Demon Dating

It took a little while but everything is once again fine in Asteria. Demon Gaze II yielded after about 35 hours and, despite a few minor gripes, turned out to be a merry little adventure all the way to its ending credits and even beyond. During his journey, the Demon Gazer befriended so many demons that the inn actually ran out of stat-boost-providing rooms to accommodate all of them. No harm done, as leveling up absolutely everyone to a useful level would have been too arduous, anyway. As well as battle experience and lodging, demons are refined via dating. In practice, this means a silly little mini-game in which they are given “maintenance” by locating and poking sweet spots on their bodies. As their intimacy towards the hero grows, they gain new abilities and unlock humorous cutscenes that nicely deepen their otherwise somewhat inconspicuous characters. Although this feature is decidedly lewd and mischievous in nature, the demons include not just cute girls but also bishounen boys and burly men, meaning that there’s a wholesome amount of ecchi for players of both genders.

If Demon Gaze II started out as easy, it’s latter half is challenging enough to raise blood pressure. Grinding and constantly renewing (or upgrading) gear is a must, as an unlucky hit even in an everyday encounter can knock out a feebly equipped demon in one swing. This is especially aggravating as revival items are fairly rare and most of them only revive back to one pathetic hit point. It’s a traditionally cheap design decision that means knocked out characters are better revived by hightailing it back to the inn. Trying to revive them in the heat of a battle ties up too many valuable resources and, mostly thanks to capricious turn order, rarely even works. Although constant retreating is annoying, it’s at least possible to select any previously visited square on a dungeon map, causing the party to navigate there swiftly and automatically.

As for the dungeons themselves, Demon Gaze II is fairly lenient. Sure, there’s the usual selection of devious conveyor belts, trap plates, one-way doors, and teleports, but at least they’re used in much more moderation than in many other games of the same genre. It’s not until the post-game dungeons that the game truly begins to troll its player but at that point the party is already tough enough to survive even if navigating through the dungeons requires plenty of trial and error. Such cheapness is even more tolerable as the post-game provides an exceptionally generous fan service treat to anyone who enjoyed the original adventure.

If the platform isn’t an issue, Demon Gaze II feels more suited for the Vita. As gorgeous as the enemy art can be, everything looks uncannily huge on a big screen TV and the PS4 version hasn’t even been enhanced in any way. Also, the guys responsible for audio have been slacking. Although the original voice acting is good quality as such, the voice levels themselves are strangely subdued and even fluctuate noticeably between characters. Still, that’s about all the naysay I can muster. Although the game brings nothing particularly new to a genre that might already be a little too tired for its own good, it still rises well above average due to its emphasis on storytelling, frisk pacing, and rewarding loot mechanics. It’s a very solid sequel to an excellent game, and that’s already more I dared to hope for!

Enforced Enrollment Fair

Avast, ye horny guinea pigs!

As expected, Demon Gaze II continues. Signa has already whooped enough demon butt to recruit more than a dozen of them to support the revolution, so it already takes a bit of thinking to choose the fivesome used to challenge the dungeons. Those with magic or ranged weapons are obviously best suited for the back row whereas the more abrasive ones can easily hold the front line, maybe even dual-wielding weapons if carrying a shield seems pointless. There’s tons of damage dealing weapons ranging from swords and katanas to slings and bows while protective gear covers everything from helmets to underwear. All items have not only their base stats but also an array of buffs and debuffs, so coming up with a proficient team and equipping it accordingly is an art of its own. This is especially true due to the demon circles constantly spewing out new and intriguing stuff.

Demon Gaze II handles its turn-based battles in a tremendous fashion as it is fully aware that random encounters are essentially nothing more than the genre’s necessary evil. It only takes a press of a button to make everyone repeat their previous moves, and another to fast-forward through an entire turn. If the characters are suitably equipped and leveled, a single encounter is over in less than ten seconds, making the equally typical need of grinding more like an empowering fete. To contest that, boss encounters are often so harsh that all carefree behavior is best replaced with proper strategical thinking. Still, the game wants to ensure everyone finds a comfortable way of experiencing it. Back in the home base, difficulty can always be freely adjusted between five levels. For some weird reason, the default setting was the second easiest but after a few deceptively easy hours, I turned it up a notch. I’ve since grown to regret that but even when the game gets brutal, it does so in a fair and encouraging fashion.

This journey will most likely last for several more entries. If anything is clear at this point, it’s that Demon Gaze II is just as brilliant as its predecessor and thus the merriest and most addictive dungeon crawler of all time. More praise to follow as the game is… It’s just plain adorable!

Guerrilla Radio

Me me me me me!

After so much time spent with western releases lately, I have reinvigorated my passion for proper, lengthy JRPGs. Despite an already massive backlog, it didn’t take long to come up with a suitable subject. Demon Gaze II is a standalone sequel to a three-year old-game that brazenly combined visual novels with hardcore dungeon crawling in a manner that left an everlasting impression at least in my JRPGing heart. Despite such a lengthy wait, the sequel is fortunately true to its origins, once more providing a boisterous adventure that might feel awfully familiar but only in a good and immensely entertaining fashion.

The story kicks off in the city-state of Asteria, ruled by Sirius Magnastar. Even if he enjoys immense popularity among his subjects, he seems to be up to no good. Restricted areas within the city are teeming with demons, and the city’s inhabitants are secretly used as fuel for an eerie Star Furnace. The protagonist, Signa, escapes such a sorry fate at the last moment possible, rescued by rebels. A revolutionary movement led by sibling sisters Muse and Prim might be awkwardly small in numbers but at least they run an illicit radio show from the basement of a local inn, trying to wake up the masses to a veiled deception. Their chances get a whole lot better with Signa, who has a mystical ability to absorb the souls of weakened demons into his eye and later recall them as members of the revolution.

While such setup is hardly Pulitzer for Drama material, it doesn’t really have to. Good characters and smooth gameplay immediately take over. Just like with the previous game, the inn serves as a comprehensive base with its own shop and an infirmary; a perfect place for Signa and his captured demons to embark on exploration trips throughout the restricted streets of the city. These grid-based areas feature both random encounters and demon circles. By using a bunch of cheap weapon and/or gear gems on the latter summons a bunch of nasties. Beating them is rewarded with useful stuff corresponding to the gems used as well as the seizure of the circle. After all circles in the area have been located and conquered, the area boss can be challenged. A thorough beating later, they then join the winning side.

Like its predecessor, Demon Gaze II shines with its exemplary pacing. Each location is first a threatening, uncharted area that opens up square by square. Exploration is frequently interrupted by having to retreat back to the home base to lick ones wounds and then returning to carry on. Still, thanks to effortless grinding and an ample supply of constantly new and inspiring gear acquired from demon circles, making progress is a breeze. After triumphing over delightfully challenging bosses, the game takes nice breaks building up on the characters and advancing the story. As before, the cast of characters is pleasantly compact, ensuring everyone has multiple moments in the spotlight. In fact, some of the side characters are already familiar from the first game. Having played that one is not a prerequisite by any means but more like a way of Demon Gaze II pampering to both new and returning players.

More about the game’s lovely nuances in the future, as even after a weekend of playing, I’m only getting started and the passion to dig ever deeper is as grand as ever!

Longing for the Olden Days

The usual, dear Nico, the usual…

Video game industry is a fickle beast. Even in the 90’s, graphic adventure games could still manage sales of a million copies. At least this was true for Revolution Software’s stylish and fondly remembered Broken Sword series, in which a French freelance journalist, Nicole Collard, and an American jack of all trades, George Stobbart, always seem to find themselves tangled up in murder mysteries and ancient, supernatural artifacts. By the end of the millennium, the gaming masses lost interest in the genre, and in 2013 the latest game in the series, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse, had to rely on crowdfunding. Even if I was no longer gaming on PC back then, I spotted the game’s Vita version among last month’s PlayStation Plus selection. This was a nice chance to see if graphic adventures still do it for me.

For long-standing fans, at least, the adventure kicks off in an unsurprising fashion. Nicole and George meet in a Parisian art gallery, although it’s not a particularly pleasant reunion. A sudden robbery takes place, depriving the owner of the gallery both an exhibited painting as well as his life. Our investigative duo aren’t interested only in the killer but also the stolen piece of art that leads them on a trail of medieval cabals, gnostics, and the Spanish inquisition.

In general, The Serpent’s Curse is a fairly pleasant, beautifully illustrated and skillfully animated adventure. Its puzzles are solved in the usual fashion by picking up items, occasionally combining them in unexpected ways, and chatting with a whole bunch of eccentric characters. While adventure games can be notorious for getting the player stuck or wandering around aimlessly, The Serpent’s Curse alleviates this by penning all of its problems and their solutions in areas that are rarely larger than a couple of screens. Items, too, come in such moderation that trying everything with everything is never troublesome. Several puzzles carry rather absurd solutions but they’re rarely so obscure that the player wouldn’t have at least a modicum of an idea on how to proceed.

Sadly religious myths as a motif has already been thoroughly exhausted not only by this series but entertainment industry on whole. For the game’s first half, both the story and the overall pacing still manage to stay afloat. After that, the player is drowned in overly convoluted mega puzzles and plot twists so incredibly shoddy and clich├ęd that enjoyment goes straight down the drain. This Vita version contributes to that by only featuring touch screen controls. The small screen doesn’t really do justice to the game’s graphical splendor to begin with but it’s even worse when having to constantly use an index finger as a makeshift mouse cursor. Awkward and inaccurate.

The Serpent’s Curse is still very much a Broken Sword and very much a graphic adventure but for some inexplicable reason the taste of the series isn’t nearly as exquisite as it was 17 years earlier when The Shadow of the Templars kicked things into motion. I probably have to play that one once more to see if it’s just fond memories or still a classic. The Serpent’s Curse doesn’t feel like one.