Demonschool preview

Demonschool preview

Running (all over a game board) with the devil

Demonschool, from Necrosoft and Ysbryd Games, is really, really good. When I had a chance to try the latest build of the game at PAX recently I jumped at the chance. The layout of the booth was even cool, presenting us with an area designed like a high school classroom with school desks and a teacher.

That vibe and attention to detail is built throughout the game, too, and it shows in the way that the battles unfold. When I sat down to play the game, the team at the booth gave us the option of trying either the battle mode or story mode — I chose to battle, because I wanted to see what makes the game unique compared to others in the strategy genre. My interpretation of the story is lite, but I’m intrigued by the Persona-style feel of focusing on school life, with relationships, classes, etc. And it’s easy to love the art style, which is very intentionally mixed media but at the same time grounded in PlayStation 1 aesthetics.

The goal of the battles is to prevent demons (or Yakuza, or whatever enemy is there) from crossing a specific line; if they pass that line we lose, and if we defeat enough of the enemies then we win. There’s a counter at the top of the screen to let us know how many we’ve defeated, and we have to go after them in a specific way or else they might overpower us.

The battles are almost set up like an autobattler in a sense. The gameplay area is a grid, and we need to run our team members into the demons to attack them, landing hits only when they bash into each other. The key to how we approach the battles is to manage our teammates unique classes and abilities. Some characters will have an attack that pushes an enemy back away from the line, while others may have a super strong attack that can knock them out. Some can heal, and some can place demons behind them when they move past them, helping keep the battle clear of the line.

Demons attack when they manage to get next to a character, only having to move into their zone.

All of characters have different paths that they move in, too, allowing them to get across the board in different ways. Placement of our team becomes crucial, and utilization of activity points and resources is key to surviving. It’s a little like chess, but the characters are always moving. And much like games in the genre, as characters play next to each other their relationships can grow and they can begin to initiate powerful combos.

The battles are smooth, but hectic. They can start manageable, but if we’re not careful the enemies can start to scatter us around the board or slow us down if we’re running out of resources, leading to a messy loss. It’s a ton of fun to balance all of the things happening with our team and with the enemies, and really heightens the tension in the battles.

The game is set to release later this year, and if these demo battles were any indication, then the full game may end up being a really special treat.

This hands-on preview took place at PAX East 2023. Images and video courtesy Necrosoft and Ysbryd Games. The game earned a Team Choice Award as one of SideQuesting’s favorite, must-see projects of PAX East 2023.