Not every game needs to have tight design. Those might be blasphemous words coming from a game reviewer, but there's truth in them. I have great respect for games where every little aspect has been placed to work in perfect harmony with every other part, but games can also be unbalanced, messy things and still be a heck of a lot of fun to play. That's the case with Demon's Rise [$7.99], a turn-based strategy RPG from newcomer Wave Light Games. It draws its principle mechanics from popular SRPGs like Warhammer Quest [$2.99] and X-COM [$9.99], lets you form your party from a whopping 25 different characters each with their own skills, then throws a pile of content at you to merrily hack, zap, and smash your way through. It's horrifically unbalanced, but it's hard to care much about that as you guide your wacky group of characters through the monster-filled dungeons.

There's trouble brewing under the dwarven stronghold Angor, and as these things go, it can only be solved by a group of exactly six members. Your party is drawn from a total of 25 different characters, and while the trusty fantasy stand-bys are well-represented, there are a fair few unusual choices for your consideration. You can choose some rare, but not unheard of, characters like samurai and mage hunters, or you can go all out and welcome Groot's cousin and a bizarre walking cannon to your team. In addition to being differentiated by stats and usable equipment, each character has six unique skills that they'll eventually unlock. Not all of these skills are terribly useful, but everyone has something cool they can contribute to the team. You can also choose to bring in multiples of the same character if you'd like, making for a massive number of potential party combinations. It should go without saying that some are considerably better than others, of course.

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In general, Demon's Rise seems to believe in generous portions. The campaign runs 67 stages long, and the roster of enemies includes 50 different creatures ranging from small, relatively harmless ratmen to huge dragons. While most of the lower-level goons are only differentiated by their stats and whether or not they can use ranged attacks, as you progress through the game, you'll encounter a wide variety of enemy behaviors. The game isn't shy about throwing an impressive number of foes at you, either. One of the random patrol maps I came across put me in the middle of a fight between a giant scorpion and what must have been more than a dozen other enemies. I had to choose when and where to butt in to this particular affair, and watching this huge battle play out while I picked off scragglers certainly felt epic. Of course, enemies won't usually be at each other's throats, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to be the star of such massive battles.

The loot system is also great. Completing any mission will earn you at least a few treasures, and you'll find new stuff in the shop every time you come back to camp. Each character has 13 gear slots, and many pieces are specific to a few characters, so you can imagine the variety of things you'll come across. Magical gear uses a system similar to that found in games like Diablo, where various adjectives will bring certain effects to a piece. You never know what you're going to find, and to be frank, you won't be able to use a good chunk of it depending on the party you've put together. That said, the shop will pay a fair price for it, and odds are good that it will in turn be selling something you want. It takes a long while to come across enough pieces to fill out everyone's slots, which makes it feel very special when you find something you really need.

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Along with the decision of who is in your party, the gear is your only means of customizing your team. Experience is counted at the end of each battle, and if a character has enough, they'll automatically level up, gaining set stat bonuses and new skills here and there. You have no choices here. There aren't any skill trees, and you can't pick which stats to improve. Normally I might complain about this more, but I personally felt satisfied with the amount of input I had in my party's composition as it was. I wish I could swap out members at my leisure during a campaign, though. As it is, if you want to try new characters, you'll have to start a new game. It makes it a little tough to test out combinations. If nothing else, I suppose it gives the game solid replay value.

As for the actual battles, the game uses a fairly typical turn-based strategy system. You and the enemy take turns moving all of your characters at once. Characters can move a specific amount of spaces, attack, and use their skills provided they have enough action points. You can do all of these things on a single turn, and if you have enough action points, you can even use multiple skills. There are a couple of other interesting wrinkles in Demon's Rise, too. Unlike many fantasy-based strategy games, you can make use of cover in this game. If you find a good place to tuck into, it gets very difficult for ranged attackers to hit you. Of course, this goes for the enemy just as well as it does for you.

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Another interesting inclusion is the game's morale system. If a character or enemy is placed in certain situations, they might panic or go into a frenzy. Units in either state will be unable to use their skills until they calm down, among other effects. The calculations behind this are invisible, but generally, if things are going well for a unit, they'll probably stay calm. If they get cornered or watch a bunch of teammates bite the dust, they might freak out. This gives you extra incentive for paying attention to your formations, as lone wolves can often find themselves losing morale.

Demon's Rise offers a good range of difficulty settings, allowing you to pick what's best for your skill level. Even on normal difficulty, there's a pleasant bite to the game once you get past the initial few stages. Certain parties can break the game wide open, of course, but that's all in good fun. The game is fortunately reasonably forgiving of defeat, simply offering you the choice to try the stage again or head back to camp to regroup. You don't have to worry about permanently losing any of your team members or anything like that, at least. That gives you the freedom to try some wild ideas here and there, with the length of the stages adding a little tension to keep things somewhat in check. The missions are divided into two categories, quest and patrol. Quest missions follows a specific order that tells the game's main story. The patrol missions are random and serve as done-in-one mini-episodes. If you're unable to get your party past the current quest stage, you can always spend some time on patrols to beef up.

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The presentation doesn't let down its end of business, either. The visuals are very good, especially when you consider the amount of models and animations required for the huge roster of characters and enemies. You can adjust certain details in the options menu, so if you're sporting a newer device and don't mind the toll it takes on your battery, you should go ahead and flick on those settings when you start up the game to get the full effect. The main weak point is the lack of variety in your surroundings. The whole game takes place in the dungeons, and while the layouts differ from stage to stage, all the pieces look the same. It's justified within the narrative, but it would be nice to have some other locations to battle in.

You're free to move the camera around as you like, and while it can be a bit fussy at first, there are settings you can play with to try and find something that works for you. The audio side of things isn't quite as strong. The music is good, and there are lots of sound effects, but it just doesn't feel as immersive as the rest of the package. As far as the UI goes, it's all very intuitive and easy to use, which is a good thing because the tutorial is a bit lacking. I also wish there were mid-battle saves of some sort. It doesn't take much for the game to get kicked out of memory, and if that happens in the middle of a mission, you'll have to start over again. Since missions tend to run over 20 minutes, not having this feature is pretty bad.

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I should mention that I came across a few bugs while I was playing. Sometimes, characters would stop responding altogether, requiring a reset. The Illusionist character has a buggy skill that lets you control enemies, and I'd advise strongly against using it, since it can make the mission unwinnable, something you won't find out until the very end of the map. Fortunately, Wave Light Games seems to be a very responsive developer. They've put out one update already, and they have two more ready to go that apparently fix these problems. Better still, they've already added one new character to the game at no cost to the player, and more content of all sorts will be coming in future updates. The idea seems to be that the price will be increased with each major update, so if you want in on the current ridiculously low price, you should probably dive in sooner rather than later.

While Demon's Rise is probably lacking the balance, challenge, and polish to satisfy some players, I enjoyed the game quite a bit. That's saying something, given the presence of bugs that ruined at least a few good runs. The sheer variety and amount of things to do and play around with outclass most of the game's peers in this genre. It's not doing anything particularly interesting from a mechanics point of view, but it's a good, solid-constructed, enjoyable experience that offers plenty of genuine replay value. That alone gives Demon's Rise an edge in a very competitive category. Plus, can you really say no to a team of misfits led by a minotaur?

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Amenbrother

    Glad this got reviewed I already had it but this might push some others over the edge!

  • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

    Thanks for the review Shaun! All very valid points. We're gonna keep tweaking it and trying to improve it through more updates.

    • LarryWP

      That comment alone, I'm buying this game. Thanks for not disappearing after release like many devs do. Big thumbs up to you guys!

  • rob fenton

    Developer is very present on the forum and open to suggestions (put in real time shadows on request!!). Looks like a ton more content on the way soon too. Gonna go up in price so grab it while you can...

  • Dragan

    I only pushed the buy button to support the dev. And will patiently wait for all the necessary updates before playing the game.

  • Bliquid

    I may be a little low on caffeine, but i'm not sure i got what are the cons of this game ( which i regret to say has completely passed by my radar, thanks for reviewing it!)
    Is it some mild general lack in polish?
    Or the bugs?

  • Jim Shorts

    I can forgive any grievances to the in-game issues... I think the game is freaking outstanding! I love turn-based Xcom type games and this, bugs aside, is a massive effort. It's much better than most of the stuff I come across from bigger developers. For example, another hunted cow game... Yawn... I can't tell them apart anymore. I love the effort, I love the devs willingness to listen to Us and update, I love the hard tactics, the character models... I think once you get into it, you'll appreciate the balance. It forces you to learn and appreciate your character choices. Whatever, easily one of my top games of 2015 and that says a lot.

  • Xandrak

    I've been enjoying the game quite a bit as well even though I still don't know what some character classes do. Well worth $3 and a good amount of fun. My biggest negatives have been that I may need to change the graphic settings as it runs through my battery and I have found moving the camera around to be sluggish at times. That could be related to my graphic settings as well. As said above, thank you to the dev for being so active in the forums!

    • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

      You can tweak both the graphics settings and camera control sensitivity in the options menus. Disable the graphics options and it should run well on any comparable device ... no need for Metal-compliant GPU. The updates (when released by Apple) will add more graphics options such as dynamic shadows and on-screen camera control buttons and a dynamic camera that moves with the active character.

  • stubbieoz

    @Bliquid.
    No cons because when any are mentioned in the toucharcade forum for the game the developer fixes them. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Oh except for one which is the inability to save mid-mission. I think the dev said that it was not possible with the engine but I could be mistaken.
    For the price it is a no brainer to purchase if you have any interest at all in the turn based tactical genre.

    • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

      I did find a plugin for my game engine that might make it possible. I'm going to explore it and will work on mid-game saves if I can do it. However, will be near the end of the update cycle because it's something that would need to be tested really heavily.

      • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

        Just a quick update ... the in-battle save will be in the next update! Just doing final rounds of testing now.

  • Lickzy

    This game deserves more publicity. I hope it gets the attention it deserves .

  • drmad

    It's an excellent game ๐Ÿ™‚ huge roster and endless possibilities... If you haven't bought this get it now since the price is surprisingly cheap, hope the dev make enough money from the game

    The cons?it's the app icon IMO :p

    • Jim Shorts

      Yes the app icon should reflect something more sinister in par with the name of the game. Like Linda Blair in The Exorcist. The old lady in Drag Me To Hell... something.

      • powlicious

        So true. At first i totally ignored the game just because of that generic elf icon ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

      • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

        I'll try a few different icons and see what effect they have on sales. I like the elf personally but I can see how it doesn't reflect the game that closely. Perhaps a demon's face would be better.

      • Jim Shorts

        I like the elf, too... but that's because I'm playing her in the game and am a little attached. I think an actual demon, or something, would totally boost sales.

        For example, the skull with the crown embedded in the floors.

  • gearkin

    I have also purchased this game so far just to support the dev team. I will patiently wait for the updates to polish the game out before I play.
    Anyone that wants to support devs that listen and update based on user feedback, then this is the game to buy. I would be happy to pay much more for this game. Thank you wavelightgames, you have set the standard!

  • tsargeant3012

    Bought. Based 50/50 on Shaunโ€™s review. And devs willingness to contribute and improve.

  • mjlepeska

    Thanks for the excellent review, Shaun! Downloading now...

  • piraterob

    Looks & sounds great but no mid-mission save is a total deal-breaker for me

    • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

      I did find a third party program that might allow me to set up mid-game saves. I'm going to explore it and if I can add it ... I'll do so. However, it'll be near the end of development because if I do it now, it's possible that it might add a whole bunch of bugs with peoples save files. So I have to be careful about it.

    • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

      mid-mission saves will be in the next update (1.6). Took a while but finally got it figured out.

  • Herbert Derps

    I bought this today after reading the comments here. I'm impressed by the developer interacting on the page.

    Really fascinating game, I've been trying out the classes and trying to figure out a good group to work with. It reminds me of some of my old D&D 3.0 games I used to DM with my buddies, they would pick some really bizarre characters and head into the dungeons to kill & loot. Those were good times.

    Great game, responsive developer. Glad i picked this up for less than a Starbucks mocha. I'm looking forward to seeing more from this dev.

    Between this game and Rebuild 3 (the other game I picked up), its been a good week for me.

  • Gurney Halleck

    Well, to be honest, I have never been much of a Turn-Based Strategy buff, but the production value on a game of this scale with a breadth of content, active Dev support and interaction, and a glowing review from my most trusted source of mobile RPG reviews Shaun Musgrave... I presently find myself mashing the buy button! Additional note, this game seems to be getting quite a bit of forum activity and this having bumped the game up the ranks in the Hot New Games section of Touch Arcade is what has brought this title to my attention. I presently have a massive and ever growing backlog of excellent games already, but I'm going to give this a go right away after reading some of the positive references to unique character combinations and old school D&D paper-based gaming experiences.

    I just completed the first module for Galactic Keep based on Shaun's excellent review and I must say that it was one of the most nostalgic and immersive gaming experiences I have had on mobile in a long time and I am getting that vibe from the attention to detail I see in this game. Very excited to give your game a go!

    • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

      Thanks ... appreciate the kind words. Look forward to hearing your thoughts on the game.

  • thedouche

    How do I equip items? I'm not seeing an option anywhere in the game.

    • thedouche

      I figured it out. It has to be done from the shop menu. A common item stock would probably be more user friendly

      • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

        You can also equip items after you've killed all the bad guys on a battle level. The inventory icon at the top right of the GUI. Once you kill everyone, it'll let you re-arrange your equipment and such.

  • GaCardman

    Did the update just break the shop or am I missing something? The vendor's box doesn't show up anymore.

    • http://www.wavelightgames.com/ WaveLightGames

      The earlier update did but it was fixed in version 1.5. It's something I'll test for before the next update hits (1.6) because I don't want to break that functionality again. On a related note, 1.6 update almost doubles the amount of magic items to find and equip. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Jason Harris

        i would also recommend a Camp window/feature, or simply incorporate into the existing Tavern menu. I would recommend adding the ability to CHANGE the lineup order - my first game i picked 3 mages and they seemed to ALWAYS get put in the front, so a Formation function to adjust lineup would be very helpful. Also, adding Equip to the Tavern, or to a Camp screen would be very helpful. The abilities and characters are all varied and interesting, however i was looking for my classic Cleric and Paladin tropes and those were not really represented here. Still, very interesting and impressive effort! I like the XCOM and Neverwinter Nights mashup feel, though it's definitely more of a fantasy combat simulator than an RPG.The premade teams are good for getting a decent party composition down with these varied and unusual character classes. Recommended!

  • Rob Woodin

    Great game so far, save the huge bug that randomly deletes all your gear. Frustrating for sure, will set this game aside till it's patched. GL devs!

  • Carlin Covello

    i'm interested in this game, but does it require wi-fi or not?????????????? i use my iphone when i'm out and about, so i prefer offline games to online games

Demon's Rise Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 4