Announced during today’s blockbuster PC Gaming Show, Demonschool is a tactical RPG that combines several familiar elements into something that feels completely new. The catch is that movement equals action, which is new to me in isometric turn-based combat – you select a character, choose a direction, and they’ll interact with anything in that path , attacking enemies and improving friends .
But a clever new combat system is just one of the things Demonschool brings to the table. You start the game as Faye, a new student at a “university” for malcontents, and also heiress to a famous line of demon hunters. You’ll soon have four characters in your party, each with their own unique class and move techniques, and the combat system is streamlined and focused on your characters’ combined moves to destroy enemies more effectively.
The game’s visual style is a real treat: the majority of the action is isometric, but there are perspective shifts and camera tricks that see the world switch between 2D and 3D. Developer Necrosoft Games says the visual influences are “classic Italian horror movies of the 60s and 70s, steeped in eerie visuals and a hellish grotesque driven by a funky bassline.”
Fighting is one thing, but other than that, Faye is a student. While some of the character models give off Persona vibes, that’s not the only similarity, as part of the game is living through a school semester: choosing what to study, who your friends are, developing the skills of your team thanks to class schedules and acquire new allies. with side quests. You can “foster fiery friendships or romances between them all,” the developer explains, with various different endings depending on which path you choose.
mix and match
I spoke to Brandon Sheffield, who is the creative director of Necrosoft Games, about the game’s many inspirations.
“So in the case of Persona and Into the Breach, we just know people will make the comparisons, but those aren’t really the touchstones we were looking for,” Sheffield writes. “It’s funny because we actually developed our battle system even before Into the Breach was announced, and then our programmer Shane played it as an IGF judge and was like, ‘…uh oh!” The similarity is a total coincidence, we were actually inspired more by Valkyria Chronicles, but using a totally different visualization and approach.
“The goal was to reduce the number of clicks needed to perform in a traditional tactical space, so you don’t do the old thing – choose your character, choose your location, press confirm, choose your action, press confirm, choose your enemy, etc etc. With our thing, movement equals action, which just happened to fit pretty well with what Into the Breach was doing.
Sheffield says Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor on DS had a bigger influence than Persona (both are series developed by Atlus), but the visual similarities have more to do with “there’s only a limited number of ways to create realistic proportions”. human characters in this kind of isometric space. And of course, with demons and relationship building, it all becomes a bit Persona-y. But really, it’s more an offshoot of Shin Megami Tensei than anything.
Another of the names thrown into the mix is Yakuza, which Sheffield says is tied to how Sega’s series deals with time. You still have a main objective, but there’s no time limit in the world: “Until then, you’re free to do whatever side quests you want, have fun with mini-games, walk around, whatever,” Sheffield writes. “We’re taking that and simplifying it, in that we have certain events that move forward in time each day – the game takes place on a weekly schedule by the way – but you can freely do any other events that may arise, as you It gives you a nice pace and the ability to really play it your way. My main thing about games is that I want to hang out in a space, even if that space is weird and has demons in it.
One of the aspects of the game that appealed to me was the otherworldly vibe that Necrosoft managed to create. This place is vibrant yet eerie, bringing together things that don’t seem to have to fit together, and with the shifts in perspective, it all feels a bit unreal.
“Demonschool is a different place,” Sheffield writes. “If you’ve ever seen Italian horror films from the 70s, they feel like they take place beyond time, in another universe almost identical to ours. I have the impression that it is what games are, they all have these hints of the familiar, but they’re ultimately fantastic I get that too from manga like Dorohedoro, where you have people going through absolutely awful things, but they’re pretty used to it .Things are going wild all around them, but they have to go through it, find humor where they can, and that kind of thing.”
A diabolical beauty
I end by asking Sheffield about how the 2D and 3D worlds almost rub together and merge, and some of the specific influences that influence this effect.
“There are a few major touchstones…I’d like people to guess, so I won’t go into actual detail, but we take lighting cues from Italian horror and giallo images from the years 70, so your Bavas and Argentos and Fulcis of the world,” Sheffield writes. “An obvious game is Grandia, with the way they deal with 2D and 3D, and the almost diorama construction of their environments. Then there are our character avatars, all of which are made by one of our artists, Catherine Menabde, who is heavily influenced by horror manga. Suehiro Maruo is one influence, among others. Junji Ito is the one everyone thinks about, but he has a little less influence on that than the popularization of art. You can see the influence of horror manga in the way we use lines for shading, the emphasis on eyelashes, the sometimes maniacal faces, etc.”
As for why the look of the game is unique, it turns out that the team imposed certain restrictions on themselves that ended up contributing to the overall consistency of the aesthetic. “We also use dithering and ‘physical’ visual effects which are made up of polygons,” Sheffield writes. “We created a bunch of rules that we (mostly!) stuck to, like we were making this game for a game console that never existed, but had particular things it could and didn’t. couldn’t do. That’s why most animations are 8 frames, or multiples thereof, and why effects are built from polygons, and we use dithering a lot for 3D, even though 2D can be seamless. It should also hopefully make you feel like the 2D and 3D worlds are fighting each other for primacy.”
That last line is kind of a tease: part of the idea of Demonschool is that the human world is 2D, and visually represented as such, while the demons trying to pour into it are 3D. If you watch the trailer again, notice how the character models and boss grids are made to “pop” into the world.
Demonschool is slated for PC and Steam Deck in 2023, and here’s the official site (opens in a new tab).