Demon’s Crest is what happens on the rare occasion when Capcom decides to take one of their dying IPs and reinvent it thoroughly. A year prior, Capcom took Mega Man, a long stagnating and formulaic franchise, and updated it for a new generation of gamers with Mega Man X, giving the series a new look and feel and throwing in a whole mess of new features. Plus they took away those goddamned disappearing blocks, which was probably the best part of the whole deal. Perhaps Capcom’s tendency to clone games to the point of obscenity and then reinvent them to shock us all is a genius marketing ploy, but one thing’s for certain; when Capcom gets off their lazy asses and actually puts their collective minds together on something, the results are usually stunning.
Demon’s Crest is quite possibly the most dramatic example of this. Capcom took the whimsical and simplistic Makaimura brand and created something so far detached from it that it’s hard to believe such a game could emerge from such a franchise. Demon’s Crest is the third game starring Red Arremer as the player character. It obviously expands on the elements introduced in the two Gargoyle’s Quest games, but is a stand-alone product, neither directly tying into those games nor the Makaimura games. The only common constant is the Red Arremer, still assuming the moniker “Firebrand” in the localized version.
The backstory of Demon’s Crest states that one day, six crests fell from the heavens into the demon realm. These crests carried immense powers, able to control the forces of the elements and even time itself. A great war was waged over who was to claim ownership of the crests. After years of battle, one demon stood victorious: the Red Demon, Firebrand. But Firebrand did not claim his victory unscathed. Wounded and exhausted, Firebrand took the crests and fled from the battlefield. But before he could get to safety, he was attacked by the Arch Demon, Phalanx. Sensing his inevitable defeat, Firebrand dropped the crests to the earth below so that Phalanx could not claim them for himself. Unable to fight any longer, Firebrand was struck down and imprisoned, and Phalanx, who was able to recover most of the crests, became the new ruler of the demon realm.
Demon’s Crest begins with Firebrand escaping his prison in the coliseum, and setting out to recover the crests and claim vengeance upon Phalanx. All the while, he’s being hunted by Arma, the general of the demon army, who carries several of the fallen crests. Firebrand’s options at this point are limited, however, as many obstacles lay in his way that can’t be passed without the power of the crests. Demon’s Crest has a similar structure to Metroid and the more recent 2D Castlevanias in this sense, as each power-up you find opens up new parts of the world.
Aside from Firebrand’s innate abilities to shoot fire, cling to walls, and fly on a single plane, each crest Firebrand finds unlocks a new form for him to manifest. The abilities of these forms differ greatly:
Fire Crest – Red Gargoyle
Firebrand’s standard form. The fire crest was shattered into 5 pieces upon falling to the earth. Each piece of the crest grants Firebrand a new power in this form. At first, all he can do is shoot fire. But as he progresses, he’ll be able to use the Buster, which breaks blocks, the Tornado, which creates floating platforms that allow him to extend his jumping height, the Claw, which creates a sticky coating on precarious surfaces, and the Demon Fire, which is a very powerful blast. In this form, Firebrand can also smash background objects with a headbutt. This form gives Firebrand the most flexibility and won’t be obsolete until you find the Time Crest.
Earth Crest – Ground Gargoyle
This form of Firebrand’s has stunted its wing growth, so he is unable to fly. However, this form grants him the ability to dash. Dashing into things breaks certain objects, which is required to access certain areas of the game. In this form, Firebrand can shoot a powerful blast that travels along the ground, but his capabilities at tackling airborne enemies are severely limited.
Air Crest – Aerial Gargoyle
This form has highly advanced pterodactyl-like wings which allow Firebrand to fly in any direction and withstand powerful winds that would blow his other forms away. It can shoot a blade of wind which is extremely powerful, but doesn’t hurt some enemies.
Water Crest – Tidal Gargoyle
This form is the only one that allows Firebrand to survive underwater. Though useless on land, this form is extremely powerful in the water, able to shoot strong jetstreams that tear through just about anything.
Time Crest – Legendary Gargoyle
This is Firebrand’s true form. This form has all the abilities of the Red Gargoyle, but has extremely hard skin that doubles Firebrand’s health count.
Infinite Crest – Ultimate Gargoyle
As its name implies, this form renders all the others obsolete. It’s a fusion of all the other forms, and has the unique ability to charge its fire blast, Mega Man-style. This form is only available through a password, which is given to you after beating the game, and is required to fight the real end boss and see the true ending.
On top of the variety that comes with having half a dozen forms, Firebrand also finds various items scattered throughout the demon realm. The most useful of these are various Talismans he can equip that give him various traits such as increased attack or defense power, faster attack speed, and greater probability of receiving health or coins after defeating an enemy. Firebrand can also collect urns and vellums, which allow him to carry potions and magic spells, respectively. Not only that, but Firebrand can also extend his life meter by collecting health extensions.
The best part about the game is the boss fights. There’s at least two in every area, not counting minor mid-bosses. Not only are the bosses huge and intimidating, but also very challenging. There’s quite a bit of strategy involved in every fight, and you’ll need to make very wise decisions. It’ll likely take you several tries just to develop a working game plan during many of these epic battles. One fight in particular is commonly cited as one of the most difficult boss fights ever.
Alas, Demon’s Crest is tragically short. Not excruciatingly short like Gargoyle’s Quest, but for a game with such an enjoyable engine, it’s a shame that one couldn’t crank more than a few hours out of it. Another annoyance is that despite the progress you make, the game does not have a save feature, and like its closest kin, Mega Man X, puts you through the ordeal of an archaic password feature.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Demon’s Crest is its atmosphere. It’s one of the most dark and moody games on the SNES. Part of this comes from the game’s setting. The world, though macabre, is beautifully detailed with lots of story and history in its backgrounds. Inhabiting the stages are extremely detailed and well animated sprites. Firebrand in particular has some really impressive animation, especially when he dies and his skin and muscle tissue melt off his bones in several layers. It can be likened to the later released Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which shows a similar sense of attention to detail and sprite animation to accentuate an otherwise simple approach to the graphics.
Also assisting the game’s brooding atmosphere is the music, which is simply brilliant. Not quite the creepy, gothic, Castlevania-esque score you’d expect for such a demonic game, and definitely not the bombastic synth rock that generates from most of Capcom’s other action titles. The soundtrack in Demon’s Crest is actually quite low-key, melancholic, and entirely unique amongst its contemporaries. If the visuals don’t sell you on the game’s atmosphere, the music definitely will.
Between the play mechanics, the world design and the overall aesthetics, Demon’s Crest is like a combination of all the best elements from Mega Man X, Super Metroid and Castlevania. Although a bit on the short side, Demon’s Crest is entirely satisfying and uses what little time it has to blow you away with nearly every second of play time. This is one of the finest action titles on SNES, and without a doubt the crowning achievement of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins line.
Sadly, Demon’s Crest is most famous for being a major flop, only spoken of by the most hardcore gamers around. Because of this, it’s unlikely there will ever be another 2D action game starring the lovable Red Arremer. One thing is for certain, the Mega Man ZX takes a lot of its inspiration from Demon’s Crest, with some of the resemblances being a bit on the uncanny side. If you enjoy Demon’s Crest and want more, give Mega Man ZX a try, or vice versa.