Traditional & Terrific: A Review Of Demon Gaze

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Demon Gaze is a dungeon-crawler for the PlayStation Vita. It didn’t take much time with the game–its eccentric cast of characters, its wonderfully-crafted dungeons, and its engaging story arch to win me over. I absolutely, unequivocally loved this game. So instead of weird, gushing review of one of my favourite games this year, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how this game got released.

The following is a 100% legitimate, in-no-way-made-up (ok fine it’s totally made-up) transcription of the conversation between developer Kadokawa Games and publisher NIS America that eventually lead to Demon Gaze’s release.

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Kadokawa Games: “We’d like to ask you to release our dungeon-crawler about a guy who has to rid the world of demons. The catch is that he can absorb the demon’s souls and use them in his fight.”

NIS America: “I mean, it sounds good, but Demon’s Souls is already a thing.”

Kadokawa Games: “No no no! No, it’s totally different than that! Think Wizardry with the modern pop of a game like Persona 4, where you can use the demon’s powers. And the hook: you gain the demons’ powers by gazing into their eyes–and soul. It’ll be called… Demon Gaze.”

NIS America (hesitantly): “Go on…”

Kadokawa Games: “Alright, so you start off meeting a crew of misanthropic mercenaries at an inn, which is then your headquarters. There’ll be a manager of the inn who’s holding a secret, which we’ll trickle to the player at an aggravatingly slow–but addictive–pace. From her inn, you’ll put together a party of adventurers and head out to locations, ridding them of demons.”

NIS America: “You’re losing me; it sounds like you’re treading old ground. We’ve built an extraordinarily impressive roster here at NIS America, with over three dozen niche Japanese and anime import titles. We don’t really want to start… well, I already said it–treading old ground.”

Kadokawa Games: “Ah, but we haven’t gotten to the best part, the gameplay! It’s brutal.”

NIS America: “That… doesn’t sound fun. Why would we even play this!?”

Kadokawa Games: “We’re catering to a certain audience, sure. But too many games these days are hard just to be hard. They treat difficulty as a badge of courage, but the underlying game itself doesn’t add any depth. Demon Gaze is different, because everything works together.

“See, the game is tough because it doesn’t give you too much direction on where to go. Instead, it subtly guides you. For one example, early in the game you reach a point where it looks like you have traveled everywhere you can in the world. But once you defeat a certain demon, she will join your party, which will allow you to walk across hazards like poisonous swamps, thorns, and hot coals. This will lead you to new areas, but we don’t really tell the player this; it’s more fun for them to discover it on their own.

“Part of the guiding aspect of the game is that you’ll reach monsters you won’t be able to defeat, which of course means you’ll have to grind some to level up. But in the course of that grind, not only will you level up, but you’ll earn the money to buy better equipment. There are side quests that can help you advance, too, and notes left by other players that can provide hints.”

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NIS America: “Now, you see, I’m in the predicament where this all sounds very nice, but it also sounds rote. Roooote. Am I saying that right?!”

Kadokawa Games: “We can understand that, and you’re right, Demon Gaze is a dungeon-crawler in the most traditional sense: first person, frame-by-frame movement, loot, role-playing mechanics, and carefully-crafted levels. It almost harkens back to a different era, but it still feels fresh–probably because it doesn’t try to inject anything ground-breaking. We’ve also worked very hard on the balance of this game and its systems. The hook is the demons, and how attaining them (and their powers) alters the conversations you have with people and the paths you can travel.

“It’s difficult to describe, but all the clunk has been removed, and instead of randomized dungeons, they’re expertly crafted, full of treasures, secret passages, and monsters. And since we’re not giving any information to the player in terms of destinations, there’s a huge element of mystery to it, as well.”

NIS America: “Ok. I like it. I love it, actually. But that’s because I love a good mystery, and I love a good dungeon-crawler. I have to be honest, though, it still doesn’t sound like you’re bringing anything new to the table.”

Kadokawa Games: “There are loads of scantily-clad women, and even some dudes!”

NIS America: “When can we ship?”