Demonbane is a VN that sounds amazing on paper (giant robots + H.P. Lovecraft) but sadly ends up being a largely mediocre and occasionally outright sleep-inducing experience. Which is a crying shame because not only am I a fan of Lovecraft’s horror stories but I do also enjoy me a hot-blooded, buttfuck-stupid-but-still-awesome testosterone carnival from time to time, so this sounded like something right up my alley. The problem, however, is that Demonbane’s Lovecraftian influences are surface-level at best, its plot is riddled with stale clichés and predictable elements, and its supposedly Boiling Hot Chuuni Action is colder than a penguin’s butthole. But at least it has a few nice characters, some serviceable comedy, and a total of one satisfying ending. Now, whether or not that’s enough to justify the massive time investment required to finish all three routes… is something I’ll come back to at the end of this review.
Spoilers: the answer will probably not surprise you.
You might have noticed that the title up there says Kishin Houkou Demonbane and not Zanmataisei Demonbane. The quick explanation is that Kishin Houkou is a later re-release of Demonbane that went all-ages but added full voice acting (as well as some new CGs/scenes, I think?) to make up for the lack of porn. To be perfectly frank, not being able to bone any of Demonbane’s cuties saddened me a little bit, but the good news is that the voice acting is actually really quite good with plenty of top-tier veterans filling the roster. And besides, Hikaru Midorikawa’s voice is pretty much ear sex anyway, so… you know.
So what’s this VN about, anyway? I’ll keep it brief: the main character, one Daijuuji Kurou, moves to Arkham City after having dropped out of the Miskatonic University and becomes a detective-for-hire. Which would be cool, except for the fact that he hasn’t had a case in ages and is generally broke as fuck and has to rely on Leica, a nun at the local church/orphanage to cook for him. One day he gets an abrupt visit from Hadou Ruri, the head of a wealthy and powerful company in Arkham called the Hadou Group, and is promptly tasked with tracking down an ancient grimoire. Said grimoire is none other than Al Azif, aka the Necronomicon, penned by Abdul Alhazred of Cthulhu Mythos fame. Except she (the Necronomicon, that is) looks like a cute girl because let’s be real, this wouldn’t be an eroge if you couldn’t stick your dick in a thousand-year-old piece of literature, now would it. Anyway, one thing leads to another and Kurou, along with Al Azif, ends up having to pilot Demonbane, the giant robot that serves as the Hadou Group’s final trump card against the Black Lodge, an organization of evil wizards terrorizing Arkham on a daily basis. That basic premise doesn’t really change much throughout the course of the VN, meaning Demonbane pretty much remains an old-fashioned “good vs. evil” story about a hero going up against a bunch of irredeemable monsters.
I’ll be honest, the game utterly failed to hold my attention for the first few hours, for reasons that sadly continued to permeate the rest of the experience. Its chuuni is half-baked and corny, the fight scenes are boring, over-written and rarely, if ever, do anything outrageously awesome, and even the music is sort of lame and just reminds you of a cheesy superhero show aimed at kids. It wasn’t until Chapter 4 and onwards that I finally started liking the VN a bit more (injecting Elsa into the plot significantly improved my enjoyment of it) but in retrospect, the quality never quite reached a point where I could confidently call it “above average”. Mostly because it stays comfortably average from start to finish.
Weirdly enough, Demonbane’s chief selling point – the giant robot fights – is one of the main things I vehemently dislike about it; I generally enjoyed the VN’s “normal” scenes where the characters just interact with each other and do wacky shit, but the moment the robots started punching each other I just zoned the fuck out. The cringe-inducing chuuni shouts and catchphrases hold battles back even more, and there’s only so many times I can read “Demonbane punched that fucker into the stratosphere” or “Kurou started firing his dual pistols pew pew pew” or “Timaeus! Critias!” before I start falling asleep. To make matters worse, his arsenal is fairly limited so he keeps using the same moves and weapons in nearly every fight, leading to a nauseating amount of repetition in a VN that already recycles half its content across three exasperatingly samey routes. The first half of the storyline largely uses a “monster of the week” formula and the fights are usually over before they get really tiring, but once the second half of the plot gets going, the battles become entirely too drawn out while remaining just as bland and uninspired as before. For the record, I’m not criticizing the game for being chuuni, I’m criticizing it for being the bad kind of chuuni. At several points in the story, I could tell the game was trying its hardest to be badass – either the music would ramp up, or there’d be a sudden insert song, or the characters would try to act all cool or start a heroic monologue. But every single time, I just felt… nothing. I mean, for a supposed 燃えゲー, I didn’t really find much to get fired up about in this.
At the beginning of the review, I implied that Demonbane’s Mythos-inspired elements are rather shallow. Well, yeah. They kinda are. Although the script loves to name-drop prominent figures, locations and terminology mentioned in HPL’s writings and even makes feeble attempts at being all spooky-scary once in a blue moon, I would advise anyone hankering for a genuine Lovecraftian experience to check those hopes at the door. Demonbane is about as faithful to its Lovecraftian roots as Haiyore! Nyaruko-san, except where Nyaruko was a light-hearted and entirely self-aware parody, Demonbane actually tries to take itself seriously and ends up looking all the worse for it. I’ll put it another way: they turned the cosmic horrors from HPL’s oeuvre into generic kaiju beasts. Dagon looks like a walrus had sex with a cockroach and, I shit you not, they turned Cthulhu into a hairy testicle. I don’t know if there was some legal or copyright issue involved that prevented them from using Cthulhu’s likeness, but c’mon, you have a VN heavily inspired by Lovecraft and you turn one of the most iconic entities in his universe into an oversized basketball? Real talk though, I personally don’t even mind the whole kaiju thing that much. Hell, I knew not to expect anything genuinely HPL-esque from this VN before I even started it. But if you’re gonna tell a story about giant robots punching the shit out of eldritch abominations, at least make them look cool and memorable.
Demonbane’s lineup of humanoid antagonists are essentially generic shounen stock villains, so don’t expect too much on this front, either. Claudius and Caligula are particularly garbage-tier characters and I honestly felt like skipping every goddamn scene they were in. The most interesting of the bunch are largely interesting not because they’re deep, complex characters but because they have cool voices. Master Therion, the primary antagonist of Demonbane, is voiced by Hikaru Midorikawa so obviously every line he says is gold, but there are also characters voiced by Jouji Nakata, Norio Wakamoto and Nobuyuki Hiyama, just to name a few. So yeah, their voices at least make them stand out a bit, because let’s be honest, they’d be terribly forgettable otherwise. I guess I also liked Nero, but she only becomes likable in Al’s route and isn’t all that important in the others. Similarly, Etheldreda seemed interesting but is given precious little screen time.
There’s also Nya, the resident foreshadowing machine with the killer cleavage whose role is to say ominous things and occasionally molest Kurou in the bath. I guess I’ll put what I’m about to say in rot13 even though I find it pretty pointless considering how obvious it is, but you never know. So, uh, “””spoiler””” warning, lol: Onfvpnyyl, gur tnzr cergraqf ure gehr angher vf fbzr xvaqn uhtr zlfgrel gung arrqf n ohvyqhc ohg yvgrenyyl nalbar jub xabjf NALGUVAT nobhg Ybirpensg fubhyq vzzrqvngryl ernyvmr jub fur vf gur zbzrag gurl zrrg ure.
Oh and Doctor West is Demonbane’s version of the annoying but lovable small fry antagonist. I found him thoroughly obnoxious at the start of the game to the point he nearly ruined the entire VN for me, but thankfully he does have a redemption arc (of sorts) that made me appreciate him more. In fact, I do actually like him now and instead of rolling my eyes going “oh shut the fuck up already” I now just roll my eyes and go “oh Doctor West, your voice is still like nails on a chalkboard but you’re kinda cute so it’s okay” so, uh, that’s an improvement, I think. Jokes aside, I legitimately came to enjoy his character. West is also notable for creating Elsa, the adorable robot elf who just so happens to be one of my favorite characters in the VN. She has lovely ears, a lovely voice, immediately develops a crush on Kurou, and can hold her own in a fight to boot. And her sentence-ending robo 語尾 is the cutest thing. I would not have minded if like 70% of the VN had just been about Elsa, she’s that good. Regrettably, she too was struck by the dreaded Nitroplus Heroine Curse and joined the likes of Chachamaru (Muramasa), Makimoto (Jingai Makyou) and Megumi (also Jingai) as yet another Girl Who Needed a Route But Got Diddly Squat.
There’s Metatron as well, a mysterious superhero in white armor who protects the city from the Black Lodge, and whose true identity should be blatantly obvious to anyone with a working set of ears and a healthy, functioning brain. It’s pretty much the worst kept secret in the entire VN. She has the occasional clash with a dude called Sandalphon who has a raging hateboner for her and keeps screaming her name the way Veigue shouts Kureaaaaaaaa in Tales of Rebirth. Which probably explains why they hired Nobuyuki Hiyama to play him.
So now let’s talk about the girls that did win the heroine lottery.
Al Azif is the perfect thousand-year-old haughty tsundere loli with a really cute voice and a wonderfully archaic style of speech (at least in Japanese, I don’t know if the translation did anything with it) who manages to make the word うつけ feel sexually charged whenever she utters it. Her jealous outbursts in Ruri’s route are also quite delicious and the way her voice sounds a little higher-pitched when she’s in her chibi form was a nice touch. Yes, she has a chibi form where she wears cute catgirl gloves. No, it doesn’t make sense but it sure is cute. Anyway, Al’s route is basically the most bog-standard action VN story imaginable. Absolutely nothing at all will surprise you in this route, I promise. It’s the most 王道 thing to have ever 王道’d and even her endings are pretty weak. I honestly expected more from the apparent “true heroine” of the VN.
Hadou Ruri fills the rich, sheltered ojou-sama archetype but don’t take that as a complaint because I do actually like that archetype quite a bit. Her voice is erotic as fuck, especially when she starts losing her temper; there’s also a scene where she gets completely shitfaced and it’s probably one of the best comic relief moments in the VN. Ruri is largely irrelevant in the routes that aren’t hers and spends most of her time screaming “Daijuuji-saaaaaan” from her control room. Okay, so she does that a lot in her route, too, BUT at least she gets significantly more development and actually turns into a pretty badass Combat-Capable Girlfriend.
For the record, Ruri’s route is my personal favorite of the bunch. I’ve always been a sucker for the “rich/sheltered princess falls in love with the kind-hearted street punk” trope so I really enjoyed her chemistry with Kurou, probably even more so than the Kurou/Al pairing. But even putting the romance aspect aside, the route just offers a somewhat more interesting turn of events compared to Al’s, as well as a decently executed twist. It’s worth noting, however, that you can pretty much figure out this twist in Al’s route as well (albeit it’s not explicitly stated there, only heavily implied) so if you want to be surprised, you might want to consider reading Ruri’s route first. Still, knowing the twist in advance doesn’t stop the route from trumping the other two in terms of overall enjoyment, so yeah.
I also feel that Ruri’s true ending packs a stronger punch than Al’s and provides the storyline with a more memorable finale that actually manages to tug on the ol’ heartstrings. This further solidifies my opinion that if you’re only going to read one route in this game (which I can hardly blame you for), you should probably pick this one unless you really dislike Ruri for some reason, as her storyline actually made me emotional and gave me a good sense of closure, while Al’s endings didn’t.
Leica’s route isn’t as wildly different from the other two as you might think (with maybe the exception of its final chapter), so don’t expect to suddenly be reading something completely new and fresh here. The route explains everything about the whole Metatron/Sandalphon situation, though once again, it’s something you could more or less piece together based on the bits of foreshadowing given in earlier chapters and the other routes, so likely none of these “shocking” revelations will shock you at all. Skintight bodysuit enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy Metatron’s sexy new CGs on the route, though, provided they haven’t already dropped the VN by this point.
You’ve probably heard about this from other people who played Demonbane, but yes, the plot structure in this game is a bit of a mess, as all three routes follow a very similar template and use the same characters/villains with only minor deviations. Al’s and Ruri’s routes have the largest amount of overlaps, but Leica’s storyline doesn’t particularly shake things up too much, either, which means the VN soon becomes an exercise in excruciating tedium for anyone that hopes to clear all three of its routes. There are a number of core plot events that will always come to pass regardless of which route you’re in and will play out in a very similar way with only a few inconsequential changes, while other scenes are straight-up recycled word for word. What sucks is that the game often considers these scenes to be “new” due to said changes and consequently does not allow them to be Ctrl-skipped, so get ready to do a lot of skim-reading after your first playthrough, provided you value your time and sanity. The irony of a Lovecraft-inspired VN driving the reader crazy is not lost on me, by the way.
So yeah, I read all three routes of Demonbane and the only thing I’ve really gained from this entire experience is the right to be able to say “I’ve read all three routes of Demonbane”. In other words, fuck all. Okay, so that’s not entirely true because I did get a cool picture. But you get my point. Sure, the comic relief is moderately enjoyable, as are some of the characters, and the finale of Ruri’s route is genuinely touching. But you gotta wade through a Tyrannosaurus-sized mountain of mind-numbing mediocrity to get to those tiny morsels of goodness, and to be honest with ya, I don’t think you should have to shovel T-Rex dung to get a proper meal in 2019. There are so many better options out there.
To summarize: while it does have some positive qualities and a few decent characters, I ultimately feel like you wouldn’t really be missing out on anything by never reading Demonbane. Sure, it’s objectively not the worst thing I’ve ever read in my life, but at the same time, I deeply regret having wasted this much time on such an aggressively cookie-cutter experience. If you want cool robots doing cool shit, read Muramasa. If you want Lovecraft, read actual Lovecraft stories or Saya no Uta. If you want good writing and that classic Nitroplus atmosphere, read Jingai Makyou. Demonbane does try to mix everything I’ve just said into one package, but it doesn’t do any of them particularly well and everything it brings to the table has since been done better in other Nitroplus VNs. Granted, this is a game originally released in 2003 and it’s one of Nitro’s earliest titles, so I should probably cut it some slack. Maybe. I mean, 2003 was ages ago and you know what else came out that year? Enter the Matrix and Terminator 3. See what I mean? People didn’t know what the fuck they were doing back in 2003. Anyway, the bottom line is that Demonbane is kinda meh and even if it was acceptable 15+ years ago, it really hasn’t aged well. Like, at all.