I knew Demonschool was going to be my jam the second I laid eyes on the rows of school desks set up at the YSBRYD (Va-11 Ha-11-a, World of Horror) booth for PAX East 2023. The oddly familiar comfort of those mass produced plastic chairs and the faint electrical buzzing of the CRT cart right behind me let me know that even before picking up the controller, the folks at Necrosoft Games not only understood exactly the vibe they were striving for, but they knocked it out of the park.
If you are going to make a demon hunting game set in a high school and not want to be labeled an imitation of Persona, you are going to have to be something really special to stand out, and I am very happy to report that Demonschool absolutely has the chops to pull it off. After a chat with one of the producers about the controls and the battle system, I got to sit down and play through an early fight sequence.
First thing that jumped out to me was the striking visuals of the game, both its art style and creative use of color. Deep royal purples cut with shards of bright red, paying a stylish homage to classic 70s Giallo horror movies like Dario Argento’s Suspiria, and an impressive 3D battle arena that changes and warps as you travel back and forth to the daemon world for your combat outings. While the art immediately stood out right away, the soundtrack took it’s time digging its way into your head, and before I knew it I was tapping my foot along to the battle theme’s catchy strong bass line.
After all is said and done, style can only carry you so far, a game needs substance to keep you coming back, and this is where Demonschool gets to flex it’s tactical muscles. You control a team of 4 characters on a battle grid as you maneuver your way into turn based combat, but with tactics gameplay closer to Into the Breach rather than Tactics Ogre, you try to prevent the enemy daemons from reaching your side of the map and escaping to run amok in the real world. Each of your player characters have their own combat gimmicks, with each of the 4 team members playing vastly different to each other, all with their own specializations and ultimate moves that can save your skin in a pinch.
After getting smacked around in the combat demo, we got to switch over to the story side, where you are let loose into a town in 199X undergoing a daemon infestation, fighting back against the haunted hordes with more and more of the ethereal horrors trying to tear their way into our world. All of your party members get involved in the story as well, each time you talk to a local NPC, they will chime in and offer different conversation support options and opinions, helping flesh them out a bit and make the venture feel more like a team effort.
Before I knew it, my time with the demo was up, but leaving me with one of the best feelings you can have after playing a demo, the newfound impatience of having to wait for the game’s release so you can really get stuck in. As of this writing, Ysbryd announced the demo is playable on Steam right now, so you can go and try it out for yourself too!
Demonschool is still slated as “coming soon”, releasing on PC, Switch, Xbox and PS4/5.