Demon Gaze Extra Review (Switch)
For me, one of the most pleasant surprises of 2021 was Saviors of Sapphire Wings, a remake of the 2010 Japan-exclusive dungeon crawler known as Students of the Round. So when I heard that its 2013 Vita “sequel” (more on this later) would be coming to Switch in 2022, I just had to play it.
Being the newest of the two titles, I assumed that Demon Gaze Extra would take the formula laid out by Saviors and more or less improve upon it. Although this is true to some extent, many key aspects have seemingly taken several steps back in terms of quality and design compared to its predecessor.
Demon Gaze Extra takes place many millennia after the events of Saviors of Sapphire Wings. It’s not a direct sequel, but does share the same general universe and some minor ties to one another (but not to the extent that you have to play one to play the other). The player assumes the role of Oz, a Demon Gazer who is rescued from the depths of a monster-infested dungeon by Lancelona, an injured, but still quite capable Demon Gazer. Demon Gazers are a rare breed – half human, half demon beings that are the only ones capable of defeating and capturing other demons to do their bidding.
This is a good thing, considering the world of Mislid is completely overwhelmed by the presence of demons that were unleashed in an incident prior to the events of the game. Now owing a debt to Lancelona and her comrades of the Dragon Princess Inn – one of the remaining safe havens in all of Mislid – Oz agrees to help the group of survivors in defeating and sealing the demons before they succeed in resurrecting the lord of darkness, Sol.
Despite featuring a serious narrative, Demon Gaze Extra injects far more humor into its tale than it does focusing on the dark subject matter. Whereas many games feature one or two characters that are beacons for comic relief, this game has virtually every character dishing it out equally.
Comic relief is crucial to any narrative, but there is a balance to be struck and Demon Gaze Extra completely misses its mark. Most of these characters are way over-the-top with their deliveries and come across as rather childish instead of genuinely witty or clever. The few characters that aren’t quite as heinous in that regard are instead used to deliver some awkward, often out-of-place fan service (for my tastes).
Collectively, this ends up destroying any sort of impact that should have been left in the wake of some of the more serious narrative beats. Furthermore, Oz’s party members have virtually no time in the limelight, which is a massive step back compared to Saviors where each one had some moments to shine. In short, don’t come to Demon Gaze Extra looking for any sort of meaningful, compelling story content.
Demon Gaze Extra provides a relatively satisfying gameplay loop that should keep things interesting for dozens of hours, though it does have some extreme drawbacks (especially when compared to Saviors). The general idea is to scour Mislid’s numerous, sprawling labyrinths in order to defeat and capture its host demon.
This process generally involves capturing all of the demon circles within any given labyrinth. These demon circles are similar in function to Savior’s “trapping” system in that it’s not only crucial to story progression, but it’s also the best way to gear up quickly for the road to come. Various gems – three at a time – can be fitted into any demon circle to essentially roll on equipment that will drop if the player is victorious in the subsequent battle.
Generally, the player fights more difficult enemies at demon circles, but not always. Capturing a few demon circles in any of the dungeons typically draws the ire of the local demon lord that will then attack the party. This encounter is beneficial as it gives the player a preview of what is to come once they capture all demon circles in a dungeon and face off against the true form of that demon. Once a demon lord is enslaved, it can be taken back to the inn and exchanged for a key, which allows Oz to summon them in combat.
Combat in Demon Gaze Extra is turn-based, and consists of Oz and up to four customizable party members. Additionally, Oz can temporarily call upon an enslaved demon to help in battle, and they become especially useful in negating certain dangerous boss mechanics. The party is split between a front and rear line, with the front naturally taking the most beating while the rear is a little less susceptible to damage but at the expense of a limited attack range.
If a party member is knocked out or otherwise put out of commission, they will be moved to the back of the party and shift the rest of the party up one slot, meaning that some squishier characters will have to deal with being on the front line at times This injects a satisfying dynamic into combat, forcing the player to constantly be mindful of the party’s condition and adjust the strategy accordingly.
In combat, the Demon Gazer and their demonic minions have some nuance as well. Most bosses are capable of enraging the demonic side of Oz – losing control – unless they have a demon summoned already. Demon summoning is a double-edged sword, however, since using and summoning demons expends demon points, or DP, and even the enslaved demons can lose control if Oz uses up all of the DP. There is certainly some risk versus reward to consider when utilizing demons, but their benefits often outweigh their potential drawbacks.
Overall, the combat is sound and the difficulty curve is steady in Demon Gaze Extra outside of a few frustratingly annoying boss fights toward the end. The fights in question aren’t annoying because they are difficult, but rather feature mechanics that absolutely require the player to either have very specific party makeups, or certain artifacts (more on this later). If one doesn’t do enough damage to offset the automatic heals of these bosses, then they simply will not defeat them. The player generally isn’t in any real danger in these situations save for the boredom of fruitlessly hacking away at a constantly regenerating enemy.
Demon Gaze Extra does not have the luxury of a class/subclass system like Saviors did, where filling the gaps in a party was easily achieved. Instead of subclasses, this game forces characters into a single class and allows artifacts – or skills from other classes – to be equipped for further customization. The problem lies in their acquisition, which is primarily from using artifact gems at demon circles. There is no way to target specific artifacts, so the player can only pray to the RNG gods that they don’t receive a useless artifact (which is, unfortunately, more often than not).
Enslaved demons aren’t just useful in combat, though. They also are essential in exploring each dungeon thoroughly. Many demons provide traversal perks, such as revealing hidden walls, or allowing safe passage over hazardous tiles. Moreover, specific enslaved demons are key to the game’s treasure map system, which is, unfortunately, one of its worst features.
It doesn’t take long before the Demon Gazer discovers an array of simple treasure maps that are marked with coordinates, a vague description of the actual map name, and power – or demon – required to unearth the prize. At face value, all of this is fine, it’s only when put into practice that things really start to come undone.
First, there are dozens and dozens of these treasure maps to find, and Oz will already be struggling with a constantly full inventory without counting them. Each treasure map takes up a single slot in the 100-slot bag, and the player will constantly be in agony as to whether to keep them in inventory for easy reference, or move them into storage to free up some space for more meaningful goods. Not only that, the treasure maps do not disappear after the player finds the loot, forcing the player to find it AGAIN in the inventory to either discard or sell for almost nothing.
Second, the map descriptions given for these areas can be quite vague, and there is no way (that I know of) to view all the maps of an area without being in the zone in the first place. This results in constant back and forth between multiple areas, the inventory, and the stash, trying to figure out where to go for the treasure. But even if the player has pinpointed a treasure, god forbid they show up with the wrong set of demons and not even be able to loot it!
Active enslaved demons can be adjusted at either the inn or any conquered demon circle, but it’s still not that great when considering the system’s other flaws. Worse yet, there isn’t always much to gain from these treasure maps outside of a few outliers, as the majority lead to items that are exchanged to NPCs for periodic events back at the inn (and most of that is just more fan service rather than something actually important).
Treasure hunting sounds so good on paper, especially in a first-person dungeon crawler, but it’s so overwhelmingly unintuitive in its current form that players are better off referring to a guide, or avoiding it entirely. Outside of this disappointment, however, dungeon diving is an enjoyable experience.
Base of Operations – Dragon Princess Inn
Amidst all the darkness and chaos of Mislid lies the Dragon Princess Inn, which serves as the base of operations for Oz and his companions. Here, the the player can purchase items, strengthen and/or break down existing items, hire new party members (priority #1), peruse the bulletin board for various quests, and most importantly, advance the plot. Almost all story content is shown and presented here through various cutscenes via an assortment of large, semi-animated portraits. The player can also take a bath in order to change the appearance of both Oz and his companions. Thanks, technology!
None of these perks come free, though. In order to stay at the inn, the player has to pay rent that increases with Oz’s party size and levell. Rent is not taken out periodically, instead it is required virtually any time the player goes back to the inn. While it’s possible that the player can put themselves in a position where they cannot pay rent, it is easy enough to meet the demands without ever really having to worry about it. Oz gets perks for keeping a spotless payment record, but some leniency will also be given if they cannot pay up every now and then (shame on you).
As mentioned earlier, the inn is where Oz can hire new help to expand their party. Hired help can be customized to the player’s liking, choosing from a variety of classes and portraits that cater to both male, female, and most definitely “fan service” audiences. While only four party members may go with Oz at any time, the player can swap those out for an additional three reserve members given they had the cash to hire them in the first place.
Presentation and Performance
Like Saviors before it, Demon Gaze Extra utilizes a first-person dungeon crawling perspective in labyrinths, with vibrant and varied backdrops alongside semi-animated portraits doing the job everywhere else. The main characters and most supporting NPCs all have multiple portraits that are used to better emote and react to certain situations and events. Enemies fare a little worse, with only slight movements here and there used to imitate them actually being animated. Some of the designs of enemies, demons, and bosses, however, are still quite impressive despite the aforementioned drawbacks.
The soundtrack of Demon Gaze Extra is fitting and overall very solid. As part of the “Extra” package, this version includes some enhancements that seem to amplify the spirit of the original tunes rather than replacing them with something completely different. Some labyrinths tend to focus on minor ambient effects, such as the occasional drip or howling wind, over something more “in your face,” but it is surprisingly effective in those cases. Demon Gaze Extra also features a choice of English or Japanese voice acting (or you can disable them entirely).
Rather than building upon the foundation of its predecessor, Demon Gaze Extra instead downgraded many of its components while only upgrading a few. The game is relatively enjoyable up to the very end, where hours of grinding may be required to pass a DPS check rather than some sort of actual strategically challenging situation.
Save for the atrociously designed treasure map system, Demon Gaze Extra does offer some solid dungeon diving content before that point. The enhanced graphics, auto/fast battle option, new story bits and class options provided in this “Extra” version, alongside some postgame content will certainly be appealing to some, but only if the aforementioned downsides and frustrations don’t get to you first.