Demoniaca: Everlasting Night (Xbox Series S) Review

First impressions are everlasting

I always have a soft spot for ambitious indie games that aim high despite their limited budget. Demoniaca: Everlasting Night, developed by AKI and published by Eastasiasoft, is one such game. It’s a sprawling, hardcore Metroidvania – think combat complexity and RPG mechanics, not just the titillating character design – but first impressions are rough. Even after coming to grips with the combat and importance of character stats, the control scheme and several design choices remained frustrating.

Demoniaca: Everlasting Night is set in a dark, gothic world, filled with literal demons and biblical prophecies. In their attempt to rebuild the Tower of Babel (to storm the Gates of Heaven?) demons attack and sacrifice everyone in nearby villages. After accidentally consuming demon blood during the attack, the unnamed protagonist survives, sews back up her disemboweled guts, pledges vengeance, and heads off to the tower.

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The opening crawl and conversations with Eva are as close as you’ll get to direct storytelling. Everyone else seems hellbent on being as vague as possible.

It’s a simple setup – a wall of scrolling text over gruesome imagery – that gets you into the action quickly and it’s clear AKI is aiming for a minimalist narrative that unravels in ‘Souls-like fashion. You explore blindly, taking the paths that are open to you, avoiding enemies too tough for you, and frequently bump into new and recurring characters that’ll ramble cryptically. There’s Adam, a bare-chested and cocksure antagonist (one of them) who wields the power to control massive beasts in the tower and initially deems the protagonist beneath him. The Boxman – who literally wears a box on his head – and the Crow knight that seems intent on training the protagonist up to succeed. There’s also a cat-obsessed girl called Klin that taunts the protagonist but provides her hints on where to go or how to find secrets.

If you persist, you’ll discover no shortage of other weirdly-named and provocatively-dressed secondary characters and allies, each with a backstory and reason for being in the tower. It helps that significant NPC characters and bosses have striking designs – whereas common foes are typically palette-swapped variants of common monster types (think skeletons, goblins, floating eyes, ghost armour). These encounters occur frequently enough that they motivate you to push further into the unknown. Demoniaca: Everlasting Night has a narrative that hooks you by virtue of being weird in a compelling way. Unfortunately, the same can be said for the gameplay, but the results are less positive.

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Despite the maze-like structure of each zone, the opening is fairly linear until you hit the core. From there, the challenge tiers and lack of certain abilities will guide you in the right direction.

Starting with the positives, Demoniaca: Everlasting Night combines conventional Metroidvania progression – defeat a boss, earn a new ability, use it to reach the next boss, repeat – with a fighting-game inspired combat system, RPG levelling, and plenty of gear synergies to consider. Stick with it and you’ll come to appreciate just how much flexibility you have with the character build and how much there is to see in the tower. You’ll want to keep the mini-map open to find save rooms, portals, and stores to spend your “souls” and “dust”; but there’s no shortage of secret rooms, shrines, and rare gear chests just out of reach until you gain the right skills. You’re frequently finding new gear; levelling up (through combat XP) allows you to improve one of four stats; combos and special moves are unlocked steadily; while new movement abilities provide the incentive to hunt down elite enemies or loot chests you bypassed earlier.

Combat can be confusing until you accept that you’re playing a fighting game within a Metroidvania. The controls are, at least, simple: you move with the thumbstick or d-pad; there are light and heavy variants of punches and kicks assigned to the face buttons, block/parry/dodge uses the left trigger, and jump is assigned to the right trigger (a gamepad is strongly recommended). There are some movement oddities, like how you can wall-jump but can’t grab and mantle small ledges, but traversal and platforming feel tight enough for boss battles in which you need to keep moving. Simple light-light-heavy combos will get you started, but Demoniaca: Everlasting Night quickly ramps up the challenge and you’ll have to swiftly familiarise yourself with a sizeable list of combos and special attacks (most of them fighting game classics: down-forward-punch, down-up-kick, or forward-forward-kick, etc.).

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With a maximum level approaching 100 and a constant stream of loot, boosting stats and synergising gear buffs ultimately feels more important than your fighting skills over the long haul.

Increasing the “ATK” and “INT” stat, pulling off advanced combos, or flashy demonic attacks – that consume demonic power (DP) points – and all increase your damage output. Gear buffs coupled with the “DEF” stat value reduce incoming damage. It doesn’t take long to realise just how important the RPG elements and gear buffs are when you unleash a flurry of attacks on a target, only to have the word “ineffective” pop up instead of damage numbers. In Demoniaca: Everlasting Night, you only deal (or take) damage once a defence threshold has been exceeded. This results in slower, more measured encounters as you can’t simply chip away health bars with basic attacks – you need to find the space to land powerful combos or demonic special attacks between enemy attacks.

Unfortunately, combat is a lot harder than it needs to be thanks to clunky controls that can’t be remapped and underwhelming defensive moves. The entire time I was playing Demoniaca: Everlasting Night, I kept thinking how much better the experience could be using a programmable 6-button gamepad – think of the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive gamepad – or an actual fighting stick. Combos or special attack inputs are easier using the d-pad, but movement using the d-pad feels sluggish compared to the thumbstick – a serious issue when you need to move immediately after attacking to avoid taking massive damage or being instantly killed by a boss.

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An early boss fight will keep you moving around a small arena, highlighting the importance of mastering traversal skills and finding the right moment to land a combo or special attack.

For those who expect to be rewarded for carefully-timed blocks or parries, you’ll quickly discover how ineffectual this strategy is in comparison to grinding levels, boosting your ATK and DEF stat, and trading blows. You can simply hold block and the parrying window is generous but neither seems to stagger, or disrupt enemy attacks, to any significant degree. Most of the time I found enemies reengaged so quickly they could disrupt my counter hit. The most useful move is blocking and tapping back since it triggers a short dodge to create space – useful for starting another move input uninterrupted – but I found it awkward with the current control scheme.

Another issue is the lack of information about the challenge posed by basic enemies (several “elite” enemies are, thankfully, marked as such on the mini-map). The map gives a rough idea of the challenge in each area, but the threat level varies wildly from creature to creature, many of which look like palette-swapped variants but suddenly dole out much higher damage or status effects (think poison, petrify, and confusion). This results in a frustrating loop during the opening hours. You’ll check if normal attacks are effective; if not, back off and switch to combos; try switching to special moves; and, if that still doesn’t work, run like hell or get ready to reload. To be fair, Demoniaca: Everlasting Night functions like a pure RPG in the sense you can grind levels and find gear that’ll make you nigh-untouchable, but it takes so long to reach that point I can see many players simply walking away frustrated.

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Combat always looks great – even if it can be hard to follow the action at times.

What might keep them sticking around – in addition to the unfolding narrative and weird characters you encounter – are the pixel-art visuals, detailed animations, and solid soundtrack. The visuals – which are closest in style to late 16-bit era games – are described as “beautifully grotesque imagery with seductive style”. This roughly translates into gruesome-looking enemy sprites, while the human (or humanoid) characters sport bare midriffs and plenty of cleavage, excessive breast movement, and skin-tight outfits with a preference for miniskirts or hotpants. It’s titillating sure, but timid by modern standards.

What always looks great – even if it makes little sense when your attacks are doing nothing – are the detailed attack animations and screen-filling effects. Sparks fly, explosions ripple, the screen distorts when you’re hit with a status effect, and you’ll get the odd Mortal Kombat-inspired “toasty” pop-up when you pull off a critical hit or unleash a massive demonic attack. Backtracking for secrets or optional encounters highlights the limited number of music tracks but they’re all enjoyable and complement the action.

Ultimately, Demoniaca: Everlasting Night is an ambitious Metroidvania, with multiple complex systems to keep you engaged, but they don’t always gel well and the controls need refinement. The longer you play, the more the RPG elements trump the fighting system, and there’s no arguing the opening hours aren’t rough. That said, if you can endure them, find a rhythm to the combat, and begin to understand your character build, there’s fun to be had in tearing your way through the demonic Tower of Babel on a quest for vengeance. Die-hard Metroidvania fans should give this go, while more cautious gamers might want to wait for a few patches to smooth things out.

A review code for Demoniaca: Everlasting Night was provided to gameblur by the publisher.

Demoniaca: Everlasting Night (Xbox Series S) Review

Demoniaca: Everlasting Night (Xbox Series S) Review
7 10 0 1
7/10
Total Score
  • Story
    7/10 Good
    'Souls-like in how no one will give you a straight answer but you meet new characters and hit story beats frequently enough to encourage you to push on the next encounter.
  • Gameplay
    7/10 Good
    Both the best and worst parts of the game. A complex fighting system and deep RPG mechanics are at odds with the clunky control scheme and several weird design choices.
  • Visuals
    8/10 Very Good
    Titillating, sure, but the pixel-art characters and backdrops look good. Combat always looks spectacular thanks to detailed attack animations and screen-filling effects.
  • Audio
    6/10 Normal
    There is no voice acting and the general audio is unremarkable, but the limited soundtrack is diverse and enjoyable.

The Good

  • Fighting-game inspired combat with a focus on combos and special attacks
  • Plenty of equipment to find and gear synergies to consider
  • Multiple bosses to tackle (and tough optional encounters)
  • Stylish presentation and a catchy soundtrack

The Bad

  • A clunky control scheme that can’t be remapped
  • Different gameplay mechanics don’t always gel
  • Rough opening hours
Total
7
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