the go and I highly recommend it to enthusiasts into that sort of handheld gaming. I give Demon Gaze for the Vita an 8/10. It is a solid JRPG but that crippling difficulty curve is frustrating.