If I’m careless, this review will be interchangeable with those of numerous other fantasy RPGs: as generic and nondescript as the game it criticizes. Despite our similarities, we humans must make an effort to bridge the gulf of differences between us, and yet so many fantasy action RPGs seem to be made by the same boring person. A disturbing conformity envelops the genre, as if these games are made not by individuals, but by a mob that stifles each new creative concept. You can name a few, I’m sure, and I can name another: Demonicon.
Buried beneath nonsensical dialogue, irrelevant fantasy tropes, and a poorly delivered narrative lay the potential for a human story. The characters behave so absurdly and irrationally inhuman, however, that the narrative becomes good for nothing but laughs. The few worthwhile themes (incest, biological vs. social parents, marriage) are lost in a story told so poorly as to reinvent the plot hole. Fantasy storytellers still seem to think we want stories about incoherent magic rituals, chosen ones, and grotesque demons foolishly summoned by mortals. What we really want are stories that show us what it means to be human and that teach us how to be more human. The success of games like The Walking Dead and The Last of Us is proof enough.
Demonicon is a simple RPG with a repetitive and predictable structure, but the adventure is paced well and the systems within are competent enough to allow one some enjoyment. The robust character progression uses The Dark Eye’s point-buy system in lieu of standard experience levels. The combat is asymmetrically simple, however, and one doesn’t necessarily need to spend points wisely or even understand every parameter and abbreviated ability score. I usually looked forward to the simple, sloppy combat between waves of boring dialogue. The story progresses mechanically. After a couple of hours, one knows what to expect: plenty of dialogue, some difficult narrative choices, nondescript combat encounters, looting, bosses at the end of each chapter, fetch quests, an artificially extended penultimate chapter, an abrupt ending. Don’t expect: romance options, non-linearity, extravagant side quests, surprises.
Although one has to make some challenging choices in the narrative, the results are shallow and hamfisted, if consequences exist at all. Everything about Demonicon feels cheap like that. What at first appear to be refreshing changes of pace are quickly revealed to be gimmicks and cheap effects: a location changes, but it’s mere window-dressing for the same content, or a puzzle impedes progress, yet the solution could be worked out by a chimp. The visuals are glitchy and drab (the art direction is at times appalling) and the audio is laughable or forgettable, yes, but the reuse of locations, the tricks to lengthen the play time, and the antiquated invisible walls imbue Demonicon with an almost nefarious cheapness.
Demonicon is no worse than quite a few triple A releases with their big budgets and big names, and yet it has such a smaller chance of success because of its poor production values and foreign origins. We’re too easily swayed by crisp graphics and the hype of a sequel. The current search for and worship of bad art and entertainment has exaggerated our perspectives even further. Demonicon is ugly, awkward, and unknown, but it’s still an average action RPG.