I'm not entirely sure what I expected.

I mean, when we get review codes in for NIS America published games, they're kind of all over the place. About the only things we know is they're prrrobably gonna be pretty anime, and pretty firmly aimed at the otaku subset. There's a decent chance of some turn-based stuff going on, but even then that's not a guarantee, and covers a pretty massive range.

Case in point, Demon Gaze II. Now, this game could be accurately described as a "first-person dungeon crawler". And when I say words like that, I'm sure an image comes into your mind. If you're a modern-day gamer, perhaps you imagine something like Bethesda's output; something in the vein of Fallout 4 or Skyrim, where we've combined FPS mechanics with RPG elements to produce something that sells to the demographics of both worlds.

Yeah no. This is first-person dungeon crawling in the vein of, like, Wizardry. All of your movement is on a grid and turn-based, and while the environment is 3D, that's more because it's easier to do this stuff in an actual 3D environment instead of faking it with perspective, than any amount of actual use of full 3D.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's talk the actual premise. In Demon Gaze II, you are the Demon Gazer, a slightly absurd title that mostly means you can control demons, bind them to you, all that jazz. It's your classic "defeat the big enemies, make them into your comrades, build an army" setup of gameplay loop, which feeds into the actual story premise; a city set upon by a tyrant, who holds the people under his thumb and uses his army, and ancient magic, to keep them from questioning his power and authority. Your resistance force thus starts small and weak, but with every demon you strip from the man's forces, you get a little more influence, a little more capacity to give the people their freedom back...

It's a solid setup, though its use of amnesia to paper over questions about the previous game in the series is a little silly and cliche'd. And of course, the whole thing is incredibly anime, from the childhood friend love interest to the fact that your first demon to command is also a little-sister figure. (Good news, you cannot romance the demon. Bad news, I have to clarify that. Anime was a mistake.)

The whole thing is actually kind of interesting to look at. Demon Gaze II feels very...vintage, for lack of a better term. It's using gameplay loops from Wizardry, and demon-collecting concepts from things like Shin Megami Tensei. In many ways, you could "demake" the title with little to no gameplay effect, and put it on a system older than I am. Hell, go up to the 90s to get access to CDs, be willing to use a decent amount of them, and I'm reasonably sure you could damn near get the game as-is just by cutting the resolution down and compressing the audio a bit.

I mean, it doesn't even have autosave. Even most of the JRPGs out now have an event-based autosave. But forget to hit the system menu before you quit the game? Yeah all your stuff is lost, sorry.

Yet for all of these vintage setups, it has a few key niceties. The difficulty can be adjusted freely. Your player character, and that very first demon you get, both have escape spells (both to escape combat, and to just quick-travel back to home base) by the end of the tutorial. Niceties that honestly make the lack of certain other modern things feel all the more jarring.

Now, none of this is to say this is actually a bad game. It does what it wants to do pretty well, and the map-trawling for big enemy encounters, demon circles, and all the other relevant stuff is quite compelling once you get into it. But these flaws are there, and they mix with the rest of the game's vintage stylings against its modern anime aesthetic to create a very strange brew.

So where does that leave us? We've got a game whose gameplay feels like it's out of the 80s, whose aesthetic could be largely recreated in the mid-90s, and yet whose position and marketing firmly are built into the market demographics and subcultures of the 2010s. It's this really weird mix of eras...

And it's not a perfect game by any means, the controls are funky, the art has some real inconsistencies (and the attempt to portray physical action with, not even nice visual novel art stills, but so often just having character art facing the camera with unchanging expressions), and a lot of the environments are so samey that without the map, you'd be hopelessly lost.

But I do think that the whole mix basically works. For all of its flaws, there's something fundamentally compelling about the click-click-click of exploring maps, of finding every bit of treasure and striking down your foes, of ultimately scouring a space until you corner the demon in control of it and make them join your cause. Even as a flawed game, there's a pretty good chance I'll be coming back to Demon Gaze II, and that's not something I can always say about these games.

Yet...Those flaws are there. And some of them run pretty deep. And even without them, the game is niche, but not exactly budget. This isn't a game I'm going to say "stay away from", but the thing is, I look at a Recommendation as being something fairly broad, a game whose sheer core excellencies overcome things that make it more niche or obscure.

And Demon Gaze II, as much as I personally am compelled by it, just doesn't quite reach that level. So, I'm not saying don't get it. What I am saying is to think about it, to ask yourself if the core concept appeals, because that core concept is what you're gonna get. And if it does...Then yeah, go for it. You know what you're getting into.