Okay, so what the hell is up with the naming scheme for what, in Japan, is just called Makaimura? Sure, Makaimura, doesn’t translate well, coming out as something like “Demon World Village,” but Ghosts ‘N Goblins was a perfectly fine name. But instead of coming along with Ghosts ‘N Goblins 2 or something similar (for the record, the sequel was called Daimakaimura in Japan, which translates even worse), we got Ghouls ‘N Ghosts. I still stumble over the titles, but it gets even worse when you bring in Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts and Ultimate Ghosts ‘N Goblins. It’s upsetting.
I guess Capcom’s USA team was a fan, though, because for the third Gargoyle’s Quest game — a spin-off of the GnG series — they went with the title Demon’s Crest. Not something like Gargoyle’s Quest III: Demon’s Crest, no, no. We have to be confusing with our naming.
And you know what? It should have been Super Gargoyle’s Quest, because this SNES entry of the series carries all the hallmarks of a 16-bit upgrade.
SUPER GARGOYLE’S QUEST
The Gargoyle’s Quest series has always been a bit goofy. The setting is obviously horror derived, featuring all the pointy mountains and dead trees that you’d expect, but characters all featured proportions and details similar to what you’d find in a cartoon or children’s comic.
Demon’s Crest deviates heavily from this and leans more towards the art of a horror comic from the 90’s. Or, to describe it using the language of video game geeks, think closer to Super Castlevania IV, then maybe go a smidge darker.
There’s ruined towns, dark cathedrals, and various implements of torture and execution. When you die, your skin literally melts off your bones, leaving a crumbling skeleton. The monster design is similarly grotesque, going from dopey looking ghosts to zombie dragons. It’s quite an upgrade, and a very fetching game for the SNES.
FIREBRAND VS. PHALANX
Demon’s Crest starts off rather intensely by opening with you, alone, in a colosseum as a zombified dragon marches into the room and starts attacking you. It’s awesome. You then travel through a haunted shrine, across a field of carnivorous plants, and up a mountainside before being accosted by another gargoyle. It’s so rad, and that’s just the intro stage.
The plot involves Firebrand getting screwed over by another gargoyle named Phalanx. Now he’s out for revenge, and in order to get it, he needs to assemble a series of crests that imbue him with different powers and transform his appearance. There’s a powerful form that can’t fly, a winged version that can fly up and down, and even one that can go under water.
When you’re just playing as vanilla Firebrand, the game plays similar to the previous games in the series, which means you can hover horizontally (though the limit on how long you can stay in the air is gone) and cling to walls. However, the focus seems to be less on precision platforming and more on combat and exploration. With no limit on hovering, you can generally just fly above all the hazards in the level, so in response, the designers have placed more enemies at high altitudes, forcing you to either engage or maneuver.
Perhaps the biggest change to the formula is the removal of the top-down adventure mode from the previous games. In its place, you take to the skies and fly over a mode-7 landscape, which is tacky in that special Super Nintendo way. You then swoop down on the various locations and move into sidescrolling mode. It’s interesting, since it let’s you tackle any level in whatever order, though you’re likely to find some more agreeable if you wait until you’ve found a specific power.
The action stages require you to do more than just reach the ending. You’ll need to scour each stage to find paths to different bosses, which will each impart a necessary item. Some areas are more hidden than others, and you’ll need to revisit levels repeatedly before they’ve given up all their secrets.
You’ll need those secrets, as well, since Demon’s Crest features three (technically four) endings that depend on how many of them you’ve accumulated. I made the mistake of taking the boss on as early as possible, and got the bad ending. I didn’t take down a password beforehand because that requires you to “end” the game after losing at a level, so I had to start from the very beginning.
It can be confusing, as the latter two levels seem to unlock arbitrarily. I honestly don’t know whether they appear after the crests from the previous levels are collected or when all the bosses are taken out. Regardless, there’s no indication that the final boss’s location is indeed your terminal destination. It’s simply a spot in the map that crops up after a certain point, and if you happen to land on it and beat the boss inside, the game tells you how badly you screwed up and sends you back to the beginning. Rude.
THE POWER OF THE CRESTS
Make no mistake, Demon’s Crest belongs with the rest of the Gargoyle’s Quest series. The same weapon power-ups that you picked up in the previous games make an appearance here, and all the core mechanics in place. However, like what Mega Man X did with the core Mega Man formula, it’s the small changes that make the biggest differences. Demon’s Crest just plays better, it’s tighter, and the mechanics all fit just right.
I have my complaints (I always do), but I really feel that Capcom nailed it with this entry. I had difficulty putting the game down, even though I had to essentially start over. I didn’t stop until the game was completed, and that’s something that its predecessors can’t claim.
This would be Firebrand’s last adventure to date. Even though the series was being released at a rate of two a year throughout its lifespan, it disappeared after this entry. There was no attempt to create a 3D entry on the next console cycle, nor was there ever word of a handheld or digital revival. Yet, if we never see Firebrand again, at least Demon’s Crest is a hell of a game to go out on.
This review was conducted on the WiiU using a virtual console copy of the game. The author has a lot of cartridges, but not this one. It was paid for by the author.