World of Demons Review
On January 18, 2024 - Platinum Games' World of Demons was delisted from Apple Arcade. As of February 1, 2024, anyone who had previously downloaded the game will lose access to the title, as the licenses will have expired. This isn't some nebulous future where games might be lost, someday - it's our reality, and as long as games are tied to a subscription service like Apple Arcade, we're all left to the whims of a company deciding to go back and port these exclusives to other platforms, allowing players a means of purchasing the game for themselves. Unless Platinum decides to port World of Demons elsewhere, the game's legacy may have already ended, and anyone who didn't already take the time to play it, never will.
I didn't originally plan on ever really playing or reviewing World of Demons. Yet, upon the announcement that the game would be delisted, I had a change of heart. When World of Demons launched on Apple Arcade on April 2, 2021, it came alongside a batch of other games; including RPG Site's own RPG of the Year 2021, Fantasian. While there have been rumors pointing to the possibility of a port for Mistwalker's masterpiece, I was still concerned about the scenario in which the game might one day be lost; after all, games like ChuChu Rocket Universe had already been a casualty of the service. It's a chilling reminder, when a game that released on the same day on the service has now seen the axe.
World of Demons started its life as a free-to-play mobile game, before eventually shifting to a self-published model when Platinum partnered with Apple for an Apple Arcade exclusive release. The microtransactions were shelved, and the game was polished up for a launch on the service. If you were one of the lucky ones to get a chance to play the release version for yourself, you could still see remnants of the game's origins; though the final release, true to Apple Arcade's ethos, was completely devoid of any microtransactions.
As a predominantly mobile title, World of Demons straddled the line of the traditional Platinum Games fare, while offering a more simplified and streamlined experience suitable for the platform. As players took control of Onimaru and his companions, you would fight demons as you progressed through each stage; picking up the souls of defeated enemies to turn around and use for your own onslaught. Each stage would come with a number of side objectives and secrets; maybe you might need to use a specific demon to smash rocks, or to light a lantern, or to put out a fire in front of you; while stages were largely linear affairs, there was a sort of strategy about when to use Demons for combat, or when to save them in case they might be needed for optional puzzles later.
Combat was largely a two button affair; you had your basic attack button, which could also be held for specific stronger attacks during a combo string that are unlocked as you gain levels across the campaign, and you had your dodge. Three additional buttons were used for your equipped demons; at the end of stages you might unlock Demons that you could permanently equip, two per each character, and an additional button would let you borrow the power of demons who you had defeated during a stage.
I will never be able to speak for how the game felt on a touchscreen. With a controller, despite the game's simplified mechanics, it felt very good to play. Different characters had their own unique playstyles. Onimaru could dodge, but the same button might only act as a parry for another character. Once you had unlocked an additional character outside of Onimaru, you could set separate equipment layouts for two separate characters to attempt a level with. Not only did individual demons have their own elemental properties, but so too did the weapons you could equip for each character - so there was a sense of swapping characters depending on which elements might be more advantageous for any specific mission.
The game was split into four chapters, with four "main" stages per chapter - after completing the main stage for a location in a chapter, additional side missions unlocked for each. Sometimes these meant another showdown against the stage's main boss. Later on in the game these rematches would have bosses accompanied with other boss demons from earlier in the story. Sometimes side missions would require that you've unlocked specific demons, some of which you could only unlock as a reward for 100% completing the main stage. These would challenge you to combat challenges with a specific set of demons, requiring you to learn how each demon might work in different contexts.
Visually, World of Demons was stunning. Taking a book from the studio's work on Okami when they were still Clover Studios, World of Demons borrows a traiditional Japanese aesthetic - mimicking the art of the timeframe the game's story wishes to emulate and pull from. Each stage was like a painting, and it was hard not to be impressed with the artistry on display. I'd have loved to have seen how it might have looked on a mobile display, or an iPad.
While the method in which I played World of Demons was far from ideal - I sat down and played it for several hours a day until I was done, upon the announcement that the game would be delisted - it was still a great game. Combat was a more methodical affair, perhaps owing to the fact that with a touchscreen Platinum couldn't expect players to have quite the same reaction times as with a controller, but it worked in its favor by crafting a combat system that felt inventive and different from much of Platinum's own catalog of releases. While the level design did wear on me by the end of the game, I couldn't fault it too much, when I doubt I would've felt the same if I had played it over the course of a few weeks on my phone.
The gameplay loop was excellent, and in the world where the game had received constant updates, I could have seen myself returning to it whenever new levels, new demons - and crucially - new story dropped.
It would have been tragedy enough if World of Demons had merely disappeared, but there was another wrinkle to the matter. At the last moment in the game's story, World of Demons pulls the rug out from under you - assuming that the game would have been updated to continue the plot. This never happened, and now that all is said and done the story will never be complete. Onimaru and his friends are doomed to a fate worse than death; their story unfinished, and for all intents and purposes - erased entirely.
World of Demons deserved better. Any game would have deserved better, but the fact that a title clearly crafted with love from one of the most beloved action game developers in the industry can just vanish into the ether should give anyone pause. Unless there's assurances of a port down the line, the same could happen to any game stuck on Apple Arcade; and just because the platform isn't given the same attention as others in the industry doesn't mean that the games are any less important. The same could happen to Fantasian, Sonic Dream Team, or even Pocket Card Jockey. At the end of the day, our industry thrives on building off of past successes; and with the loss of games like World of Demons, we might never know what games it might have inspired in the future.