Aye, aye! This is more like it. Having played quite a few RPGs where I got hacked off or swamped by overloaded skill systems, ludicrous battle schema and inane cheeriness/insanity from characters, the old school saves the day in the form of Demon Gaze (trailer). Sure, Japan is loaded with quirky titles like this, but its rare for one to travel this far, Eliminage aside, and to make such a graceful conversion.
For anyone who has fond memories of an early jaunt through the realms of the Bards' Tale, Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder, this is for you. Quick, slick and fat-free (five races and eight skills) role playing: where you beat the crap out of monsters, level up fast and simple, get new gear and find more creatures to kill. Demon Gaze is so streamlined, its almost perfect for portable play; with secret areas that you can still figure out, grid navigation, auto-move fast-travel, plus a sizeable, but not daunting, number of skills and spells.
All of which puts the emphasis on going out into the wilds and having fun, picking up the liberal smattering of trophies along the way. Monsters turn up at random or in specific combat squares, triggering quick turn-based battles, with the odd uber-nasty demon in each smallish level to conquer. That might not sound too exciting, but in every realm are several gem circles. Offer up some weapon, armour or special gems and, once you've marmalised the demons that come through the portal, they'll drop useful items that you can equip, sell or convert into better ones.
Again, its all done in seconds, or perhaps minutes on the longer battles where you get stacks of experience, making most scraps worthwhile. There's the odd pause back at the Dragon Princess Inn for a spot of exposition and characterized silliness, even that's all over in a minute or so. You can rent new rooms to expand your party, find new quests at the bar, get a change of style from the bathhouse, improved gear from the undead loon in the basement or new kit from the nut-job store owners, then its back out into the wilds.
Outside, you can fight with a decent range of weapons, magical skills and special powers. It rarely takes long to find something that will do the job on a particular type of nasty, with the usual elemental weaknesses coming into play. And, if you do screw up and die, there are regular save points at each gem circle. For each level increase, you can boost one of the six strengths, which raises the core stats of health and magic points. There's probably a whole lot more stattage going on under the hood, but the game doesn't burden you with that information, just get on with it.
Key to the bigger battles are the deployment of your captured demons. You can summon them, but only for a certain time before they get all grumpy and go rogue. They'll randomly throw out buffs or melee attacks to spice things up and can easily turn the battle when there's rows of enemies and you're party's life is ebbing away. Should you forget about them, and its easy to do so with the pace of the game, they'll turn up randomly from time to time, to dole out a good kicking.
You can get stuck from the time to time, and if a clue from someone in the Inn isn't forthcoming, just head out into the wilds and you'll probably find a route you missed, or kick some walls down dead-end paths to find a hidden quest item you overlooked. In a nod to the Vita's connected-ness, players can also leave Gazer memos around the realms, providing clues or warnings. One key essential is to always go back with enough cash to pay the rent.
In a game of this pace, some issues seem a bit incongruous; your Level 12 hero panicking at the sight a lone frog, the demon you forgot to invoke appearing in the last throes of a major battle, and rather repetitive monster types. But, if it does start to lose you a little as a speed-run, you can always start diving deeper into the specializations, be it an Assassin with their specialist killing gear or crafting a hardcore wizard to deal death from the rear.
And if the Demon Gaze world isn't hip enough for you, then grab hold of some of the free DLC that offers the crew from Disgaea to join your party and get into the action, 'cause RPGing is always more fun with a penguin! If I had to pick holes in the game's limited offering, its very stingy in restoring magic through potions and at new levels, in the first half certainly.
Demon Gaze has just about enough of a plot to keep you rolling, and the battles are so fast and furious that grinding (a bit of which is needed to defeat the major denizens) never really feels like grinding, even with the super tough later bosses. Sure, the game is olde worlde in many senses and does little to push the boat out, but it is in essence a perfect, slick, portable RPG that is very easy to love.
Price: £29.99 (Amazon)
File size 520MB
Progress: Glub, glub, glub