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2011-07-22

Deus Machina Demonbane review


Title: Deus Machina Demonbane (斬魔大聖デモンベイン)
Release date: 2003-04-25 (2011-05-13 in English)
Developer: Nitroplus
English publisher: JAST USA

At long last! The time has come to review "Duke Nukem Forever"! I will fire up this game that has been so damn long in the making and proceed to kick alien ass and bask in the masculine glory of Duke himself. Even the fact that I don't even have the fucking game won't stop me as I have the next best thing - "Deus Machina Demonbane" - a visual novel that has been stuck so long in the publishing hell, that some people even lost hope to ever see it in English. Contrary to the detractors the game was released (well, about three years late, but that's not the point; is it?).

When the great master H. P. Lovecraft penned his imaginings about horrors from beyond time, space and human understanding, he created vivid and frightening pieces of literature, but he made a huge oversight that diminished the appeal of those works quite a bit. Two of those oversights to be precise: his works lacked giant ass robots and scantly clad lolitas. Japanese being the most advanced nation in the ethereal realm, took it upon themselves to fix it.

"From the hate-scorched sky----
With righteous anger in our hearts----
We draw forth the sword that smites Evil!
Thou art the innocent blade----
Demonbane!"


The plot of the game is like this. Our protagonist is an unsuccessful sorcerer and an even more unsuccessful private dick Daijuuji Kurou (I had a misconception that the game is set in Japan, actually almost all the novel is set in the Arkham City, Massachusetts), who spends most of his days chasing after missing pets and mooching meals from a local nun Leica. Arkham is not some backwater village; during the last few decades it was turned into a multi-million people metropolis due to the endeavour of the Hadou Financial Group that now rules not only the city itself, but practically the whole America. There is another group ruling Arkham from the shadows with fear and might - The Black Lodge - a criminal organization of six sorcerers named The Anticross and their leader Master Therion. The Lodge has been terrorizing the city since anyone can remember and Hadou Group's current leader Ruri decides to deal a decisive blow to the Lodge by raising a mechanical god created by her grandfather from its slumber. But for that she needs a magical grimoire and Daijuuji Kurou, for better and for worse, is the only one that can accomplish the task of finding it.

Now, for starters let me say, that this game is long - very long and I certainly didn't expect that as it has only three routes. Up until now I have played only three of Nitroplus games: Saya no Uta, Kikokugai and Chaos;Head with all of them being on the short side, so the length of Demonbane took me by surprise. Other aspects of the VN also took me by surprise, but that is mostly because of me being misinformed and prejudiced about it.
HPL is rolling in his grave as does Lord Dunsany I think :-D
First thing that strikes at you, that it's not a humorous game at its heart as I thought. On the contrary - Demonbane is pretty serious and sometimes even depressingly gloomy, but unlike in the other games mentioned above, the writer mixes in a decent amount of comedy to alleviate the pressure. Secondly, everyone that has even a passing knowledge of Demonbane knows, that it has its roots in Cthulhu Mythos created by H. P. Lovecraft (actually A. Derleth, but that is not the point; or is it?). However, I thought that Mythos will be only a backdrop of scarcely sprinkled references for this VN, but instead I was fascinated how much of a research was exercised by the author. Despite the more lighthearted mood than the works by HPL, this DOES feel like a Mythos novel despite, or, maybe, because of the fact that majority of the plot devices were lifted not from the the works of HPL but from Bloch, Ashton Smith and the aforementioned Derleth. Hell, The Mirror of Nitocris, an important plot element, has been lifted straight from an obscure short story by Brian Lumley - that's what I call research!

"You know what they call guys who're strong enough to be naive? Heroes."
-Daijuuji Kurou
Kurou has a great fashion sense.
As I have already mentioned, our protagonist is Daijuuji Kurou - a dropout from a Miscatonic University's occult studies department. He is usually a funny and easy-going guy and appears to have no worries in his life, but the fated meeting with the anthropomorphic personification of Necronomicon - Al Azif - changes all. While at first Daijuuji rejects Al's advances about fighting The Black Lodge alongside her, we quickly learn that he cannot close his eyes in front of injustice and has deep inclinations to set all wrongs right. Not fighting evil whenever it presents itself to him would leave a "bad taste in his mouth" (quoting Kurou himself) and that makes him a perfect hero. At first I feared that he will fall into Emiya-wannabe trap and loose himself to laughably stupid idealistic delusions, but he avoids this pitfall perfectly by not rationalizing his hatred of injustice.
Sorcery makes you look good.
By forging a contract with Al Azif, Daijuuji becomes a true sorcerer and a true badass. He fights while delivering witty jokes and also, surprisingly, some deep insights. Shortly in the game he acquires a Deus Machina (Mechanical God) named Demonbane - which is to say a 50 meter giant ass robot. Now he can embark on a mission to beat the living crap out of the adversaries of a completely different level: starting with other giant robots and ending with otherworldly gods. Now, say that it isn't awesome! Actually, I feel that majority events in this VN were written with Rule of Cool in mind. Sometimes logic is waved when another spectacular battle is presented, but I doubt you will even care as you will be glued to the screen in awe.
Battles are very long and very fast moving.
Another work of fiction that I feel the most closely resembles "Demonbane" is "Hellsing". Here we have an evil organization that has been long hidden in the shadows, but is preparing for a destructive return (Nazis/The Black Lodge), an organization that has been fighting threats for a long time (Hellsing/Hadou Group), a badass trump card by the said organization (Alucard/Demonbane), a badass butler in service of his mistress (Walter/Winfield) and many more, but that would be delving into spoiler territory. These are just insignificant details though, Demonbane is both more complex in plot and, dare I say, a more entertaining piece of work. P. S. Shame on me for not knowing that Winfield is the name of Lovecraft's father :-(

Some might complain that some situations in Demonbane are literally solved by deus ex machina (har har), but remember for a moment, what this term actually means. Deus ex machina originated in ancient Greece where during theatrical performances, when some challenge presented itself to heroes an actor playing God (deus) would be lowered onto the scene with a pulley system (machina) and would solve all the problems. While in most modern fictional works that would be a sign of the lazy writing, it's purely intentional in this VN as, yes, you guessed it, there are gods here meddling in human affairs.

But obviously kicking the bad guys to the Pluto and finishing the game is not the only goal of ours. There are three routes for Daijuuji to follow and subsequently three girls to win at the end: Al, Ruri and Leica. Al's and Ruri's routes have three endings each and Leica only has one.

"Oh, that's right. Even if I am irresistible----if you try anything, I'll slay you."
-Al Azif

Heaven or hell, I wonder...
Let's talk about Al Azif - the howls of demons in the desert a.k.a. Necronomicon in its Latin translated form. It is established in the Demonbane world, that magical grimoires of much power have souls and can manifest them in reality as Gothic lolitas (due to the Rule of Hentai, obviously :-D). There are three such grimoires we see in the novel: Al Azif herself, The Pnacotic Manuscripts and R'lyeh Text. Necronomicon literally drops onto Daijuuji's head during his search for grimoire and puts his life in disarray. Al's route is the True Route and the foundation of the game. The events therein are the very basis and completing it we find out the greatest part of the mystery out of all three routes. Also the good ending for it is the most satisfying of all the available ones and, I believe, the sequel is based on it. The events of the route are not only interesting, but of profound importance and the end ties everything together with almost no loose ends.
You do whatever you want, BUT I'M TAKING AL HOME WITH ME!
Al is made of one part cute, one part badass and one part sarcastic and is my favourite of the three heroines. She also displays the greatest amount of common sense and cool-headedness during tight situations. While Ruri is dumb as a rock and Leica is just being Leica, Al's ironic outlook at the world supplements Kurou's own tongue-in-cheek attitude and provides unmatched chemistry. Together Daijuuji and Al kick asses so hard that their feet probably permanently smell funny. The fact that she is beautiful is a side deal of the package.

I noticed that some people claim that Al's route should be played the last as it spoils too much of the plot, but I disagree. I firmly think that as the foundation it should be experienced first in order to grasp the big picture. Ruri's and Leica's routes only fill in the blank spots in that picture.

As I have already said, Al Azif has three endings: good, normal and bad. I have mentioned that the good ending not only is the most satisfying, but has a sequel "Kishin Hishou Demonbane" based on it. However I also liked her normal ending as it was positively explosively badass. Seriously, that gives a whole new meaning to "ascending to a higher plain of existence". And be as it may, I also liked a bad ending. Before those that played the game label me a freak, just listen to me. The ending just felt right. Daijuuji and Al gambled with everything they had in this fight and they lost. Considering they went against the Outer Gods themselves, it just rings right that the fate they experience in the end would be worse than death. And the scene was hot, no denying it!

 "What should I do, grandfather?"
-Ruri Hadou, the epitome of grandfather complex

Ruri Hadou is a current leader of Hadou Financial Group, that are secretly the defenders of justice in a fight against The Black Lodge. The group was started by her grandfather and greatly expanded over the last decades. Both the grandfather and her parents were killed by The Black Lodge so Ruri has a deep hatred for it and it forces her to seek to rouse Demonbane - her grandfather's invention - from its artificial sleep. Ruri hires Daijuuji to search for a magical grimoire that would serve as a core for Demonbane and this search will lead to him inadvertently becoming Demonbane's pilot. At first Ruri is deeply jealous of Daijuuji's ability to control Deus Machina, but later starts to understand him better.
Exactly my thoughts.
Better or not, Ruri is still a horrible heroine that is as dumb as a rock, as attractive as a dead fish and as useful to the story as a broken condom in a swinger party. Ruri has no common sense whatsoever, becomes irate due to the smallest things and can't handle the stressful situations to save her life (literally). One can wonder how she is even ruling the Hadou Group if she has brains the size of a T-Rex. Ruri throughout her whole route is a damsel in distress and even when she tries to fight for the justice in the later part, she has such an underwhelming presence that you quickly loose interest. Ruri, unlike other two heroines displays almost no character grow and from a spoiled bitch rises to a spoiled brat at the end.

So, the heroine sucks, what about the route itself? It's deeply underwhelming. It only patches in a small white spot into the foundation of Al's route - the one regarding Ruri's grandfather. While the VN required quite a suspension of disbelief for certain scenes overall, Ruri's route raised the threshold for the suspension so high that it broke immersion. No, I'm not talking about the ending - I'm talking about the middle and the whole scene in the Miscatonic Library. The main twist of the route was very predictable if you played the Al's route already and with the exception of that twist there was little substance.

Just like in Al's route, there are three endings. The good ending felt like a cop-out after the writer wrote himself into a corner and again raised the threshold of disbelief too high to enjoy it. On the other hand, I kind of liked the normal ending as it provided a perfectly planned closure to the route without bullshitting us. It was bittersweet and sad and all too fitting. The bad ending sucked. I think it was only written in, because producer said: "Oh, crap. This is supposed to be an ero VN and we have altogether too little ero. Let's add in some weird sex to justify this being a Cthulhu novel." Or something like that.

Now, I know that Ruri's route was added due to the importance of her grandfather to the plot, but I would really prefer to have a proper route for Elza, Ennea or Nya instead... Scratch the last thought - it's just too creepy, but I would give my right testicle to have Elza say "robo" to me in a seductive voice.

 "I want to reach that blue sky..."
-Leica Crusade
Heartwarming moment of awesome.
Now, for Leica and her only ending. Leica is a nun in a local church, who takes care of three orphans and often provides meals to the broke Kurou. Unlike Al or Ruri she is not loli and has very big breasts. While the bigchested design of her was not really to my tastes, Leica is quite an interesting and rewarding heroine to fall for. Her route fallows a very different direction and provides lots of new information - something we hoped for in vain in Ruri's route.

Leica is a complicated character, having lots of emotional and mental scars. At first I didn't like her much (mainly because she doesn't appear much in Al's or Ruri's routes), but she quickly grew up on me and she herself proved to be positively badass. The whole second part of the VN changes greatly if you pursue Leica as your woman and provides genuinely hard-boiled moments. Also I liked the ending that just rang true for this VN and didn't feel forced like Ruri's endings. P. S. It's frightening how similarly like me Daijuuji sometimes thinks. At the end of the route he asks for one wish of his to be granted and that would be the exact same thing I would ask for in the similar circumstances. P. P. S. I like Leica better with long hair :-)

 "I will love you without limits, and without mercy. Kurou... this is what it means to make love."
The shutdown of higher brain functions commences in three, two one... Lower brain functions at maximum output.
Let's not forget the elephant in the room - this is an eroge, meaning there are sex scenes in the game. I'm happy to announce that the scenes are of positively very high quality. I struggle to remember the last VN where I enjoyed the sex so much. Everything in this game is long. The game is long, the fights are long and the sex scenes are also long. Writers managed to really convey the emotions of participants in them and not only made them interesting to read, but also provided very nice CGs to look at (and there are quite a few or those for every scene). Some people expressed surprise that for a HPL themed game the H-scenes are rather tame and that is certainly true - there are almost no tentacles (unless you consider Kurou's penis a tentacle as John Holmes would be ashamed to show his wiener to him out of fear being laughed at :-D). My two favourite scenes here are the threesome with two Great Old Ones and the last scene with Al (every heroine has two of them).

But, even in this game the sex scenes didn't avoid certain pitfalls. *inhales* I want to grab the writer by the ear and drag him to sit in a fifth grade Biology 101. HYMEN. IS. NOT. INSIDE. A. VAGINA. YOU. CANNOT. PUT. HALF. OF. YOUR. PENIS. IN. BEFORE. HITTING. IT. Well, unless your penis is 1 cm in length and we all have seen it's completely untrue. *exhales* End rant.

----Here is wisdom: let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six."
-Revelation 13:18
Meet Doctor Herbert West, the reanimator... (Just describing what I see).
Every Good vs Evil story needs proper villains to inspire a sufficient dread and Demonbane doesn't disappoint. Now, for the best and awesomest villain of all times - Doctor West. Seriously, the guy is only a secondary villain that mostly opposes our protagonist in the first part of the game, but it's made of awesome and win. Most of the laugh-out-loud comedic events are associated with him. In the original short story by HPL he created zombies, but in the VN Dr. West re-specialized himself into creating giant ass robots (is that a coincidence that taking the first letters of that phrase you get GAR?). It never gets old watching West being a butt-monkey of a routine Asimov joke. P. S. Do you know that Doctor West spanks naughty kids with his "West's Super Invincible Robot No. 28.2. Upgrades: It's just stronger dammit!".
Blofeld and his kitten.
Doctaa Westoo aside, the main villains of the story are Master Therion (who might or might not be Aleister Crowley himself) and his six Dragons - the Anticross, who are all named after the Roman Emperors. What is the significance of that, I have no idea. Master Therion, The Great Beast is one of the most frightening villains I have seen in a visual novel. He does all the evil acts in Demonbane not because he is full of hatred, malice or anger. No, sir, he does everything because he is bored out of his mind and that is the most frightening prospect here. Therion is a complete monster and at the same time a pitiable figure as he is the greatest victim of circumstances, a fly caught in the throat of Ouroboros.

His aides-de-camp are more of action villains than a looming presence like Therion. They constantly test Daijuuji Kurou in his battle skills. Some of them are just Blood Knights like Titus, others - complete monsters like Tiberius. Tiberius is a unique entity as he is an immortal necromancer. He eventually perishes in all routes, but his demise in Al's route is the most satisfying as here he suffers a fate worse than death. No pity for the damned!

Demonbane has a god tier soundtrack and some of the melodies will be stuck in your head for a long time. Two the most memorable for me are Master Therion's theme and Doctor West's theme. The PC version of the game is only partially voiced which is really strange. However there is a voice patch incorporating the voices from a PS2 version which is a saving grace as the voice acting here is awesome. How much more badass it is to listen to Herbert West, Al Azif and even Daijuuji Kurou. Surprisingly the protagonist is not only voiced, but also by a great voice actor.

The graphical aspect of the game is indeed strange and the first one like this in a visual novel I have ever seen. Demonbane uses computer generated imagery for backgrounds and CGs, while sprites and HCGs are painted in the usual anime style. That at first created a certain dissonance of moods, but I quickly got used to it and now I can't imagine the game with any other graphical representation.

 "Where's the user support for my life? I could use a fucking patch here."
-Daijuuji Kurou

Of course even the Evil slaying blade is not without rust. The biggest and obvious flaw is a very lackluster Ruri's route and I already ranted about that. The game was also a bit poorly proofread and contains many spelling and grammar mistakes (especially in Leica's route; Al's route was the most proofread of all so I suppose they just got lazy in the end). Also the backlog function randomly stops working and may crash the game. Finally, the last quibble. So the game is about 1.5 GB and it's on DVD, right? So, who is the fucking genius, who filled the 3 remaining GBs with trailers for old JAST USA and its subsidiaries games. Couldn't you add, like, some Demonbane related material on disc: wallpapers or something? Well, never mind. We have a colourful manual/artbook with our special edition of Demonbane, only it could be longer.
No comments needed.
In conclusion, there is only one word to describe Demonbane and that is - BADASS. It's like H. P. Lovecraft and co collaborating with Kohta Hirano to write the script of Evangelion. If you like Cthulhu Mythos, unrelenting action and some hight tension drama topped with scantly clad lolitas, you will like the game.

Links of interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site
Official English version site
You can get the physical version of the special edition of the game here: J-list, JAST USA, Play-Asia, Rightsuf, AnimeNation, Archonia, ShopAnimeDVD, Anime Corner Store, Xonair.
You can get the download version of the game here: J-list, JAST USA.
Download the voice patch.

Final verdict: 90%

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous16/2/15 00:23

    Very good review, i mind read this now!

    ReplyDelete