Demon's Crest Review
by Daryn


I've always loved the Gargoyle's Quest games. I beat the first one on the Game Boy and the second one on the NES many years ago and thoroughly relished the excellent blend of tough action stages and RPG/adventure-like exploration. So, naturally I was eager to try Demon's Crest, the SNES sequel to this spin-off series from Capcom's Ghosts n Goblins/Ghouls n Ghosts games.

Right away I saw some major differences in the way the game plays. In the earlier GQ games, you'd walk along the overwold, come to a town, and then you'd have to beat an action stage before moving onto the next town. In Demon's Crest, there are still sidescrolling action stages and you still explore an overworld, but unlike the other GQ games, you fly over the world instead of walk around it, which means you can explore the whole thing at your leisure (technically, some stages don't appear until you complete others, but there is quite a bit to do at the onset). There is only one town and no clear-cut goals. You just start exploring in an attempt to retrieve some stolen elemental crests from a demon named Phalanx. Those crests will give Firebrand, the hero demon/gargoyle, the ability to change into different types of gargoyles with different powers (example: one that can swim, one that can fly upwards, one with double defense, etc.)


I can commend the game for trying something different, but at first I thought the whole non-linear nature was a shot in the foot. What would always happen is that once I'd get past the short intro stage, I'd pick a place on the overworld, then get to a boss and not be able to beat it. I'd think to myself, "Well, I probably have to do something else first to become more powerful." So, I'd try a different stage, and the same thing would happen - I'd get to a boss I couldn't beat. After repeating this pattern several times, I got frustrated and gave up, meaning this was the only GQ game I had not beaten for years.

Fast forward to the present time and I finally decide to give the game another go, and once again, I get to a boss I cannot beat - a skeleton with a giant machete and a deadly charging attack. However, after repeated attempts at this mofo, I realized I was getting a bit farther into the fight before dying each time, so I just kept at it and eventually I won! It marked the first time I beat a boss in this game not counting the three in the intro stage.


Now, a funny thing happened after that. Because of the power-up I got from that boss, plus the ones I'd earned in his stage, and then in the next stage on the way to the next boss, I had gotten so powerful that the next few bosses were all really easy. In fact, the stages seemed to go by rather quickly. Although visually they are stunning, I had a hard time remembering one of them from the next. When I got near the end of the game, I had a ton of items I had collected throughout the levels, but I'd have a hard time telling you exactly where I found most of them.

So, I blew through most of the game with ease until I ran into a proverbial brick wall - an ice palace with an upper path that led to a rematch with an earlier boss I couldn't win due to the addition of an icy floor and a lower path that led to a wolf boss that I couldn't kill. Eventually, I managed to beat the wolf by stocking up on healing potions, and that got me the game's strongest weapon. I used that on the boss rematch and won easily.


Demon's Crest seems to be set up as an action game at heart, but the adventure elements undermine it somewhat, as does Firebrand's ability to fly around many of the dangers. There aren't a lot of stages, so it's important that what is there be really good, and I just can't bring myself to say much of it is, and the final stage is one of the easiest in the game. There is one level where you're in a hallway that darkens as ghosts appear to blow out the candles, which you then have to relight to see where you're going. That was probably the hardest stage, and even that isn't too tough. Other sidescrolling adventure games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are kind of easy, too, but there's a lot more to do with them.

Now, if you've read my NES Ghosts N' Goblins review, then you probably know that I felt that game was too frustrating to be very enjoyable, so I'm not saying Demon's Crest should've been that hard. But let's face it: Rushifell's Castle in GQ and Hinom Woods in GQ2 were fucking awesome stages that were challening, but weren't so frustrating that your ordinary gaming nincompoop like me couldn't complete them with some time and practice. But there isn't anything like that in Demon's Crest!!


And get this - after you beat the final boss with all items collected, you receive an "Ultimate Gargoyle" form, which grants Firebrand all the skills of all the other forms combined into one. BUT, the only thing you can really do with it is fight a secret "bonus" boss for an extra ending. It would be like if you couldn't get the Gravity Suit in Super Metroid until only after there was nothing else left to find or do in Maridia.

I realize I'm being rather negative here and I'm not saying the game is bad. It just wasn't good enough. But I was pretty much addicted to it the whole time I was playing it. It's very pretty to look at, it has a unique feel, and the music is good, too (it has a haunting, orchestral soundtrack with lots of organs and choir-like voice samples). I liked some of the better boss fights. Exploring and collecting was kind of fun. Also, I beat the game completely without cheating or faq-digging, and I'm glad I did because it's so short, that would have made matters worse.


If I ever were to play another game of this type I want it to have more stages and at least some really hard stages if it's leaning towards being an action game, and larger worlds to explore and more to do with the powerups after finding them if it's leaning more towards the adventure game genre.

My breakdown of Demon's Crest:

Story: 3/5. It's a cool concept. Playing as a sort of anti-hero is always fun. One thing that sort of irks me though, is that you get the Ultimate Gargoyle from fusing all the crests together - but the ending right before that clearly states that Firebrand refused the crests and threw them away. And there's no story or explanation for the "bonus" boss. It just comes out of nowhere. I did like the whole Arma vs. Firebrand angle, though.


Graphics: 4.5/5. Awesome, top-notch, hand-drawn colorful SNES sprites and backgrounds. I like how depth is given to some backgrounds to make the world seem richer and more expansive. Example, the dragon bones in the distance of the aqueduct tunnels, or the ruined city in the backdrop of the town. Neat boss designs and some cool special effects, like a Mode 7 overworld and rippling water.

Sound: 4/5. Great orchestral music with a creepy, sort of funeral-like motif. It so perfectly underscores the action and settings that it makes the Demon Realm feel like an otherworldly, even holy place, not really for humans, but not necessarily all evil, either. Some songs are more memorable than others, though.


Play Control: 3.5/5. It's not as bad as Ghost N' Goblins, but it feels kind of stiff. you practically need to use healing items for some bosses (like the final boss) because there's no real way to dodge everything that's on the screen. I also kind of got annoyed with how the Aerial Gargoyle stops short after going up a bit when you hold down the button to make him fly upwards.

Overall: 2.5/5. I liked it, but I just wanted to like it more. Or for there to be more of it. I'd say it's the weakest of the trilogy, but not completely devoid of any worth. At least they tried something different, even if it didn't quite work out. And it's pretty to look at and listen to while it lasts.