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Found 4 results

  1. barrel

    Review: Demon Gaze II

    Developer: Experience Inc. Publisher: Nis America Platform: PS4 and PS Vita Release Date: November 14, 2017 ESRB: T for Teen Note: This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game Most handheld role-playing game fans are likely more than aware of the critically acclaimed Etrian Odyssey series on 3DS. What is less common knowledge is that the not-quite-as-popular PlayStation Vita handheld has also had an abundant selection of dungeon crawling RPGs as well. Granted, the gem offerings within Vita's handheld circle are far more inconsistent in comparison. One of the standouts of Vita's batch of dungeon crawlers was the original DRPG Demon Gaze. Though it was certainly not flawless, it was an incredibly colorful title that also made several strides to its game design that caused it to be easier to approach than most in the subgenre. Three years later, players are now able to play its direct sequel, which is plainly named Demon Gaze II. Does the exuberant successor have the heart that could charm a demon or should one avoid its memorizing gaze the second time around? After one quick glance, it becomes rather clear that Demon Gaze II doubles down on its anime influence. With the loose narrative setup predicated upon revolutionists trying to save the region (Asteria) through the power of music, it will likely feel like you have seen this story in some anime before. Chances are you probably have. Couple it further with the JRPG amnesiac lead trope and the main villain Magnastar, whom may-or-may-not-be misunderstood, will only solidify this strong sense of narrative Deja Vu. However predictable it may be, Demon Gaze II is presented with more than enough personality for its world and characters to have it be entertaining enough to see it through to the end (post-game aside). Well... so long as the far and away worst character from the original game (Lezerem) -- who, unfortunately, makes a return in II -- is not on-screen. In several ways, Demon Gaze II tries to be more approachable than its predecessor -- or even most DRPGs, to be honest. Most applications to this mindset tend to be more subtle instead of simply being easier/having faster turn-based battles than most in the subgenre on the default difficulty. One of the quickest changes that returning players will notice is that they will no longer bleed financially every time they return to the main inn like various Etrian Odyssey games (in which the original Demon Gaze poked fun at by having a financially shrewd innkeeper) and upon returning from a dungeon the party's full recovery is free with no real strings attached. Another welcome change, specifically for lower difficulties, is the incredibly generous option outright retry battles after a party wipe. Instead of simply restarting the battle the player returns with full health/MP, star gauge (which is needed for certain mechanics like fusion or party-wide buffs) and, most surprising of all, all inflicted damage upon foes and bosses too. Demon Gaze II certainly takes initiative to be all the more inviting to newcomers to DRPGs. For hardcore players, they should be plenty fine with the higher difficulty options available. There's also an entire extra story mode after the main campaign which dramatically raises the level cap(/challenge) and it even forces players to play on the second highest difficulty in order to see it through. Unlike the main story, which is mostly self-contained, the post-game narrative is also full of direct callbacks to the first Demon Gaze and can easily double the standard playtime too, which is a neat addition. At the same time, Demon Gaze II is willing to sever some tried and true approaches to traditional dungeon crawlers as well. Subgenre staples like being able to create customized party members are nearly entirely absent in Demon Gaze II, for example. Players are only really able to alter the look of the main male protagonist and choose between one of three "alignments" (which apparently slightly modifies the tone of inconsequential dialogue choice options in the story and learned abilities at specific leveling thresholds). Otherwise, all (demon) party members that join the player, either via the main story or optional sidequests, are preset in their appearance and abilities with the exception being to choose where to allocate stats per level up or their occasional "Liberty Skill". It may be tough for subgenre purists to adjust to but the preset allies do tend to be far more well-rounded in the vital skills that they acquire naturally than what was formerly separate classes were in the original. The one huge shame, however, is that most party members start at level 1 regardless of how late they may be unlocked (with only three exceptions). Like the original Demon Gaze, though, gear tends to matter far more than regular base stats, so someone that starts at level one is not entirely hopeless when attempting to catch up. That and some late-game party members are really strong. Speaking of which, there are some other new mechanics in Demon Gaze II, though they are hit & miss in their execution. In battle, the main character will eventually obtain the ability to fuse with another party member. While this is fairly cool conceptually, I did not once find it that practical to actually use because you essentially sacrifice the use of a party member for several turns in the exchange of quick burst damage. The other mechanic that isn't fully fleshed out is the ability to perform "maintenance" on demons... which basically involves going on dates and doing a touchscreen mini-game. Thankfully, the mini-game itself is not nearly as tasteless as some other Vita games (looking at you, Monster Monpiece), but it is clear that this mechanic is tacked on purely because most of your potential party members are cutesy anime ladies (even if it has more tangible rewards like unlocking strong passive abilities, direct stat increases, and giving some spotlight to otherwise entirely overlooked characters in the main narrative.) Aside from those new additions, Demon Gaze II should otherwise feel fairly familiar and not always for the better. Developer Experience Inc. has a bad habit of directly lifting certain dungeon themes from their prior games (including non-sequels like Stranger of Sword City) and this issue surfaces yet again in Demon Gaze II. On the positive side, players are rarely in any one dungeon for all that long so the fatigue in certain mechanics or themes does not last too long *shakes fist at the underwater dungeons that do not allow players to use magic*. The other returning mixed key feature is the loot system that is incredibly reliant on RNG. Because, like the original, pretty much all useful gear is obtained via specific summoning circles in dungeons and hoping to get what you want upon defeating the enemies that appear. Last, but certainly not least, to mention is the presentation, which remains incredibly vibrant regardless of its admittedly low production values. All the characters have really distinct 2D portraits and they have made little touches like how the enemies in combat now move so battles feel more lively. The bigger step up seems to be the soundtrack, which has more musical variety than the first title. Going from catchy swing-like themes in the main tavern to some unobtrusive vocaloid accompaniment to other tracks really works well with the game's hyper personality. That said, the clear standout of the entire soundtrack is without a doubt the piece "Starllica", which would feel right at in some sort of Ar Tonelico game (even if it lacks the made-up language of hymnos.). Demon Gaze II is ultimately a better game than its predecessor. It takes the initiative to become more approachable for newcomers, has nearly twice as much content than the original for serious players, and introduces plenty of subtle refinements and mechanics. Even the storytelling itself, while still really predictable, has seen an improvement too. What Demon Gaze II truly lacks is much to make it feel genuinely fresh and can come across as a bit too familiar at times for players of the original. If one is fine with the prospect of more of the same, but generally better, then Demon Gaze II is better viewed as an extremely solid DRPG offering on Vita (and one of the very few on PS4) instead of the revolution the narrative tries to embark on. Pros + Energetic presentation with an equally eccentric cast of characters + Makes quite a few strides to be more approachable, such as very generous retry options on lower difficulties + Addictive dungeon crawling gameplay and speedy combat + Nearly twice as much content as the original including a meaty post-game story mode Cons - Most character customization in combat has been replaced with preset party members. Which becomes a bit more glaring as almost all of them start at level one... - Experience Inc. is still recycling dungeon themes from their previous games - Incredibly reliant on RNG for good gear Overall Score: 7.5 (out of 10) Good While it is unlikely to capture the minds of those who did not enjoy its predecessor Demon Gaze II is a proud follow-up as well as a worthy DRPG performance Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable PS Vita code provided by the publisher.
  2. barrel

    Ray Gigant 4

    From the album: Ray Gigant

  3. Developer: Experience Inc/Team Muramasa Publisher: Nis America/Experience Inc. Platform: Vita/Xbox One Release Date: April 26, 2016 ESRB: T for Teen This review is based on the PS Vita version of the game It is sort of easy to use Etrian Odyssey games as the catchall example for recent handheld first-person dungeon-crawlers. Which, in all fairness, they are held in high regard for a reason. Still, the Vita has managed to sneak in a few solid, though admittedly often fanservice-y, titles of their own on the often overlooked library. My own personal favorite dungeon-crawler of the batch was Experience Inc's Vita release, Demon Gaze. It managed to be surprisingly approachable as a game for a subgenre that is often steeped in archaic design, as well being fairly dense with audio and visual personality. So, as soon I heard about a new title from Experience Inc. called Stranger of Sword City, I was on-board to check it out. That said, boarding planes seems to be a bad idea in accordance to the lore of this game. This is because planes have a tendency to disappear from the modern world that we know of and crash-land into a new, and harsh, world that this title is based off of. Those that survive such abnormal plane crashes tend to become regarded as "Strangers," as they often possess abilities stronger than those that naturally inhabit the land. So, after some crazy old man tries to kill you and a lady in a school-girl outfit saves you by decapitating monsters, the player character eventually finds themselves in "Sword City." It's basically a sanction for Strangers because they are in high-demand for their combat prowess and can easily find work. The most common work for Strangers is hunting powerful foes known as "Blood Lineages" in various dangerous labyrinths. Even though the art style could not be more different... well, for the one art style that matters (there are technically two to choose from), Stranger of Sword City strongly feels like a spiritual successor to Demon Gaze. If the directly lifted assets such as certain audio effects did not tip one off, some of the familiar dungeon motifs will. Not that either aspect were by any means bad, far from it, it is just that I got around to finishing Demon Gaze recently so it certainly stood out. Thankfully, Stranger of Sword City manages to not only distinguish itself but it also refines upon Demon Gaze in many ways. For one, Stranger of Sword City is much more challenging on the standard difficulty. The biggest factor for this is through the threat of permanent death (except the lead, though they can be injured.). This may sound like a contrived mechanic in nature but it actually smartly encourages the use of different party formations rather than forcibly sticking to one party through thick and thin like most in the genre. It works even more because inactive party members gain experience (unlike Demon Gaze...), and you can simply try something different with another character while others are knocked out and recovering, or... replace "vanished" characters (i.e. dead.). Like most good first-person dungeon crawlers, customization is a strong component of the experience. Creating characters and allocating stats from scratch D&D style are all there and then some. What is different from Demon Gaze in particular is that you can reclass characters, like Final Fantasy Tactics, and transfer skills. While it is unlikely that you will fully level multiple classes to complete the game, it can be hugely beneficial to steal some early abilities and transfer them to one's likely primary class for that character. For instance, I made my main character a tanky Knight. But, before committing her to the would-be Knight profession, I had her learn the Counter skill from the Fighter class, which I found very valuable for someone who's destined to get attacked so often. In addition to the abilities you get from various classes, you can also gain unique abilities from the various faction leaders in the main story. By giving "blood crystals" that you get from killing the "Lineage" bosses, you get the choice to earn powerful skills that consume "morale," which will be the key to survival against tougher encounters. Of course, with something as ominous of a name as "blood crystals," this mechanic helps decide the fate of the world in a classic Shin Megami Tensei style (with some obvious Law, Chaos, and Neutral narrative counterparts) based on which leader you favor too. Unfortunately, neither the characters or the storytelling seem to be very deep (or as philosophical as SMT tends to be), but it is still is a neat concept and a fun take on skill trees. Though it has its unique elements, Stranger of Sword City just plain feels like an all-around solid title. What it lacks in likely budget (considering some familiar Demon Gaze dungeon themes) it makes up for in the developer's clear experience with the subgenre. Useful tools one should expect modern dungeon-crawlers like the ability auto-move to places you've been, various clean interface options of combat, and the satisfaction of learning the lay of the land are all certainly there. I even dig the original art style and music (though, you do have to option to make it more... anime, with the less detailed character portraits and adding a vocaloid accompaniment to the soundtrack, if you so choose so.). Most importantly, however, the moment to moment dungeon-crawling is enjoyable and addictive despite its fairly mean, old school feeling difficulty at times. Perhaps the most annoying aspect that Stranger of Sword City even has is the varying requirements to encounter certain "Lineage" enemies. Many of the requirements are inoffensive with their scripted events associated with them, like carrying an item on you that they like, paying attention to shopkeep rumors, or simply going far enough into a dungeon to stumble upon them. That said, the most obnoxious Lineage types tend to be entirely luck-based to encounter when you are "hiding". While the "hiding" mechanic itself is cool, as it is the primary means to getting random loot as you ambush enemies in specific parts of dungeons, having to rely on luck in order to have the chance to encounter the boss you want to find is far less compelling (especially since defeating them is required for the main progression.). Stranger of Sword City is one of those bizarre games where I actually don't really have many strong criticisms against it. It generally sets out and achieves what it intends to do with an addictive, well-made first-person dungeon-crawling formula that also allows for a lot of party flexibility. The game is certainly challenging, and sometimes the progression can be needlessly obtuse, but that often comes with the subgenre's territory. At the end of the day, if you want an enjoyable first-person dungeon-crawler without too many unnecessary frills, or possibly an improved spiritual successor to Demon Gaze, then Stranger of Sword City is a great example to check out. Pros: + Rewarding character progression that allows for a lot of control over your party composition + Addictive, well-made dungeon crawling gameplay +Provides a satisfying challenge despite the threat of character permadeath + Great (original) character art and solid music + Shin Megami Tensei-ish approach to endings Cons: - Some entirely recycled assets from Demon Gaze from sound effects to even certain dungeon motifs - Encountering certain "Lineage" bosses is basically random, which can needlessly slow down progress - Main story/characters are unremarkable Overall Score: 8 (out of 10) Great Stranger of Sword City does not attempt to reinvent first-person dungeon-crawlers by any means, but it manages to stand out amongst others in the genre with the sharp execution of its addictive gameplay. Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.
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