Capture the demons, and save the world.

NIS America and Kadokawa Games combined old-school dungeon-crawling with some genius ideas on loot-gathering to create Demon Gaze. This PlayStation Vita-exclusive role-playing game gives the amnesiac protagonist a debt at a local inn and the ability to capture and train demons to pay it off.

Boss encounters require constant adjustment of strategy.

Above: Boss encounters require constant adjustment of strategy.

I received a digital copy of Demon Gaze for review but ran into a game-halting bug in the otherwise error-free first part of the game. With no solution available, I decided to offer impressions in an informal manner. This is not a review, and it has no score.

So, will you want to meet this Demon Gaze?

Exploration and combat have an old-school charm

Moving around the maps can be an engrossing challenge in and of itself.

Above: Moving around the maps can be an engrossing challenge in and of itself.

Like past entries in the Etrian Odyssey and Wizardry franchises, players move around Demon Gaze’s six map regions along a first-person square grid. Environmental hazards are frequent and punishing, like a section of a cursed cemetery that damages and could poison your party or tiles that send your party back a few spaces into a trap. Maps have a nice environmental variety even with the same local region. A town ravaged by burning lava flow will exit into an ashy neighborhood sunk into a nearby lake. Demon Gaze has little regard for player safety; the simplest of navigation mistakes can have disastrous consequences.

Combat in Demon Gaze plays out in a separate first-person window akin to the first few Dragon Quest games. Only here you organize your party characters into a front row and a back row — something from the Wizardry days — and their positions determine their available actions during battle. For example, putting your wizard in the back row will keep them from enemy melee attacks while still allowing spells to be cast.

Battles in Demon Gaze play out in rows.

Above: Battles in Demon Gaze play out in rows.

Players can summon a demon they’ve beaten and captured as a secondary fighter, acting with their own mana pool and health bar. A decreasing turn counter determines their available time in battle. This counter will increase with the effective attacks and defensive moves a player performs over the course of turn. If you let the timer run out, your hold over the demon diminishes, and the creature will turn on you. It’s adds a sense of tension to the simplest of skirmishes.

Enemies operate under the same combat rules as you do, with enemy NPCs in back rows able to try ranged attacks or build up their defense. Bosses summon smaller creatures to surround them and absorb damage, making skipping over text boxes to get to your next attack a dangerous habit. It’s a deceptive, simple concept that reserves the right to punish you at any time for the wrong move.

You control your own loot drops

Gems are your way to get the exact kind of loot you want.

Above: Gems are your way to get the exact kind of loot you want.

Any gamer that has spent hours grinding for that particular piece of loot will hope every dungeon crawler takes this leaf from Demon Gaze’s book. While random battles still pop up on occasion, the true mission in each region is to capture and control demon portals. Each area has a handful of stationary portals on which the player places gems they’ve either acquired in battle or bought at stores.

These gems determine the items monsters will drop when defeated, with more advanced gems determining the quality of the item and amount of it dropped. You don’t aren’t crafting the exact item to be dropped, but you do have control over the kind of item you will eventually be given. If you just hired a new healer in need of a better hat, drop a Hat Gem on the portal before battle and reap the rewards. Making good use of these portals is the best strategy to quick character growth, as they often pit you against the strongest enemies (with the best loot) in the region. Demon portals are the smartest solution we’ve yet seen to one of the lingering problems of dungeon crawlers.