"Frankly, with the hundreds of other great JRPGs to play, it's hard for me to recommend spending the money and time to play this one."
There's no greater feeling than discovering a hidden gem. That's one of the biggest reasons I joined RPGFan: to discover great games other reviewers may have missed. There's a lot of phenomenal games out there that just don't get the publicity they deserve. When I first heard about Demon Gaze II, I felt it might be one of these games. A little over a year after its release, I finally got the chance to determine if it could qualify as one of these unsung greats. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite make the cut.
Even though it's technically a sequel, Demon Gaze II is mostly a stand-alone entry. It follows the exploits of the Demon Gazer, a man capable of trapping the souls of demons, as he aids the Revolutionist Party to overthrow the cruel leader of Asteria, Magnastar. While the Revolutionist Party has many members, the two central figures are the twin sisters Muse and Prim. Using the radio, the power of the magical song Starlita, and the Demon Gazer's abilities, the Revolutionist Party sets out to free Asteria from Magnastar's corruption and ruthless reign.
At this point, the story somehow finds a way to be both mildly interesting and incredibly cliché. The protagonist loses his memory, and in the process, is made into a Demon Gazer with Star Power, a mysterious otherworldly force that can also be used to make demons. And, in typical anime fashion, a majority of these recruitable demons just so happen to resemble teenage girls, with whom you can bond through maintenance and other events. At this point, the story pretty much unfolds as you would expect. Our Demon Gazer captures the souls of demons and grows his team until he can accumulate enough Star Power to match the might of Magnastar. Obviously, there's some more depth to the story, but for the most part, it feels like a knockoff-brand of one of your favorite shonen anime.
This is in no part helped by the characters. Most of them feel one-dimensional and formulaic: the little sister character, the tomboy character, the snob, etc. Furthermore, the demons only occasionally take part in main story dialogue, making them feel like extras rather than an actual part of the game. As for the actual members of the Revolutionist Party, they are a little more fleshed out, but unfortunately, none of these people actually join you in combat. They do occasionally travel alongside you in the dungeons, but even then, your party can feel quite lifeless during exploration.
To compensate for the lack of interesting characters, a lot of the fun rides on the actual gameplay. Sadly, this is where the game actually suffers the most. Overall, the combat is pretty standard for your typical dungeon-crawler. You have five members that can perform regular attacks, skills, techniques or defend. In addition to this, there is the typical "rock-paper-scissor" type formula that can be used on enemies to exploit weaknesses. The only two noteworthy mechanics are the ability to Demonize your party and fuse with a demon party member. The Demonize ability unlocks new skills for the Demon Gazer, as well as strengthens each of the demons on the field. On the other hand, the fusion ability creates a more powerful character that can attack for an uninterrupted number of turns. While it becomes crucial in harder difficulty levels to properly use the Demonize ability, I found the fusion ability to be more of a gimmick than anything else. Other than these two changes, combat feels rather standard.
However, there are two saving graces to gameplay outside of battle. The first involves special equipment called artifacts. This innovation to party customization allows members to equip items that give them certain skills, as long as these items stay equipped. In short, the skills and spells these items teach can be transferred to any other character in the game at any time. A result of this makes it incredibly valuable to grind for certain artifacts in order to customize one's favorite character to match any given playstyle. While this is an extremely fun idea for party-customization, it is slightly held back by the fact that it's hard to stay invested in any single character. Since I really had no favorite party members, I often would choose demons containing the best base skills instead of taking the time to personally customize them.
The other saving grace involves the use of gems to determine what items are rewarded after a battle. There are many types of gems, such as sword gems, staff gems, and shield gems, each of which correspond to a specific item drop. Instead of facing hundreds of enemies to get the one type of item you truly want, you can just place a stone in a circle and limit the options to your preferences. Personally, I cannot count the number of times in other RPGs where I spent hours grinding for a specific weapon type, only to get nearly every other type of weapon in existence. Because of this, I find Demon Gaze II's gem system to be a very neat idea, even though it suffers in its implementation from being used as the main way to get high-level equipment. Had the game instead used the gems as a supplementary feature, rather than the core of the entire looting system, grinding could have been extremely entertaining without also feeling too repetitive.
Other than these two innovations, there's not much more going for this game. The animation style takes inspiration from anime coupled with its own bizarre style that can only really be described as "cartoony". It creates this awkward juxtaposition of 2D sprites with 3D dungeon exploration that just doesn't feel natural.
As for the music, there's not too much to criticize or compliment. Though not outstanding, there's nothing especially wrong with it either. If I have to describe the combat music, it almost feels like listening to elevator music. Soothing and relaxing at points, but nothing that really gets me invested in the battles taking place. The only exception to this is the music played when demonizing the party. Demonizing changes the music to something much more upbeat and energetic, which I believe would would have better served as the default music for all battles.
While Demon Gaze II has its moments, it mostly feels like an empty experience. It's obvious that the creators tried to cater to every type of fan, but in doing so, really never achieved greatness in any specific area. Frankly, with the hundreds of other great JRPGs to play, it's hard for me to recommend spending the money and time to play this one.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.