Review: Grim Guardians: Demon Purge
When I first saw the trailer for Grim Guardians: Demon Purge, a few inspirations immediately stuck out in my mind. A castle of demons full of diverse architecture, a variety of abilities just as useful for exploration as they are for combat, an aesthetic reminiscent of Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow, plus with Inti Creates having recently worked on a Bloodstained side-game… I was expecting this to be a metroidvania. What I got was something quite different, but certainly a pleasant surprise.
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge was developed and published by Inti Creates and released on February 23, 2023 for Steam, Switch, PS4/5, and Xbox One/Series X|S. The PS5 version was played for this review.
When Worlds Collide
Grim Guardians: Demon Purge stars the two Kamizono sisters Shinobu and Maya, ordinary high school students with a secret identity as demon hunters. When the demon girl Kurona decides to merge the human and demon worlds as a prank, the two are forced to explore the demonic castle their school has become to rescue their classmates and especially their crush Houdai.
Now, one thing becomes clear extremely early on: We’re being dropped into the middle of an existing narrative. So, Grim Guardians is actually a spin-off from the Gal*Gun series, and many of the characters have prior history with each other. It’s not uncommon for them to mention that something happened in the past, and then simply not go into it. After all, they know what happened and so can you if you pick up the other titles!
…that said, it’s not too annoying. All the important details are still laid out and most of what the characters talk about is their current situation. Even as an absolute newcomer to the series, I had relatively no problem understanding what was going on, even if a few things felt like deus ex machina when in fact they were set up in the previous games.
There is one elephant in the room however. Gal*Gun is a series known for its fanservice, to the extent that it’s the whole point of playing the game, so what about Grim Guardians? In stark contrast, it’s honestly pretty tame. There’s a few moments here and there where something kinky is mentioned, and a sequence where you have to assemble some “exciting” materials like panties and naughty magazines, but none of these go into any lurid detail. Which kinda makes sense: Grim Guardians doesn’t go out of its way to advertise that it’s connected, and this is yet another way Inti Creates is making it clear that this is its own thing, despite being set in a shared universe.
Back to the Beginning
As I mentioned at the start, this is one case where the trailer gave me quite the wrong impression of how the game plays. It looks like a metroidvania at first glance, but in practice the levels are largely linear, and while you can use new abilities to access places you couldn’t before on a second visit, this is mostly just for optional collectables rather than accessing full new areas (and I’d actually discourage doing so on an initial playthrough, but more on that later.)
Rather, it’s firmly within the same genre as Inti Creates’ other action platformers. It’s a side-scrolling action platformer where you have a ranged option and a far more powerful (and let’s be honest, cooler) melee option. Each level also rewards you with new sub-weapons, adding more complexity to both combat and exploration as you go.
The main gimmick here is rather than swapping weapons you’re swapping between the two characters, each of whom have half your arsenal. This adds an interesting wrinkle in that each of them has a separate health bar. You might prefer one’s combat style over the other, but if one of them is low you may be forced to use the other for a bit for safety. What’s more, if one of them is taken out, you’ll be sent back to the last checkpoint and need to get back to where you died and revive your partner to get them back and avoid losing a life. In short, learning to use both of them is vital to your success.
Exploration is primarily encouraged with safer routes, pickups for health, sub-weapon ammo, and points to build up extra lives and special meter. There are a few permanent upgrades here and there, and classmates to save, but nothing TOO vital. Unfortunately, exploring or not, you WILL be going through every level again and therein lies my main gripe with the game.
After going through the entire game once, in order to actually proceed to the ending you need to go through every level again. You get to keep all your abilities and this is a prime time to get any collectables that were on different routes, and there are even new routes only accessible on this go around… but the game doesn’t do NEARLY enough with it. There is only one level that forces you to take a meaningfully different path through, and even drastically changes the boss to boot. The rest? The level is 90% the same, and the boss has maybe a few new moves.
It’s something a lot of games used to do back in the day, so I guess it’s a bit of a nostalgic throwback, but it’s one of those tropes I kinda wish had stayed in the past. Or if they did insist on having us do every level again I wish they’d changed things up a bit more. Your reward for all this is one last level and a hell of a final boss, but it feels like a bit much to go through right at the end.
A Labor of Love
As is usual, Inti Creates knocked it out of the park with the retro pixel-art. There’s a strong 2D PS1 and GBA vibe to the gameplay sprites, while the cutscenes and UI have a crisp anime-inspired aesthetic. The levels are all extremely vibrant and distinct, and there’s a fantastic array of beautifully animated monsters, but what I really loved were the little touches. Falling chandeliers damaging the carpet they land on, enemies having different death animations for being shot or sliced in half, even that trail effect all the more popular Castlevania games had. They really didn’t have to go all this way, but they did and I love them for it.
Soundwise, the voice acting’s solid, music’s fairly good, nothing really bad or stellar for the most part… but I do have one complaint here. See, the two main characters are prone to shouting out their attacks, which is fine when I’m using a sub-weapon, but grows a bit annoying hearing Shinobu shout out “Anti-demon submachine gun!” every time I stop to shoot something. It’s honestly part of the reason why I stuck to Maya whenever I could…
A Hell of a Good Time
In the end, Grim Guardians: Demon Purge is an absolutely solid action platformer. Annoyances at needing to go through a second time aside, I genuinely enjoyed the stages, the characters were amusing, and each new sub-weapon altered my approach to combat in ways that kept things fresh.
There’s a lot of heart and soul poured into the details, it’s one of those retro titles that truly remembers what made those classics fun in the first place. There’s a few small issues here and there that keep it from being truly amazing, but it’s certainly worth your time.
~ Final Score: 8/10 ~
Review copy provided by Inti Creates for PS5. Screenshots taken by reviewer.
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