Capcom U.S.A., Inc.
Capcom Co., Ltd.
Demon’s Crest has a long and somewhat convoluted history. While the game itself is not particularly well known – or at least it wasn’t at the time it was released – most people are at least familiar with the franchise that spawned it, namely Capcom’s Makaimura series, known in the U.S. as the Ghosts ‘n Goblins / Ghouls ‘n Ghosts series, or just GnG.
Of-age U.S. gamers likely experienced Ghosts ‘n Goblins in one of two ways: via the 1985 arcade game, or the 1986 NES port of that game. In either case, players were met with stylized graphics and music, varied gameplay that required precise movement, and punishing difficulty. Due to this difficulty, it is fair to say that the number of individuals who have played this game through to completion is small (even smaller if you consider that you have to beat the game a second time with the weakest weapon in order to truly finish it). But no matter what their skill level, practically everyone will tell you about a certain nasty enemy character who makes an appearance in the very first level: a winged demon known as the Red Arremer. He could well be the spokesdemon for Bastard Class Enemies in general.
That red bastard will hover in the air, and swoop quickly down to attack. Meanwhile our hero, Arthur, has a moderate jump height and cannot adjust his trajectory in mid-air. As such, he is ill-equipped to deal with this threat. One hit, and Arthur loses his armor; two hits, and he loses his skin. The Red Arremer has likely been the cause of more Arthurian deaths than any other fantasy creature. He is difficult enough that many players who met him were never able to complete the first level of the game, and instead they left to play something a bit less brutal… like a rousing game of paper-cut tag.
The popularity of Ghosts ‘n Goblins led to an arcade sequel called Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, which retained most of the difficulty, but offered a handful of new tools to Arthur, such as the ability to aim upward and downward, a golden suit of armor which allowed him to power up his weapons, and a few new projectile types. This version of the game also had a rather amazing Sega Genesis port.
And then there was the console-specific sequel, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, for the SNES, which still retained a high level of difficulty, and offered Arthur a double-jump as well as a new green of armor (in addition to the gold). And yes, all 3 of these versions feature the Red Arremer, and he is still a bastard in every version of the game, and an especially slippery one in the SNES version.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts are considered the holy trinity of the GnG franchise, despite the more recent Wonderswan and PSP iterations of the series, and the pseudo-reboot/spinoff Maximo games. But in addition to the “core” games, Capcom also released a separate spinoff series called Gargoyle’s Quest, which placed everyone’s (least) favorite Red Arremer in a starring role. The game was called Red Arremer: Makaimura Gaiden in Japan to indicate that the game was a side story (gaiden) to the original series. The first game arrived on the original GameBoy.
Along with his newfound fame, the Red Arremer found himself graced with the name Firebrand in the U.S. version of the game. Rather than spending his time torturing Aruthur to death, he instead embarks on a quest to defend the Ghoul Realm from the evil-er doers bent on destroying it. The game features both platforming sections and RPG elements, with some navigation taking place on an overworld map, complete with action-based random battles. Firebrand meets up with various NPC’s to guide him on his way, and slowly unlocks abilities that transform him from a basic little pellet-chucker to a full-blown warrior. Oddly, the sequel (technically a prequel), Gargoyle’s Quest II made the jump from GameBoy to NES. The NES game had very similar gameplay (minus random battles on the overworld map) and prettier graphics, and added the ability for Firebrand to stick to walls.
If not for the game that came next, this little side-series would be little more than an interesting footnote in the annals of GnG. But in 1994, something amazing happened. Capcom decided to release a full-fledged 16-bit game based on the Red Arremer during the final shining moments of the 2D golden age. This was a game with top-notch production values that offered a huge amount of gameplay, layered level designs, and some of the most grotesque artwork ever to make its way onto the SNES.
The game was called Demon’s Crest, and it was by no means a financially successful title. It sold poorly, and many of the copies that did sell were returned to stores. Unwanted and unloved, it fell into obscurity, only being played and enjoyed by a few. Today, it remains somewhat unknown, but it stands as a cult classic. Firebrand himself is something of a cult character, and Capcom has chosen to resurrect him in a number of fighting games. He has seen many forms over the years.
Ghosts 'n Goblins (Arcade)
Ghosts 'n Goblins (NES)
Ghouls 'n Ghosts (Arcade)
Ghouls 'n Ghosts (Genesis)
Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts (SNES)
Gargoyle's Quest (GB)
Gargoyle's Quest 2 (NES)
Demon's Crest (SNES)
It should also be noted that Tokuro Fujiwara had a hand in this game’s development. The man’s previous credits include not only the GnG series, but almost every Mega Man game ever created up to that point. So, while the games couldn’t be further apart in terms of tone and style, there are more than a few similarities between Firebrand and the Blue Bomber, and some comparisons are noted throughout.
From the instruction manual:
A Legend of Two Realms
Many, many years ago it was a time of fantasy and intrigue. Legends passed from generation to generation. People loved to spin takes of great warriors rising up against the tyrannical forces of those who ruled.
One such legend spoke of a world that was once divided into two different lands. The two realms existed in harmony: one ruled by humans, the other ruled by demons. There was rarely conflict between the two realms until one fateful day.
Six magical stones fell from the sky into the demon's realm. Inscribed on the stones were the Crests of Fire, Earth, Air, Water, Time and Heaven.
These crests, when united, would grant unimaginable power.
Soon the demons began to fight over these magical crests. The demon realm erupted into civil war. The land was in turmoil over the stones until finally one red demon emerged with five stones by defeating the others. This demon was known as Firebrand.
Firebrand was not satisfied that possessing the Crests of Fire, Earth, Air, Water and Time would end the war. He then challenged the Demon Dragon for the Crest of Heaven. After a long and desperate battle, Firebrand slayed the Dragon and gained the final Crest. But the price of victory was high. Firebrand was critically wounded.
Firebrand also did not realize that while he was obtaining the Crests, his success only moved him closer to failure. The jealous demon Phalanx secretly trailed Firebrand and waited for just the right moment.
"I have defeated the Red Demon!" Phalanx cried.
"I shall reign supreme! With the power of the Crest, both the demon world and the human world are mine!"
Firebrand vowed revenge on Phalanx. Phalanx was clever, though. He separated the crests in case someone did rise up to challenge the power he possessed.
And now someone has risen to the challenge. The legend of Firebrand is about to unfold in the search of the Demon's Crest!
Use spell or potion
* These are the default control options. Button functions may be altered in the Options menu.
Not many games start you out with a boss battle. Wait, let’s tweak that statement a bit… Not many games start you out with a boss battle that you can actually win, or actually lose. If a game opens with a huge boss, chances are that it’s going to smack you down really hard until some scripted event kicks in and you are saved at the last minute by a mysterious hero. Or, conversely, the boss decides that you’re not worth expending another ounce of his glorious power, and he leaves you beaten and broken (and thirsty for revenge).
Demon’s Crest takes that tired old book of design, and tosses it onto a flaming pile of corpses. The first thing you will see is Firebrand standing in a room in front of a torch, with a wall and barred windows in the background. Suddenly, the screen starts to shake as you watch some huge beast moving slowly behind the wall, the outline of its shadowy form exposed through the windows.
It stops for a moment and turns toward you, and its menacing eyes begin to glow.
Finally, it walks off the left side of the screen. Then, a door opens, and it walks out to stand before you, a hideous monstrosity, ripped flesh hanging from exposed bones, towering before you. You may think to yourself that this is a particularly nice little cut-scene to start the game, and wonder how Firebrand is going to take down such a huge creature.
And then it moves. And so do you… away from it. It keeps moving toward you. If you walk far enough to the right, you’ll come to an impassible wall, and suddenly you realize that you must stand and fight. All you can do is jump, hover, and spit out tiny balls of fire. The undead-looking dragon before you can also spit fire, and a few hits will be your undoing.
You either kill this thing, or it kills you. It will not beat you down and walk away, and there is no last minute save. Protoman is not coming for you. You fight or you die… and you haven’t even had time to learn the controls yet. The game is telling you that it is dead serious. You either need to pull on your big boy pants, or take your ball and go home.
This is the first level. Destroying the boss allows you to pass outside, where it will suddenly spring back to life (or whatever the undead do) and attack you again. And before you make it to the end of the level, you will fight two more bosses, the last of which will award you with the Crest of Earth, which you are told will allow you to change forms (more on that in a bit).
The level ends, and then something a little crazy happens. It’s not so crazy if you came into Demon’s Crest directly from the Gargoyle’s Quest series, but it certainly pretty crazy if you came into it from GnG or stumbled across it by accident… Firebrand is suddenly tossed onto an overworld map, hovering in midair over the area he just left. Gone is the linear side-scrolling action level, and in its place is a sprawling map populated with villages and dungeons.
If this weren’t enough, you’re also given no direction as to what you should do next. No arrow, no friendly little ghost, or pixie, or cherub squeaking out instructions. You can fly to any point on the world map – displayed in comparatively ugly Mode 7 – and descend into villages, shops, or new levels in any order you like.
Sure, you can pause the game and check out the mini-map, and you’ll see that there are 4 dungeon levels displayed, each marked with a Roman numeral. But there’s nothing stopping you from going straight to the Area IV right away. In fact, if you have what it takes to man your way through the first area, it may well be expected that you charge straight into the Area IV just to see what the game intends to throw at you next.
Or, you can play it safe and visit some shops, and do a bit of exploration. But you will find most of this to be useless at this point in the game. (Actually, some of it is pretty useless regardless.)
First, there is the potions shop called The Black Lotus, operated by Phorapa. You can check out their inventory, but you can’t actually buy anything unless you’ve picked up an empty urn (potion bottle) somewhere in your adventures. There are five urns hidden throughout the levels for you to uncover. You may fill them by purchasing any of the following potions:
- (Cost 5) Mercury – teleports Firebrand to the start of the level
- (Cost 10) Sulfur – teleports Firebrand to the overworld map
- (Cost 25) Herb – restores 5 units of health
- (Cost 100) Elixir – automatically used when Firebrand dies; resurrects him with 4 units of health
- (Cost 140) Ginseng – full health restoration (this potion is only available at The Black Lotus shop in Area II)
Then there is the shop of spells known as the Wise Man shop, operated by Morack. Again, spells cannot be purchased right away; instead, you must find the pieces of vellum hidden throughout the dungeon levels (also 5 in total) in order to have them inscribed with one of the following spells:
- (Cost 10) Shadow – creates a barrier of darkness that surrounds you and protects you
- (Cost 20) Hold – holds enemies in place for a short time
- (Cost 25) Imp – summons an imp to help Firebrand fight, but slowly consumes his money
- (Cost 50) Shock – causes an earthquake that damages onscreen enemies
- (Cost 80) Death – causes heavy damage to all onscreen enemies (this spell is only available at the Wise Man shop in Area II)
All-in-all, the spells have a minimal impact on the overall gameplay, and don’t offer much of a benefit to the player, nor do they support the game’s design. The Death spell can be somewhat useful, since it works against groups of enemies and some bosses, but this only serves to encourage players to farm for gold to stock up on as many Death spells as they can carry, and unleash them all in succession during a boss fight. It won’t kill bosses, but it will weaken them to the point that they are easier to take down.
There is a gaming shop, run by Trio the Pago, who gives you the challenge of head-butting a series of skulls Whack-A-Mole style under a certain time limit. There are 3 such shops in the game, each offering a different difficulty. The reward is generally money, although you can get a Life Up from one of these shops for completing the challenge on the highest difficulty level.
Finally, there is the Talisman shop, which features an old guy named Malwous, whose sole purpose is to give you vague descriptions of the Talismans that you find hidden throughout the game. After you find a Talisman, you can talk to him with it equipped, he’ll tell you its function. There are five Talismans hidden throughout the game:
- Crown – causes enemies and destructible objects to drop more money
- Skull – causes enemies and destructible objects to drop more health pickups
- Armor – reduces the amount of damage Firebrand takes
- Fang – increases the amount of damage that Firebrand’s projectiles cause
- Hand – this is actually a pretty interesting item from a design standpoint, because it actually allows one additional projectile to be on the screen at a time. So for instance, the Flame Gargoyle can normally shoot a single projectile all the way across the screen. If you miss your target, you have to wait for the projectile to leave the screen before you can fire another. But with this Talisman, you can have 2 on the screen at once. This not only gives you a second chance to hit an enemy, but also allows you to fire at a much higher rate of speed, which is effective regardless of the gargoyle form you have selected.
Only one Talisman may be equipped at a time, so there is some strategy involved in their use. For instance, the Skull Talisman is quite useful during the course of a level because each enemy you kill or object you destroy could potentially drop a health pickup, but that Talisman would be entirely useless against a boss. Also, the player has to choose whether to equip an offensive or defensive Talisman; he cannot equip both at once.
Items may be purchased by collecting coins found by breaking objects (pots, statues, windows, etc.) within the levels, for a maximum of 999. These breakables can also release health restoratives, Life Ups, urns, and vellums. The possible drops are:
The small coin is worth 1 G.P.
The silver coin is worth 5 G.P.
The skull coin is worth 20 G.P.
The small orb restores 1 unit of health
The medium orb restores Firebrand to full health
The large orb is a Life Up which increases Firebrand’s life bar by 1 and restores him to full health. Firebrand starts the game with 4 units of health, and there are 16 Life Ups available in the game, for a potential total of 20 units.
Urns allow you to store potions, which may be purchased in The Black Lotus
Vellums allow you to have spells inscribed, which may be purchased at the Wise Man shop
OK, so you’ve dallied about the game’s few safe areas and found that there’s not much that you can do. You flap around the world map for a while, and maybe even discover that there are a couple of unmarked areas that have hidden gaming shops. So, you fly over to one of the four available levels and descend… and then you remember about the Crest of Earth that you picked up earlier, the thing that allows you to change form, and you wonder what it does for you.
At the start of the game, Firebrand is equipped only with the Crest of Fire, which corresponds to his default form. We’ll call this form the Flame Gargoyle for the purposes of comparison. Just because this is Firebrand’s default form doesn’t make it the weakest or least significant. In fact, you will find that the Flame Gargoyle is one of the most versatile forms in the game. In this form, you can shoot fireballs from your mouth all the way across the screen, headbutt objects in the background to destroy them, and stick to walls. You also have infinite flight. That alone is pretty atypical of a side-scrolling action game, and practically removes any notion of the game as a “platformer”.
By pressing the JUMP button in midair, Firebrand will hover, and you are free to move to the left or right (not up) for as long as you like. Taking damage causes you to fall, but you can press the JUMP button again to save yourself from falling all the way down. You can also press the JUMP button in mid-flight to purposely drop back to the ground, or just to fall for a bit and go back into hover-mode at a lower height. This gives you a high degree of maneuverability, and even allows you to fly over obstacles, enemies, and huge sections of certain levels.
The Flame Gargoyle's fireballs are moderately powerful against most enemies, and practically all enemies and bosses will take damage from them. Some, however, are immune to his attacks. The projectiles travel the full length of the screen, but are limited to one on the screen at a time, meaning you’ll have a long “reload” period after missing a shot, but this also means that you’re rewarded for taking on an enemy in close quarters, since you’ll be able to fire more rapidly.
A small oddity with the Flame Gargoyle’s movement is that its flame attack is not capable of breaking knee-level pots that are found scattered throughout the game, because the fireball exits too high. And, like Mega Man, Firebrand cannot duck. So, he must either do a bit of jump-maneuvering to line himself up, or he will need to change forms to break them. The player will encounter these pots in the very first level – before Firebrand has access to another form – which may lead to a bit of frustration, since the pots can contain coins or health pickups.
The Flame Gargoyle form will allow you to access the “main” path for most levels and reach the end-level boss, but you will need to use the other forms to access the side-paths, some of which have end-bosses of their own.
When you equip the Crest of Earth, Firebrand changes into the Ground Gargoyle form. Not only does he look very different, his moveset is very different as well. First off, the Ground Gargoyle cannot fly, or even hover. And he does not have the ability to headbutt objects in the background. While this may sound like a bit of a downgrade over the Flame Gargoyle form, there are a couple of things that the Ground Gargoyle does much better.
First off, its attacks are much more effective against ground-based enemies. The Ground Gargoyle spits a ball of green flame which travels along the ground, hitting enemies (and pots!). Its range is not as long as the Flame Gargoyle’s but the damage done is much greater. This also makes him a great damage-dealer against ground-based bosses, although his inability to fly makes it harder to for him to dodge their attacks.
If he jumps and shoots, his projectiles will travel straight forward, but they are significantly weaker than the Flame Gargoyle’s and they do not travel all the way across the screen. This, and his lack of flight, make the Ground Gargoyle particularly susceptible to damage from air-based enemies.
The Ground Gargoyle can also break through solid objects by charging at them. This allows you to open up alternate paths and find hidden items, like potion bottles, vellums, Life Ups, or Talismans. And as mentioned, most areas have a secondary path, complete with its own boss who often holds a new upgrade to Firebrand’s abilities.
The Crest of Air allows Firebrand to assume the form of the Aerial Gargoyle, which has large wings and can fly not only to the left or right, but also up. By pressing the SPECIAL MOVE button, the Aerial Gargoyle can move vertically, but only a bit. In an odd design choice, pressing the button only allows you to move upward for a little while, and then stop. To fly all the way to the top of the screen, the player must press and hold the button repeatedly, which breaks some of the flow, and doesn’t seem to have logical reason to back it up. After all, the player is still free to fly to any height, but he must press the button several times in order to do it.
The Aerial Gargoyle is much more effective against air-based enemies than any of the other forms. In fact, some skybourne enemies can only be damaged by this form and no others. The Aerial Gargoyle’s attack is a sickle-like boomerang, which travels somewhat slowly, but the projectile itself is fairly large. It also has the ability to cut through vines in the jungle area. The Aerial Gargoyle does not have the ability to stick to walls, but doesn’t really have a need to do so either.
Discovery of the Crest of Air also allows you to reach two new levels on the overworld map (Areas V and VI), one of which is located in a crater, and the other is on a cloudy mountaintop.
Finding the Crest of Water allows you to turn into a green gargoyle resembling the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The Tidal Gargoyle is essentially useless on land, but many areas have water sections, and all of the other gargoyle forms take continuous damage when falling into the water. So, obviously, this form allows you to get to places that the others cannot.
The Tidal Gargoyle’s projectiles are significantly stronger in the water than on land. In the water, they are larger and cause more damage, acting more like torpedoes, which can also break open underwater walls. The SPECIAL MOVE button also allows this form to swim quickly forward in a straight line, which is needed in later sections to avoid walls of spikes.
The final form that is available during your first playthrough is the Legendary Gargoyle, which you gain from acquiring the Crest of Time. This form is like an enhanced version of the Flame Gargoyle. According to the instruction manual, the Crest of Time “Slows time down and allows Firebrand to become the Legendary Gargoyle. It decreases the amount of damage inflicted by enemies. Also, Firebrand's skin shall become like iron to help reduce damage.” The result is that the Legendary Gargoyle takes half the normal damage from enemy attacks, while retaining the standard abilities of the Flame Gargoyle. His fireballs work like a the Buster ability, allowing him to break through walls, and they do twice the damage.
You may have noticed that there is still one slot left in your inventory that you are not able to fill during the course of the game. This is the Ultimate Gargoyle form, which can only be unlocked by beating the game’s final boss with 100% of your inventory slots filled (we’ll get into the alternate bosses in a bit), which grants you the Crest of Heaven.
This form is a combination of all of the above forms, allowing you to shoot fire, charge forward, fly, swim, etc. In addition to these powers, the Ultimate Gargoyle has one additional ability: a charge attack. Similar to Mega Man X (or any of the Mega Man games after part 4, really), when the player holds down the SHOOT button, energy begins flowing into Firebrand. Letting go of the button causes him to unleash a much larger and more powerful energy blast.
Basically, once you have this form, there is no need to ever change back. Of course, you have to earn it first, and that means going everywhere and doing everything. This form acts as your reward for playing the game to its fullest, and also sets you up to go against an even harder endgame boss.
In addition to the gargoyle forms listed above, the Crest of Fire is made up of five separate parts, each of which gives the Flame Gargoyle different abilities:
- Fire – This is available to Firebrand at the start of the game, and corresponds to his standard fireball attack.
- Buster – The Buster is a higher-powered fireball which has the power to break through stone blocks. It also causes more damage to enemies, and can even damage armored enemies which are otherwise impervious to Firebrand’s attacks. What’s also interesting is that the projectile is slightly larger, and is large enough for Firebrand to break the knee-high pots that his standard fireballs cannot not hit.
- Tornado – This allows Firebrand to toss out mini-tornadoes. These don’t have any impact on enemies, but Firebrand can use them as platforms to reach higher areas, similarly to the platform generator in the Mega Man games. They are limited by the fact that only two can be onscreen at a time, and they disappear after a short while. So you’ll need to stand on one, shoot the next, jump to it, and wait for the first one to disappear before firing another. This is a useful until you receive the Crest of Air, which renders it obsolete.
- Claw – This is a somewhat odd ability in that it doesn’t allow Firebrand to “climb walls” as the game says, but rather he can shoot a glob of goo onto a set of spikes and jump safely to it, sticking against the wall instead of taking damage. This allows him to wall-jump from spiked walls. It is also rendered obsolete upon gaining Crest of Air.
- Demon Fire – This is a more powerful attack that causes more damage to enemies.
So, at this point you may be simultaneously admiring the wide range of powers and abilities and wondering how you’re meant to manage so many different things during gameplay. And you’re right to wonder, because this is one of the few major failings of the game… namely, there is too much menu-ing.
The amount of time that the player spends in the menu increases with each new ability that is gained. You may, for instance, go into the menu to select the Tornado ability and use it to get Firebrand up to a higher position. But since the Tornado is not effective against enemies, you’ll need to go back into the menu and switch back to another weapon. Or, early in the game, you’ll be switching between the Flame Gargoyle and the Ground Gargoyle just so that you can break open pots and get coins and health restoratives. Of course, you can use spells and potions with the press of a single button, but each time you use one and wish to equip another, you’ll have to enter the menu.
The cumbersome nature of this design becomes very apparent in certain areas of the game, particularly those in which you are required to light torches. First off, you may be used to using the Buster to deal out increased damage to your enemies, but this weapon does not have the ability to light torches, so you’ll need to switch to your standard Fire ability. In the first torch-lighting area – if you intend to explore the area fully (which you should) – you will need to open the menu screen as follows:
- Select your Fire ability so that you can light torches
- Select the Ground Gargoyle to charge through a stone wall
- Select your Fire ability to re-light torches to explore the area
- Select the Buster ability to break through a wall that can’t be destroyed by the Ground Gargoyle (this an optional shortcut)
- Select your Fire ability to light the torches on the other side
- Select the Ground Gargoyle to charge through another stone wall
- Select Fire to light the torches
- Select Buster or Ground Gargoyle to kill the ground-based enemies that are too low to be hit by the Fire ability
- Select the Fire ability again to navigate to the exit
This all takes place in one area, without screen transitions. Granted, this is most outrageous example, but the game is not afraid to send you to the menu, usually numerous times per level. Given the minimal impact of most scrolls and spells, a more streamlined action-oriented approach would have been favorable. For instance, eliminating all potions and spells in favor of a single healing item that auto-switched to the next when used, would have eliminated 10 selectable items from the menu.
It should also be noted that the shoulder buttons are not used for this game. However, Mega Man X, the neighbor and close personal friend of Demon’s Crest, used the shoulder buttons to select between his numerous abilities on the fly. Yes, the player still had the option to enter a menu to select these abilities, but otherwise they were at your disposal near-instantly without exiting the gameplay interface. Given that Capcom developed Mega Man X in the year prior, and the number of design similarities in the games as a whole (such as gaining new abilities, returning to previous areas with said abilities, exploring for hidden items, etc.), this seems like an odd shortcoming.
Demon’s Crest is extremely nonlinear for an action game, even one with adventure and RPG elements. Once you leave the first area, you are free to tackle the next three in any order you wish. You can’t access every part of every level until you’ve acquired the necessary powerups, but you can certainly complete the “main” path of each level with just the abilities you have at the end of the first area. And, after you gain the Crest of Air, you can access the final two areas, again in any order.
Once you have gained the proper powerups and demon forms, you can return to each of the areas to access their alternate paths. Some areas have Life Ups, Talismans, or other objects hidden in secret alcoves, and all of the levels – except the first – have separate path that leads to its own boss battle. So, in your first playthrough of an area, you’re really seeing less than half of what the area has to offer, and you’ll need to explore the alternate paths to get the powerups you need to get to the end of the game. Well, sort of…
One of the most interesting features of this game is that you are able to take on the final boss at almost any time. Once you make it through the main path of the first four areas, a new area will open up on your map, giving you access to the lair of your nemesis: Phalanx. (ed note: it is widely believed that you cannot fight Phalanx until you have defeated Arma twice, but this is false.) If you think you have what it takes, you can go straight for him. When you fight him early, he will not have full access to his powers and will not be able to change forms. You don’t even have to play through a level to get to him; you just walk into the final room and there he is. So yes, you can beat the game in about 30 minutes. But you won’t get the best ending, and you won’t have fought Phalanx in his ultimate form, and you won’t have even played most of the game!
Depending on the items you have collected, there are two other versions of this boss battle, and you’ll have to battle enemies in his cathedral before you can even get to Phalanx. In each instance, his dialogue will be different, as will the battle itself (more detail in the BOSSES section below) and the ending that you receive.
It’s worth highlighting that the game’s reward for the player’s exploration is a more difficult final boss battle. Yes, rushing straight for Phalanx and taking him down will get you an ending, but it’s certainly not the most fulfilling ending. If you wait until you have built up your powers to take on Phalanx, you will find him to be a stronger opponent, not to mention more cocky and sure of himself, and your sense of accomplishment will be greater upon completing this more challenging battle.
And of course, there’s that inventory screen constantly staring you in the face, letting you know that you haven’t quite gotten everything there is to get. But once you do, and you beat Phalanx in his final form, you are rewarded with… an even harder boss. That’s right, if you have 100% completion (minus the final demon form) when you take on Phalanx, the game will give you a password after the end credits which allows you to come back into the game with the Ultimate Gargoyle form, and allows you to challenge the real final boss of the game, the Dark Demon.
The result of this design choice is a difficulty curve that never really levels off. The stronger you get, the harder the game becomes. And if you manage to prove yourself to be the ultimate demon badass, the game rewards you by making you fight its ultimate demon badass. This type of game design wasn’t terribly common at the time, and is practically nonexistent today given the amount of handholding present in most modern titles. But one thing’s for certain: Either you give up on Demon’s Crest at some point and just walk away, or you finish it with a sense of accomplishment. Demon’s Crest proves that accepting the challenge – not just reaching the end of the game – is the game’s true reward, that climbing the mountain is better than climbing the hill.
To help players meet the challenge of finding every item and defeating every boss, the game offers unlimited continues. Each time Firebrand dies, you will be given the option to restart the section from the beginning, return to the overworld map, or quit the game so that you can take down your password and try again later. Also very important to the player’s progression: defeated bosses stay defeated. Once you have managed to take down a boss, it is gone forever, even upon return visits to the area (all other enemies and obstacles will remain). This further encourages exploration as it removes the penalty of having to deal with a particularly nasty boss a second time just because the player was unable to collect everything in the level the first time.
It is also worth pointing out that the game has a very dark tone, certainly amongst its SNES brethren. After all, you’re controlling a demon, who is traveling through the demon realm to hunt down and kill other demons and various hideous evil monstrosities, so many of the enemies and bosses are grotesque in appearance. Some enemies are missing parts of their bodies, and will have to drag themselves across the ground to reach you, and several of the environments and backgrounds feature artwork that is twisted or macabre in nature, such as rooms full of corpses, or piles of human skulls.
This tone permeates the entire game, with scowling creatures, dripping flesh, and exposed bones around every corner. Even Firebrand’s death animations emphasize this tone, with some of his forms exposing their skeletons while the skin is pulled back and they crumble to the ground, and others dropping to their knees with faces twisted in pain as the flesh melts from their bones.
In the 16-bit era, console games were fighting against the notion that the industry was for kids only, and this is definitely a title intended for mature audiences.
BASTARD CLASS ENEMIES (What's this?)
This game has a fairly large number of difficult enemies. However, most of them are weak against a certain demon form, which means that players who use the correct tactics will be rewarded. But there is one bastardly ne’er-do-well who will flat-out bulldoze your playground and set your tire swing on fire: the Skeleton Bird. He’s annoying on his own, but the BQ (Bastard Quotient) increases drastically due to his environment and the fact that he spawns infinitely.
Skeleton Bird There are a couple of different places in the game where you can encounter the dreaded Skeleton Bird. The first is toward the end of the main branch of Area IV, where you will need to traverse a long flying section. The section is made particularly difficult by the fact that the wind is blowing and constantly pushing you forward (the Aerial Gargoyle is immune to this effect). If you manage to run into an enemy during your flight, you will be knocked backward and begin falling toward the bottomless pit which covers most of the section. Only a quick tap of the JUMP button will save you from plummety doom.
The area has some armored enemies, which are a pain, but aren’t too difficult to avoid if you patiently observe their movement patterns. Once you make it past them, the Skeleton Birds will descend upon you with great speed and furious anger. The only respite you are offered is in the tiny platforms spread throughout the clouded section, but if you drop down to take a breath, they will drop down to attack you.
The Skeleton Birds move quickly back and forth across the screen, adjusting their elevation to meet yours. The best chance you have for survival is to dodge and move as quickly as you can outside of their spawning area. If your thumbs aren’t quick enough to strike the JUMP button upon getting hit, you risk instant death beneath their bony beaks.
You’ll encounter these enemies again, later in the game, this time over a water-filled section in Area V (and again on the snowy peaks of Area VI). Granted, having the Tidal Gargoyle means that falling in the water is more of an inconvenience than a death sentence, but it is still very frustrating. And getting out of the water and back in the air is harder than it should be.
Oh, and this time, they won’t just fly around and bother you, they will actually shit on you as they fly over. And yes, shit hurts. You can quote us on that.
Demon’s Crest offers a wide variety of bosses, most of which are large, extremely detailed, and often disgusting in appearance. Fitting with the demonic theme, many of these bosses are grotesque in nature and are intended to represent the most vile creatures in the demon realm. Many games feature dragons or other hulking creatures, but few of them do it with the amount of slime, rotting flesh, and flat-out disturbing character design of Demon’s Crest.
(NB: most of these bosses will change color and speed up after they take enough damage, but this is not called out specifically for each boss below.)
As mentioned previously, Somulo is not just the game’s first boss; it is the game’s first encounter, period. This is a winged dragon whose rotted flesh is ripped and torn, exposing the bones beneath. He will raise and lower his head to shoot fireballs in your direction. Fireballs contacting the ground will send up a wave of fire.
In comparison to the rest of the bosses in the game, Somulo hardly qualifies as difficult. But since the player has absolutely zero time to get used to the controls, he may find himself struggling. Somulo will track your position with its head and shoot fireballs at a moderate rate. This allows you to lure the shots in a certain direction, dodge them, and get in a quick hit on its head while he recovers. It only takes 6 hits to bring him down, but the battle’s not over yet.
After Somulo collapses and you escape the coliseum, the dragon’s head will burst through the window and attack you again. 2 additional hits will cause his head to drop off, and you may proceed with the first level. The reward for defeating this boss is a Life Up.
Not only did you have to defeat Somulo before beginning the first level of the game, you also have to fight a mid-boss, the Hippogriff. This is only the Hippogriff’s first appearance in the game, and you will encounter him numerous times throughout your adventures. Fortunately, his powers do not increase, so each successive encounter is somewhat easier than the last.
In each case, the Hippogriff begins as a breakable statue. Performing Firebrand’s headbutt maneuver causes the statue to come to life as the Hippogriff, and it flies into the air. It can pull back and unleash a trio of energy bolts, which move diagonally and stick in the ground. They can only harm you while in the air, however; touching one on the ground does nothing.
The Hippogriff can charge horizontally across the area at any height to cause melee damage, but the attack is heavily telegraphed and can be easily dodged once you know what to expect. There is no weak point for this boss, but it will absorb a lot of hits before it goes down. Since Firebrand can only have one projectile on the screen at a time, picking it off from afar can be a slow process. However, at the end of the Hippogriff’s charge attack, it stops for a few seconds, allowing you to get in close and unleash a series of quick shots.
Once you cause enough damage, the Hippogriff will return to his statue form, and breaking it destroys it permanently. Your reward for beating him in Area I is a Life Up. Future confrontations give you a full health restoration orb.
Area I: Arma (First Encounter)
Once again, Area I proves its cruelty by pitting you against Arma, the general of Phalanx. You will encounter Arma several times throughout the course of the game, and unlike most other bosses, he will stop to taunt you before the fight.
Arma is also a flying creature, but he is smaller and faster than the Hippogriff, more along the size of Firebrand. He can shoot an energy blast from his mouth which comes directly at you.
He also has a pretty fast divebomb maneuver, which you can usually dodge by timing your jump/hover correctly. He doesn’t spend too much time standing still to absorb your attacks, so you’ll need to stay fairly mobile if you hope to take him down.
Arma is a warrior, so once you’ve defeated him, he won’t be destroyed, but will rather admire your strength and ability to fight. The reward for beating him is the Crest of Earth, which will allow you to transform into the Ground Gargoyle.
Area II: Belth
At the end of the main path of Area II is a field of bones… not usually a good sign. From beneath the bones emerges a hunched-over skeleton carrying a huge sword. It also takes great pleasure in taunting you.
This is a largely ground-based creature, meaning that the Ground Gargoyle is pretty effective for dealing out damage. However, Belth can also move quite quickly and jumps very high, meaning that you may need to enter the pause menu and switch forms in order to dodge his attacks effectively, or just stick to the Flame Gargoyle form.
Belth has a charge attack which takes him across the screen to deliver a sword slash. This is one of his more devastating attacks, but also one with a large telegraph period beforehand.
The rest of the time, he’ll move toward you, jump, and slash his sword. The sword has a huge reach, so you have to be careful to keep your distance. Returning him to the bone graveyard grants you a Life Up.
Area II Alt: Ovnunu
When you first enter this boss chamber, you will be standing in a room with a pool of slime on the ground and an opening at the top of the screen. The slime is filled with a bunch of small eyeballs, with one huge disgusting eye in the center. You’ll need to cross over the slime and start moving up the shaft, because the large eye will open, and the slime will begin moving upward after you.
At the top of the shaft, the slime will stop, and the attack will begin. For the first part of the fight, the smaller eyeballs will emerge from the slime and come toward you, occasionally stopping to spin around. Up to 3 will come at you at a time. When you hit them, they will be temporarily stunned, and if you don’t kill them quickly enough, they will return to the slime mass (although the damage you did to them remains) and another set will come after you.
Once all of the small eyeballs are destroyed, the big tentacled eye will burst out of the slime and begin following you slowly around the room. It will occasionally pause and soot a stream of green “spit” from its pupil, which opens rather grotesquely for each shot. Dodging it can be a bit difficult since there are only platforms on either side of the room, and falling into the slime will slow you down considerably and even cause you damage if you sink low enough. Lobotomizing this thing will give you the Buster powerup.
Area III: Flame Lord
You’ll encounter the Flame Lord at the end of the jungle in Area III. But this boss is not content with waiting for you to reach him before making his presence known; he sends a blast of fire into the area which separates into a flock of phoenixes, which fly into the trees and light the jungle on fire. So, in addition to fighting enemies and avoiding obstacles, you’ll need to contend with flaming hunks of debris which will crash down around you, causing damage directly, or via their large splash radius.
Once you finally do reach the boss, you’re in for a tough fight, especially since he is immune to fire-based attacks, so if you haven’t picked up the Buster ability yet, you’ll find that the Flame Gargoyle’s attacks are completely useless.
The Flame Lord has a large number of attacks in his repertoire. For one, he can summon phoenixes that will fly toward you and swarm about your head. They can be destroyed by your attacks, but the Flame Lord will often use this opportunity to morph into a fire blob and charge toward you on the ground. He frequently alternates between his standing form and this flying fire blob, and these transition periods leave him open to attack.
There is a secondary phoenix attack that sends several of the birds up into the trees to drop fireballs straight down at you.
Finally, once you’ve caused enough damage, the Flame Lord changes forms once again, this time into a flaming skull, which will fly around the screen and divebomb you. But the divebomb attack is somewhat unpredictable in that he can sometimes move all the way across the screen, or sometimes move in a wave pattern, up and down across the screen.
He can also fly across the top of the screen and emit fire droplets straight down in an evenly-spaced but fairly rapid succession. Making them somewhat harder to dodge is the fact that he can change direction in mid-run and start dropping them in the opposite direction. Extinguish his flame to receive the Tornado powerup.
Area III Alt: Scula
Scula is an insect-like creature that has 2 separate parts: a head and a body. It will enter the area by throwing its head on the ground, while its body follows, picks it up, and reattaches it.
Throughout the battle, it will run at you, jump in the air, and occasionally take off its head and throw it at you. You can damage its head and its body independently. Killing its head causes the body to speed up and come after you with jumps and ground-based charge maneuvers. Killing the body first causes the head to come after you on its own. This is somewhat similar to the Trainer and Lion boss scenario in Karnov.
Either way, the Ground Gargoyle is effective against it/them, and can cause a large amount of damage in a short span of time. If fighting the head on its own, it will become stunned by the Ground Gargoyle’s attacks and be unable to move, allowing you to pound it for all you’re worth. Your reward is a Life Up.
Area IV: Flier
The main path of Area IV will find you facing off against the Flier, who – as you might have guessed – is a flying enemy. The Flier is a very fast-moving enemy that can cause melee damage by ramming into you, which means that you’ll be spending a lot of time dodging. To make things more difficult, the wind is constantly blowing in this area, meaning that every time you hover, you’ll be getting slowly pushed to the right side of the screen (the Aerial Gargoyle is immune to this effect).
You can actually stand on the Flier’s back without taking damage. You might think that this will allow for a Strider-style boss fight, where you hold on and keep hitting it in the head, but both its head and tail can hurt you, and he changes directions quickly, making this a less-than-effective strategy.
Occasionally, the Flier will launch its pincers at you, which fly around the screen causing damage of their own, and give you something else to dodge. About the only respite you’ll have during this fast-paced fight is when the Flier starts swirling quickly around, giving you a chance to hover and let off a few shots to its head/torso area, which is its weak point. You still can’t get too close because it can emerge from the swirl and fly straight at you.
Bring him to the ground to be rewarded with the Claw powerup. The Flier also reappears later in the game in Area VI as a mid-boss.
Area IV Alt: Arma (Second Encounter)
You’ve beaten Arma once before, so this time, he promises to show you no mercy and attack you with everything he’s got. Also, for reasons unknown, he is now bright green. His abilities are the same as they were during your first encounter with him, with one addition: the whirlwind.
During the fight, Arma will sometimes drop to the ground and summon a whirlwind. It acts as a barrier, absorbing any projectiles fired at it, and if Firebrand gets caught in it, it will slow his movement considerably and push him up and back. After unleashing it, Arma will begin rising into the air to continue his attacks, which actually allows you to turn the whirlwind against him.
By rushing forward and getting caught in it, you will rise at roughly the same speed as Arma. And, as long as your projectiles are coming out of the far side, they will reach him. So, you can let the whirlwind carry you upward and just unleash as many attacks as you can. When Arma reaches the top of the screen, you can drop down out of the whirlwind, and it will keep moving away. The only effect it will have on you at that point is that it will pull you toward it if you are hovering.
This time, the defeated Arma seems even more impressed with your prowess as a fighter. He drops the Crest of Air, which allows you to transform into the Aerial Gargoyle, and this also opens up 2 new areas on the overworld map (Areas V and VI).
Area V: Crawler
The Crawler is probably the single most disgusting creature in the game. When going through the main path of Area V, you will come across an area where a toothed meat sack will drop down from the ceiling and squirm across the ground, chasing you through a tunnel, and devouring the corpses that line the floor as it goes.
When you reach the chamber beyond, it will rise up and show itself in all its toothy glory, its skin practically melting off of its bones.
It will occasionally stop to open its big red eye and reach up to its back. When it does, it will grab a wad of flesh in its big meaty hand and throw it at you. When the blob hits the ground, it will turn into a flesh-baby that crawls toward you to cause melee damage, unless you make it suckle at the teat of hellfire and destroy it before it has a chance. And yes, these things are even more disgusting than the Slime Babies from Mystic Defender.
Oh, and sometimes creatures will emerge from the holes on the Crawler’s back and fly toward you. These are undead-looking things that have only a head, arms, and a torso, and they can also be destroyed by your projectiles.
The Crawler can whump its mutant arm against the ground and cause rocks to fall from the ceiling. These are tough to avoid since they fall from different places each time, and they drop quickly.
The big red eye is its only weak point, and it will remain closed for the bulk of the battle. Once you manage to get in enough shots, you’ll be rewarded with the Crest of Water, which allows you to transform into the Tidal Gargoyle. You’ll need it to beat Area V’s alternate path, as it is entirely under water, so you can face off against Holothurion.
Area V Alt: Holothurion
The Tidal Gargoyle finally gets a boss that he can fight! Holothurion is a snail-like creature that sits at the end of a long water level. While the creature itself doesn’t move, it has the ability to push the water around the room. It can swirl the water clockwise or counterclockwise, and can even suck you toward itself for one of its most damaging attacks.
It emits red pulsating globules that move with the flow of the water and hit you for melee damage. As long as you can fight the flow of the water and avoid getting sucked in, you can just keep torpedoing him in the face for victory and a Life Up.
Area VI: Arma (Final Encounter)
In your final encounter with Arma, you’ll face off against all of his previous attacks, plus one new one: an energy sickle. The sickle is destroyable by your own projectiles however, so it doesn’t present a noticeably greater threat. Also, if using the Aerial Gargoyle, you will find that the effects of Arma’s whirlwind are nullified.
All of your old strategies are just as effective against him. Defeating him for the final time earns you his respect, and he seals himself in the Crest of Time, which he leaves behind for you to take. This Crest allows you to morph into the Legendary Gargoyle.
Area VI Alt: Grewon
Grewon is a very fast and very powerful wolf. It can charge quickly across the ground, jump to almost the full height of the screen, and even jump off of walls. Technically, it doesn’t even need a wall to jump off of because it has mastered Chun Li’s ability to jump off the side of the screen, even if there’s no actual wall there.
On the ground, it can also shoot blasts of frigid air from its mouth, which it will aim in your general direction.
Each time you hit Grewon, it will turn green for a short time, and it will be temporarily invincible during this period.
There is one wall along the right side of the room which will allow you to get some elevation on your foe and avoid its attacks. You can use this to your advantage to hover high over the wolf and get it to jump toward you; then drop down and get some shots in while its back is turned. Either way, you’ll have your work cut out for you if you hope to defeat this boss. But the reward is the Demon Fire which greatly increases the power of your attacks.
A palette-swapped Grewon appears again in the final level as a mid-boss.
Phalanx is a 3-stage boss. Depending on when you encounter him, you will fight 1, 2, or all 3 of these stages. If you go straight to him once his area becomes available (after clearing the main paths in the first 4 areas), you will only see his first form. Also, you will go straight to him without having to pass through his cathedral first.
Fight him after getting the Crest of Time, but before collecting all of the Talismans, and you will fight his first two stages. And once you have collected all of the Talismans, and you will fight the previous 2 stages and his final form. If you have 100% completion at this point in the game, you will also be rewarded with a password after the ending. This will allow you to return to the game with the Crest of Heaven which gives you the Ultimate Gargoyle form, and you can challenge the real final boss, the Dark Demon.
In the first stage of this fight, Phalanx will raise spiked walls up along the sides of the chamber. He has the ability to fly across the top of the screen, and will occasionally drop down in a very fast dive attack. He will also stop to shoot a fast-moving energy ball straight forward, and he can summon a series of slow-moving energy balls that travel in an angle and bounce around a bit before disappearing, and these are difficult to dodge.
Depending on the powerups and forms you have when you reach him for the first time, you may not be able to fly up to his level to take him on. However, an easier strategy for beating him is to simply walk across the ground slightly behind him as he flies. If he dives down to shoot a fast-moving energy ball, he will be stopped facing away from you, which lets you get in a few hits.
If he starts dropping the slow-moving bouncing energy balls, you can just hang back next to the spike wall and sometimes he will swoop down in front of you on his return. He will never dive face-first into the spikes, so you usually have a chance to get a few hits in on him as he stops short of hitting you and flies back to the top of the screen.
In the second stage of this fight, the re-paletted Phalanx will cause the chamber to fill with water. You can jump out and fly up to the top of the screen to start fighting him, but taking damage can knock you back into the water. Or you can transform into the Tidal Gargoyle and remain safely below the water, swimming up to take potshots as you can. The slow-moving energy balls are also less effective in the water since they just sink the floor instead of bouncing around the room. The water will rise and fall as the battle goes on.
After a while, the water will drain. Here you will find that Phalanx has a new series of attacks. One is a black hole which will suck you toward it and stick you in place, opening you up to other attacks. Phalanx can also stop and flap his wings, which has the opposite effect, and pushes you backward, potentially into one of the spiked walls. And, his fast-moving energy balls now have a pretty tight tracking function, which means that they can hit you once, and then swing back around to hit you again.
In his final form, Phalanx reveals that what you’ve been fighting was simply a shadow of his real self. The room fills with lava, and you stand on a platform that slowly moves toward his true form, and a very difficult boss fight.
First off, there is no floor. If you fall, you’ll land in the lava and take continuous damage, regardless of the form you’re using (you should be using the Legendary Gargoyle form for this entire fight). The only place to stand is on the floating platforms that are being continuously spawned from the left side of the room, and moving directly toward Phalanx. These platforms can also be destroyed by your own shots, or projectiles from Phalanx.
Secondly, his weak point is his head, which is a comparatively small target, and it is usually protected by either the pair of hands above his head, or the pair below it. When the head is revealed, it is often so that it can unleash a huge blue energy beam all the way across the room, or to emit a blue jet diagonally down from above.
A hovering blue energy ball is occasionally conjured up by his lower hands, and it floats around the room causing damage to you and destroying platforms. You can shoot the ball to destroy it, but with everything else going on during this fight, you may find it more effective to try to steer clear of it altogether.
In the Legendary Gargoyle form, you’ll be dealing with constant elevation changes as platforms appear and are subsequently destroyed. As such, it is difficult to line up a shot without taking damage. A perfectly acceptable strategy is to allow yourself to absorb some damage so that you can stay on target and get close enough to the weak point to unleash some damaging shots.
Defeating this final form gives you a new ending. While Phalanx may be defeated, the battle’s not over yet, because you have yet to destroy the most difficult boss in the game…
It is only possible to fight this boss after you have collected 100% of everything in the game, including all powerups, Crests, Talismans, urns, vellums, and Life Ups, and you must have defeated Phalanx in his final form to unlock the password that allows you to restart the game with the Crest of Heaven, which allows you to transform into the Ultimate Gargoyle.
This battle takes place in an entirely new area that is opened on the overworld map. It has a short section to demonstrate the fact that the Ultimate Gargoyle is the amalgamation of all of the other demon forms, and that he has all of their special abilities. Most of these abilities will not be used against the Dark Demon, but that doesn’t prevent it from being one of the toughest battles you’ll ever face in a game.
Once you enter the boss chamber, you’ll encounter a bony mass that looks like a 3-headed, 4-armed skeleton riding a stack of bones with 3 demon heads. It flies around the room, chucking out spinning sickles and a glowing blue energy ball that will dog you through the entire fight, whittling away at your energy and thwarting your attempts to line up a clean shot or even stay in the air.
Occasionally, the flying anatomy puzzle will summon a pink ball of energy which will rise up to the ceiling and unleash a giant pink waterfall that will fill the entire room and cause you pain if you touch it. The only safe spot is underneath the boss itself, so you’ll still have to dodge the sickles and the glowing blue ball in order to stay in the narrow and constantly-moving safety zone.
The Dark Demon can also switch forms at will, and will bounce back and forth between the skeleton form and a flying demon with huge ears and what appear to be wings and a lower body made of purple energy. In this form, the boss will cause rocks to fall from the top of the screen which will block your shots and hurt you if you get hit by them, and it will continue to fire those annoying sickles at you. It will also toss huge black orbs toward the walls and the floor. When these orbs make contact, the section of wall or floor is replaced with spikes, making the room more and more deadly as the battle continues.
Also, this form of the demon is completely impervious to attack for a large portion of the time that it’s on the screen. While summoning the black orbs, it will flash and your shoots will pass through it. It is only vulnerable in the head, while the skeleton form can be hit in the head or torso. Neither form changes colors to indicate how close you are to defeating it, so buck up, camper.
Why this game should be part of your 2D heritage:
- The non-linear form of the game and layered level designs allow players to visit and revisit levels in almost any order, opening up new paths once new abilities are gained
- Demon forms and powerups allow for variation in gameplay as well as new strategies against enemies and bosses who are weak to certain attack types
- A cohesive dark theme that permeates the game, as supported by the story, environments, and character designs, and emphasized further through a number of extremely detailed and disgusting bosses
- Too much time spent in menus to switch forms and access special abilities
- Useless spells and potions further compound the burden of menu-ing but don’t add significantly to the gameplay