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Demonschool tweaks the strategy genre in a subtle but important way

Most people think of Fire Emblem as the strategy RPG standard, but Demonschool turns the typical chess-like combat expectation on its head. Add some flair from Shin Megami Tensei, Persona, and Italian horror and it transforms into its own unique young adult adventure.

Demonschool first trailer

I went hands-on with a demo of Demonschool at PAX West and was impressed with its fast-paced approach to battles. It makes subtle changes to the strategy formula, but ones that make a meaningful difference when it comes to the pace of battles.

Demon days

Demonschool stars four college kids investigating supernatural mysteries on their island college town in the 90s. Creative Director Brandon Sheffield notes that it’s a specific choice that felt right for the game, considering how modern times have more of an emphasis on technology. You play as Faye, the last living heir in a demon-hunting legacy family, and fight alongside her friends Nanako, Dustin, and Knute to take down cult leaders, demons, and more. 

The typical SRPG unit can move a limited number of spaces in any direction depending on its speed. In Demonschool, characters can move one direction vertically or diagonally with an optional “sidestep” that lets them move one space horizontally for free. You can keep moving characters so long as you have “skill points” to do so. The first turn for each character costs one point, and the second one costs two. Each turn starts with a “Planning Phase” that determines where your character will move and who they will heal or hurt.

Demonschool encourages you to strategically stack these abilities so that you can one-hit KO enemies, like debuffing them and then buffing yourself to do three times the damage. If you don’t remember your characters’ abilities, don’t worry. You can see them in a pop-up display whenever selecting the character to move them across the board. If you end up changing your mind about an action, you can also undo it without any consequences. 

The following “Action Phase” presses “play” on the attacks from the planning phase. Players then see the animated attacks from their units and how they defeat their enemies. Then, it’s time for enemies to attack. Warning: They often also spawn new friends or gang up on a party member. 

Demonschool purposefully cuts excess features that I didn’t even realize strategy games had. Each battle is supposed to be short — around 10 to 15 minutes for a boss fight and even shorter for regular battles. In the demo, characters only had three points of HP versus the hundreds that they would typically have in a typical SRPG. The fighting is also contained within a smaller space where enemies spawn into battle instead of entering from sprawling hallways. 

Demonschool skeleton boss battle
Just an example of a boss battle in the demo. But who let Faye and Dustin die??

The world itself also hides quests that help players learn more about the characters. Each conversation adds points to your friends’ “friendship meters” depending on your answers. Demonschool has “Persona-like” elements like dating other characters (though thankfully, none of them are minors dating adults like in its inspiration).

So far, Demonschool is a promising SRPG that reinvents the genre’s tactics in a quick, accessible way. The only drawback I can see with the combat is with the UI during boss fights. Some visuals make it more difficult to see exactly where the boss will hit when using certain attacks, and the map is easily cluttered with incoming enemies and the boss’ limbs. That’s apparently something that the team is working on, though.

Demonschool is a watchlist item for SRPG fans that want a little bit of spice from the genre and hate the time commitments for each battle. It should also appeal to those who like supernatural young adult stories.

Demonschool is coming to PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Steam Deck in 2033.

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