Remember Ghosts 'N’ Goblins? That NES game that was stupidly difficult and forced you to play all the way through it twice? Remember those red devil bastards that would stay up in the air out of reach and then swoop down at you? Well, those guys actually have their own game series called Gargoyle’s Quest. These three titles star a red devil by the name of Firebrand as he platforms his way through the Demon Realm to save it from evil. Today’s topic is the third and final game in the series; Demon’s Crest for the SNES. The game was released in 1994 by CAPCOM and put you in control of Firebrand as he explores the Demon Realm in order to collect all of the elemental crests and get his revenge on his rival Phalanx.
More posts for you:
Here Are 30 Facts to Celebrate Metroid's 30th Anniversary!
Footage Of The Cancelled And Nearly Forgotten 'Akira' SNES Game Has Been Unearthed
The NES Classic Edition: All You Need To Know About Nintendo's Miniature Console
'Demon's Crest' - A Retro Review
Right as the game starts up, you know you’re in for an interesting time. You start off with utter blackness that is slowly filled with fire. Then, as the fire rises higher and higher, faster and faster, a figure will emerge from the flames. The figure is a bat-like creature that unfurls its wings. As it does, bits of its wings start peeling and burning off, revealing the game’s title. Holy crap, THAT’S how you open a game!
So, what’s the story between Firebrand and Phalanx? Well, one day, the six elemental crests descended onto to Demon Realm. These crests held great power over their respective elements. Fire, Air, Water, Earth, Heaven, and Time. The presence of these powerful relics caused the Demon Realm to erupt into civil war; everyone wants the power of the crests for themselves.
Eventually, Firebrand is able to claim five of the six crests for himself and challenges the demon dragon Somulo for the Crest of Heaven. After a fierce battle, Firebrand is victorious. However, he’s in very rough shape from the fight. At this point, Phalanx swoops in, sucker punches Firebrand and takes the crests for himself. Phalanx then uses his new found power to burn the entire Demon Realm and goes the extra jerk-mile by saving the inhabitants of the Demon Realm and blaming the whole thing on Firebrand, who is subsequently sealed away.
Gameplay & Design
The game starts several years after this. Phalanx rules the Demon realm unchallenged while Firebrand is in an arena, being forced to fight the zombified Somulo. So far, this is the only game I’ve ever played where the game opens up into a boss fight. You have until the dragon corners you against the arena wall to figure out how to move, fly, and attack.
Firebrand has one attack; his projectile fire breath. It has a long range but you can only fire straight in front of you. By pressing the jump button while you’re in the air, Firebrand will hover in place with his wings. You can also fly horizontally and destroy certain objects in the background with a headbutt. Firebrand’s last trick is his ability to grip walls and stick to them. You can attack from this position and even jump while you’re holding on to the wall to reach higher places.
Once you figured out the controls (maybe after a death or two) Somulo will be dead for the second time and you’ll find yourself traversing the first level of the game. Like Ghosts and Goblins, Demon’s Crest is a side-scrolling platformer set in a bleak and dark world. Right off the bat, this is one of the best looking SNES games you can find.
Everything from the environments to the enemies is well designed and animated. Firebrand himself has gotten a beefy new design from the previous Gargoyle’s Quest games. He’s gone from a cartoony looking imp to a powerful and fierce looking demon. He looks like he’s strong enough to take on a demon dragon and win.
The developers also gave him some extra touches in animation. When Firebrand is low on health, his sprite will start breathing heavily. When he dies, he turns into a pile of bones, not unlike Arthur from Ghosts and Goblins. Unlike Ghosts and Goblins, you do have a heal meter that allows you to take more than just two hits before dying, a definite plus in my book.
Another interesting touch is the over world. Upon completing a stage, Firebrand will fly high into the sky. From there, you can fly all over the Demon Realm and enter a new area by swooping down. Aside from levels, there are also a variety of shops scattered about the overworld. Some will let you play a minigame for prizes, whilst others are open for you to purchase potions and spells. I’ll say right off the bat that the spells you buy in the game are USELESS. You’re far better off saving your money for healing potions.
So, let’s talk about those stages. There are seven stages in the game, eight if you include the secret stage (I’ll get to that near the end.) Each stage has it’s own distinct look. The first stage is a cemetery/cliff. From there, we have a ruined city, a forest, a pillar that stretches far into the sky, and a palace of ice built right into a mountain. Each stage has two branching paths, both ending with a boss fight. There are also hidden goodies in each stage. If you look hard enough, you can find health upgrades and items that boost your capacity for potions and spells.
There are a few bosses that you will face more than once as you progress. The most notable of which is General Arma. He is Phalanx’s right-hand man and will challenge you on multiple occasions. However, that does not mean that the game is full of copy and pasted bosses. Each boss is well designed and has its own gimmick. For example, the giant slug Holothurion can cause the water in its home to swirl around, making it hard for you to keep your bearings. Another example is the slime boss Ovnunu, who spends the first segment of the fight chasing you up a vertical tunnel that you have to use your wall climbing skills to avoid.
The game doesn’t just look good. It also sounds good. CAPCOM took full advantage of the SNES’ capabilities to make a beautiful soundtrack complimenting the game’s various environments. No two tracks are alike and each one fits perfectly. The music is very heavy on the synthetic organ and choir to bring a dark and Gothic feel to the Demon Realm. You feel like you’re in a world populated by ghosts and goblins.
The main goal of the game is to find and take out Phalanx. It is possible to do this very early in the game, but doing so will not get you the best ending. If you want that, you’ll have to collect all of the crests. The crests are held by certain bosses in the game and acquiring one gives you the power to transform Firebrand. Each crest gives Firebrand a new form that is themed around that specific element and each one had different abilities and attacks.
Earth is flightless but can destroy certain obstacles, Water lets you swim through water (which is otherwise lethal to every other form), Air gives you unlimited flight and so on. Apart from that, you are also tasked with collecting the remaining fragments of the crest of fire, of which you have only a piece. Each piece of the Fire Crest gives you an upgrade for your default breath weapon. You can switch between upgrades and forms at will on the pause menu.
Unfortunately, not all is well with this game. While the developers clearly spent much time and effort to craft a beautiful looking game, they weren’t able to make it run properly. If there’s too much on the screen at one time, the frame rate will drop considerably. Luckily, it’s not often enough to make the game unplayable, though it does make you feel like you’re in bullet time on more than one occasion.
Also, those hidden goodies I mentioned earlier are actually really well hidden, too well in fact. Without prior knowledge of each secret’s location, I doubt that even the most seasoned gamer would be able to find them all without trouble. There are also some problems with the bosses. Some of them have exploits that make the fight a breeze whilst others are much harder.
So. You’ve collected all the crests, defeated Arma for good, and cleared all the stages 100%. Time to take down Phalanx and end his reign forever. After making your way through his Palace of Decadence, you come upon a large chamber where the man himself is waiting for you. The outcome of this battle depends entirely on the amount of crests you have. If you have them all, the battle is three fazes long and features Phalanx battling you with the Crest of Heaven and finally the Crest of Infinity.
If you have too few Crests, Phalanx will die in his first form and the Demon Realm will devolve into chaos. If you have everything except the Crest of Time, Phalanx will seal himself in the Crest of Heaven after you beat his second form. Will all of the Crests, Phalanx will use their combined power to reveal the Crest of Infinity, which he will use to transform into his final form. Kill him then that the good ending is as good as yours. There are no actual credits in this game, just a cast call of the bosses and crest transformations.
Once you’ve beaten the game with everything collected, you’ll be treated to this game’s New Game +. You’ll be given a password that, upon using it, grants you access to the Ultimate Gargoyle form. With Fire, Water, Earth, Air, Time and Heaven, at your disposal, you are totally overpowered. New Game + and the Ultimate Gargoyle form even give you access to a hidden stage where you will find a secret boss that will put your skills to the ultimate test. Most games at the time didn’t even have New Game + so that is a nice touch.
All in all, this is a pretty good game. There are some technical problems and you’ll probably need the internet to find all the secrets, which makes the game lose a few points in my eyes. This game gets a 7.5 out of 10.
Personally, I think this game should be polished up and re-released on the Virtual Console. Or better yet, remastered altogether. But those are just my ten cents.