Demon’s Rise: War for the Deep and Demon’s Rise: Lords of Chaos were both developed by Wave Light Games. I can’t pinpoint specific release dates, especially because even Wave Light’s website doesn’t list these dates. What I can tell you is that these games were both released on Steam and on mobile phones, later receiving ports on the Nintendo Switch (which is how I played them).

Both games take place in the same universe. You’re given a world map, but neither game gives you a great sense of scope and grandeur. Characters aren’t developed at all. Because of things like this, the Demon’s Rise games wind up feeling very bland and generic. On the bright side, they’re bland and generic in an inoffensive way. It’s very clear that gameplay is supposed to be the main appeal here, and that’s okay by me.

I’ll start off by describing War for the Deep.

The party creation screen

In War for the Deep, you start off by selecting a band of soldiers. It’s sort of similar to how Gladius is set up, except instead of only 2 selectable parties like in Gladius, War for the Deep gives you 4 selectable parties, and an option to completely customize your party. The game has 30 playable characters, so this provides you with a lot of replay value… in theory.

Once you get into the battles, War for the Deep is straightforward enough: battles are hex-based and phase-based. Controls are annoying, however… at least on the Switch port. Pressing B will end your turn, while pressing the minus sign will take back your move. This seems like precisely the opposite of how it should be. Moving my cursor is very slow. The X and Y buttons are underutilized. I can’t freely switch between my targets. Considering these rather obvious issues, I don’t get the sense that much effort was spent on porting the game. Perhaps the controls are more intuitive on phones or computers.

Much of the text is also agonizingly tiny… it’s like a Wonderswan screen except it’s on the Switch

The gist of War for the Deep is that you’re leading your party through a subterranean series of ruins, fighting undead, rats, and other such creatures. Given this premise, I was sort of expecting a dungeon crawler. 

Indeed, the game sort of feels like a dungeon crawler in its itemization. After every battle, you’re randomly given loot and gold. Gold can be spent at the hub for additional equipment, favors (temporary buffs), and extra mercenaries to join your party. This is one of the game’s strengths; because of this combination of teambuilding and itemization, War for the Deep boasts much in the way of replay value… in theory. 

But here’s my first criticism of the game: it’s not actually a dungeon crawler. Did Wave Light Games intend for it to be a dungeon crawler? I have no idea, but regardless, this was wasted potential. You have a very robust set of units to use, a flexible teambuilding system, gold management, and random loot tables. I wish Wave Light Games would’ve leaned on these strengths and tailored the game around them by designing the battles themselves to play out more like a dungeon crawl.

After every battle, you’re given the option to return to camp. What I would’ve liked to see instead was if the game had forced players to take on several battles before being given the option to return. In such a setup, my health and ability point management would matter a lot more because it would carry over between floors. 

That would’ve made the game a lot more distinct. As it stands, the game’s strategic elements aren’t that interesting or memorable: it’s a generic, run-of-the-mill SRPG with mediocre map design and mediocre enemy design. These elements can be excused when you introduce the idea of dungeon crawling because when you do that, players must fight against the dungeon itself, rather than hordes of weak, unmemorable enemies. In Fatal Labyrinth for example, nobody cares if enemies are unmemorable; the appeal there is that the dungeon itself is a memorable, worthwhile experience. 

Admittedly, this criticism of mine isn’t something negative about the game per se. It’s not something I can hold against War for the Deep, so much as it is something that I feel is wasted potential. But there does exist one crucial problem which severely holds back the game: luck.

Both Demon’s Rise games rely entirely too much upon luck, and both games are all the worse for it. Here are some of the many problems with the Demon’s Rise games’ implementation of luck:

  1. Hit rates cap out at 85%. Even if my character has a 150% hit rate and the enemy has 0% dodge, my accuracy ceiling is 85%
  2. Displayed accuracy rates are outright lies. Missing an 85% twice or thrice in a row is a common occurrence
  3. Most spells have a 15% chance of failure. This is problematic because spells are extremely powerful, often obliterating 5 or 6 enemies at once; failing a spell can often mean the difference between life or death
  4. Damage ranges are luck-based. Unlike in more deterministic games like Telepath Tactics or Fire Emblem, my characters in Demon’s Rise will often have a hugely variable damage range like 6-20. This makes the Demon’s Rise games all too unpredictable
  5. Luck with damage ranges are outright lies. If my damage range is 6-20, then I will hit a 6 most of the time. Damage ranges skew towards minima and maxima, rather than means or medians
  6. Critical hits are luck-based (obviously), adding yet another dimension of unpredictability to these games
  7. Higher difficulties will jack up enemy evasion rates, resulting in an even greater reliance upon luck
“85%” actually means “50%” in this game

For War for the Deep, this is fortunately not too much of an issue for the lower difficulties. You can play the game on easy or casual (the two easiest modes) and have a lot of fun with the itemization and teambuilding. But after a certain point, normal mode becomes unplayable. Harder difficulties are unplayable from the get go.

One way to circumvent these accuracy issues is to grind out quick battles (in other words, repeatable skirmishes) to buy more equipment which will make your characters more powerful and accurate. But that’s another problem: in a good strategy game, I should never need to grind. Grind is antithetical to strategy, as I always emphasize.

Because of this overreliance upon luck for all aspects of battles, I needed to put War for the Deep in the C tier. This was disappointing because I felt it had the potential to be an A tier game; yes, this one single factor of luck is actually that bad that it singlehandedly downgrades the game by two whole tiers.

This ending screen is also among the worst I’ve seen in any SRPG lol

Lords of Chaos is a similar story, but even worse. Not only does it have all of the problems I described above with luck, but its difficulty curve is far worse. Whereas War for the Deep started giving me some problems in battle 20 something, Lords of Chaos became impossible as early as battle 8. 

To the game’s credit, it made some UI improvements, like how you now need to hold the B button (instead of merely pressing it) to end your turn. But fundamentally, the gameplay is inferior. Take a look at this battle to see what I mean:

I’m not principally opposed to battles with many enemies. The problem here is that Lords of Chaos does not know how to balance your team with the enemy’s team. On normal mode, each enemy here takes me at least 3 or 4 of my units to kill – and that’s assuming all of my attacks connect. Realistically, it usually requires my entire team to kill a single enemy. Meanwhile, each enemy can kill one of my units in a single round of combat. 

Given how vastly outnumbered I am, you can start to see what the problem is. 

I don’t usually use the word “impossible” because in most SRPGs, there are ways to carve victory out of seemingly insurmountable odds. But I’ll certainly use the word here: Lords of Chaos is clearly impossible to beat on its normal difficulty. It’s a mathematical impossibility for me to kill every enemy here, given this huge disparity in strength between my units and my enemies.

why

Compared to War for the Deep, Lords of Chaos gives you much less gold and many fewer items. This creates a dumb system where 1) enemies are so much more powerful than in War for the Deep and 2) my playable characters are so much weaker than they were in War for the Deep. It’s kind of appalling how bad the difficulty curve is, and leads me to seriously question whether any playtesting was involved. 

Even on casual mode (the lowest difficulty setting), monsters have ungodly amounts of HP and still can one-round your characters if they get lucky. This is some of the worst difficulty balancing I’ve seen in any SRPG.

Several other enemies have >225 HP. Bear in mind: this is CASUAL – the LOWEST DIFFICULTY!

My only possible conclusion is that the game was just not playtested. Either that, or the game was playtested with the assumption that players would complete every single optional battle. But if that’s the case, then why make these battles optional

Whereas War for the Deep was unplayable on higher difficulties, Lords of Chaos is simply unplayable. Period. Both games can definitely be salvaged, but in their current state, neither is especially worth playing. If you are interested in these games, then War for the Deep is the clear winner because of its more sensible difficulty curve. Even then, I’d advise you not to set your hopes too high.

I’ll also be checking out Wave Light Games’ later offering, Shieldwall Chronicles. It was released after the Demon’s Rise games and looks a bit more promising. I believe that Wave Light Games has potential, so I want to give them at least one more chance to prove themselves.

General Information
Year: 2018
Console: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Switch
Developers: Wave Light Games
Wave Light Games’ website: https://wavelightgames.com/

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