Square Enix is best known for their sprawling RPGs with unique characters, interesting storylines, and addictive gameplay. Demons’ Score, their attempt at a rhythm-action game for iOS (created with developer iNiS), is only successful with regards to the characters and story. The gameplay, on the other hand, alternates between simplistic and maddening. It doesn’t get any better when you have to replay large portions of the game over and over.
You play as Serenity, a college student who comes to visit her father at the insane asylum where he works. When you arrive, you find that the people are missing, and demons from hell have taken their place. Your only companion is a talking, flying teddy bear named David, who gives you a sword and machine gun and teaches you how to fight back against the demons.
This wacky premise got our attention– we were determined to solve this mystery and find Serenity’s dad. However, Demons’ Score requires you to first play through five of the ten levels on easy mode, and then seven of the same ten levels on normal mode. You then have to beat all ten levels on the incredibly difficult hard mode to complete the story. And by that time, you’ll have fought several of the boss demons two or three times each.
The gameplay in Demons’s Score is a bit like Elite Beat Agents, another game from the same developer, iNiS. Timers will appear on the screen, and you have to either tap or swipe on the beat to attack the demons. If you’re too late or too early, you’ll take damage instead. There are also special types of icons which will tell you to hold down on the screen, or tap as rapidly as you can for more points. On the harder difficulty modes, these prompts will appear with very little notice.
Stop, this beat is killing me.
Each of the game’s levels is divided into two parts. First, Serenity and David will fly through the hallways, picking off lesser demons. This seems to always use the same song and tap patterns (depending on which costume you’re wearing), so it starts to feel repetitive quickly. After the journey, they’ll encounter a boss demon. The bosses are a highlight of the game, ranging from the disturbing and grotesque to just plain silly. We were especially amused by the disco-dancing soul demon, and the huge J-Pop demon with a blonde wig and pixie wings. As you tap, an epic battle (rendered beautifully with the Unreal Engine) will play out in the background.
Since you’ll have to repeat so many fights, the new boss battles become the rare oases in a desert of poor gameplay. After each successful boss fight, you’ll earn a new, sexy outfit for Serenity, which would be a great bonus if you were allowed to wear them for free. Only one extra outfit is free, and Square Enix made the greedy choice to require a $3.99 in-app purchase for each of the new outfits you unlock. They call this “signing a demon pact”, so you won’t even realize you’re about to be charged until after you hit the “sign pact” button. At the very least, they should make the purchase price clear inside the game, but really, each of these outfits should be a free bonus for progressing through this $6.99 game.
Unlocking outfits isn’t just aesthetic– they’ll also change the background music for the first part of each level, which is essential for keeping the gameplay varied. One disturbing effect of the new outfits is that they change Serenity’s voice to that of the demons, so you might end up playing as an alluring female form with a rough male voice emanating from it.
The high-priced in-app purchases, deliberately repetitive gameplay, and awful decision to make players repeat most of the game mar this otherwise promising game. The graphics are gorgeous, and the music, while often generic, is varied during the boss fights. The storyline is actually fun, and the characters are unique, but it’s not really worth suffering through the same few fights just to see what happens next. Square Enix could still fix Demons’ Score by making the outfits free and letting players start the full game on normal or hard mode. We’d encourage them to make some changes, because in its current state, Demons’ Score is a repetitive and uneven cacophony.