It’s rare in video gaming that an enemy will receive his or her own spin-off series. Yet that’s exactly what happened to Firebrand from Ghosts ‘n Goblins. You may remember him as that red little flying devil that terrorized you back in the ’80s on your 8-bit NES. Capcom saw dollar signs because they released Gargoyle’s Quest on the Game Boy in 1990. It was followed up with a sequel, Gargoyle’s Quest II, on the NES in 1992. Finally, in late 1994, Capcom released the final game in the trilogy, Demon’s Crest. It flew a bit under the radar during that holiday season of ’94 despite receiving more than its fair share of press. It was considered an underrated SNES action title for many years until it made so many underrated lists that it’s probably no longer that today (thank goodness too since it’s finally received its due props). Demon’s Crest is, in my humble opinion, Capcom’s finest hour on the SNES not named Street Fighter. It’s a tough call between this and Mega Man X, but I give the slight edge to Firebrand’s trilogy finale. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
IN THE BEGINNING…
These games were well received and thought of rather fondly. Not only did Capcom take an antagonist and give him his own spin-off series but it’s also the only one (that I know of) to ever start out on the Game Boy, followed by a sequel on the NES and finally the SNES. I can’t think of another trilogy that can claim that. Speaking of the SNES, we come to the star of the show…
I got back into all things SNES on January 17, 2006. Demon’s Crest marked my 100th SNES game purchase and I did that on February 8, 2006. I know, crazy, huh? It took me just three weeks to accumulate 100 SNES games. But this was back when most of them were going for $5-$10. I had a want list in the hundreds and it was open season.
NOTHING BUT COLD HARD FACTS
Yup, we all owe it to Sir Arthur. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is awesome but Demon’s Crest is even better. Just my opinion, of course.
THE STORY GOES…
Apparently some cursed prisoner was here before you and left a final note scrawled on the wall. You can even see the tally marks he scribbled against the wall. Looks like whatever terrible beast captured him got hungry after just four days… and guess who’s next…
Your initial firepower consists of a single fireball shot. While somewhat slow and weak, it serves its purpose well for this opening level.
WHERE TO NEXT?
After the introductory stage you’re taken to a lovely giant overhead map screen where you swoop to your next location. Rather than holding your hand and forcing you to progress in a certain order, Demon’s Crest is nonlinear and allows you some creative freedom. I love games that do this. It really plays a bit like Super Metroid-lite. Be sure to search everywhere! Never know what you may find. Not all areas are filled with enemies but rather helpful denizens and other peculiar oddities…
Pressing start takes you here. Select wisely. All of these are to be found throughout the game. Some are well-hidden while others are simply well-guarded!
This is the wise man known as Malwous. He runs the Talisman Shop in town. No, you can’t coax the geezer to sell them to you. His sole purpose is to disclose their special powers… or is it… ?
Soul energy recovers lost health. After finding the Skull Talisman and equipping it, it increases the percentage that slain enemies will drop soul energy. Only one Talisman can be equipped at a time so you’ll want to switch accordingly as each unique situation deems it so. Therein lies the strategy, options and customization of Demon’s Crest that put it (severed) heads and shoulders above the rest.
But just in case the geezer planted the soul energy in those jars and is trying to hoodwink me — a reminder that no one messes with Firebrand!
[There goes all the vital info. Smart… -Ed.]
And this git here runs the Spell shop. For the price of some bills with dead demons on them, Morack will sell you whatever your heart desires most… or at least what Capcom has prearranged, anyhow. You’ll also need to find the spell vellum in order to carry spells. Up to five can be found. Make sure you explore every last hooker and nanny [That’s “nook” and “cranny” ya fool! -Ed.]
At the spooky Black Lotus shop you can stock up on various potions. For a fee, of course. Sometimes a finger, sometimes a toe, or even a whole leg. Hey, he’s gotta keep his hungry hounds well fed…
Hey, it’s an eye for an eye…
Trio the Pago runs various set-ups around town that specializes in “game for demons.” For a small fee, skulls will appear against the wall and it’s your job to smash as many as you can before the torches flicker off. Gold is your prize. There’s beginning, intermediate and expert to challenge players of all skill levels.
The high ones are the toughest. You can gain some invaluable practice by smashing the windows in town. You may also find some gold in the process too. Double whammy!
For each torch that remains lit you’ll earn five gold pieces for. Er, they look silvery but you get the picture, no pun intended [Har har -Ed.]
This denizen is something of a gossiping demon hobo. He even asks you a yes/no question. It’s little touches like this that help to give Demon’s Crest its own pulse and universe that very few 16-bit games managed to achieve.
This barrier can’t be flown over with your standard form, nor shot down. Hmmm, what could be behind that door? Valuable treasures locked up, or perhaps a vile beast fenced off from the rest of society? This creates a level of intrigue and anticipation. Jot it down as a place to revisit later…
Ah, a potion bottle, hurrah! Only four more lie in waiting. Firebrand can fly and hover in this form as much as you want, instantly separating Demon’s Crest from your typical SNES action platformer. Perks of controlling a winged demon, eh?
In addition to hovering, clinging is another useful skill that the first form allows. Just because it’s Firebrand’s first form doesn’t necessarily make it the least significant. You can also headbutt objects in the background to possibly reveal goodies, so each form has its specific use throughout the game. You’ll find yourself switching back and forth rather than discarding a form. Forms don’t get “better” — they just serve different purposes. Pretty smart of Capcom as it increases the versatility of gameplay.
Firebrand is such a kind, gregarious lad.
I love when a game has small quirky amusing details like such. You can actually smash in the skulls of these lifeless skeletons draping from bedroom windows. It reminds me of killing the chained innocent prisoners from Blackthorne. Always good for a laugh.
The game expands as you gain more powers. The Tornado allows you to create temporary platforms, acting much like the Magnet Beam from the original Mega Man game on the NES.
Whatever’s hiding behind this wall you won’t be able to access until much later in the game after you’ve acquired a certain weapon. I’m a sucker for these type of games, yes I am.
I can’t stress enough the importance of exploring. The game can be beaten without finishing all the areas, but you won’t get the best ending nor the complete satisfaction knowing you’ve conquered this fantastic game.
Let’s take a look at some of the stages.
Around the middle of 1994 was when Nintendo revamped their violence policy. It started with Mortal Kombat II being uncensored, and allowed for games like Demon’s Crest to be released unaltered. Its dark and gruesome imagery probably would have been severely toned down prior to mid ’94.
Strangeness abounds in this deranged woodland area. Keep your eyes peeled as there are secrets waiting to be found!
Smokey Bear’s words (“Only YOU can prevent forest fires”) goes up in flames as the whole place goes ablaze. Tentacles awaken from a long slumber, rising up from the ground searching for its next meal.
Flame Lord is fairly tough. He has tricky offensive patterns so make sure you’ve got some herbs packed before taking him on.
The water actually hurts Firebrand until you acquire the Crest of Water and equip it. Then, and only then, may you explore what lies beneath.
Scula is quite the menacing monster.
Absolutely nothing like a two for one special!
Maximizing your gains by selecting the right form at the right time is all part of the fun. Ground Gargoyle is perfect for taking out enemies down below.
This enemy explodes into fragments when killed, so stay vigilant during the aftermath.
Afraid of the dark? HA! It pays to keep the lights on…
Best not linger around! One of the game’s most dramatic moments is about to happen.
Crawler comes slithering after you relentlessly. Better not pussyfoot around! Statues block the way just to add a little extra drama. Nice touch there, Capcom.
At the end of the hallway you’re trapped and forced to do battle with this giant mass of tissue. It’s the kind of monstrosity that does the Contra franchise proud.
THE MURKY WATERS
Carefully blast the blocks so that you leave just the upper and bottom one intact. Recklessly destroy all the blocks and you’re likely to get badly punctured.
THE ICY BARRENS
Should have kept your cocky trap shut. Now you’ll face the true terror that is this mid-boss.
Remember the rule: keep the lights on.
Grewon is a very agile and powerful wolf. Good luck.
Phalanx has three forms. Yup, it’s going to be one of those final boss battles.
The water will damage you unless you stay over it or unless you morph into the Tidal Gargoyle. It’s your call.
The Ultimate Gargoyle can only be unlocked by beating Phalanx with 100% of your inventory slots filled. This then grants you the Crest of Heaven. And it’s only in this form that you can tackle the game’s true final boss.
Ultimate Gargoyle is Firebrand at the zenith of his power. It’s a combination of all previous forms, plus it gives Firebrand a charge shot similar to the Blue Bomber. So Capcom rewards the persistent player who fully explores the game. Otherwise, you can’t use this form. It’s a nice bonus for the dedicated completionist.
Similar to Super Metroid, certain areas are playable but not until you’ve discovered weapon or power-up X. Only then can you backtrack to access these previously blocked off areas, opening up the game tenfold. There weren’t many games cut from this cloth in the 16-bit era. You can’t help but fall in love with Demon’s Crest. It really is kind of like a Super Metroid-lite.
Another example: Firebrand will actually get damaged if he falls into the water there. That is, UNLESS you use the Water Crest. After which, you’re feel to explore the water regions of the game fully unhindered. This of course opens up the game even more, unlocking new goodies and power-ups. Keeping a journal to jot down some notes is not a bad idea.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Demon’s Crest did extremely well with the critics. Not only was the game well previewed within the pages of EGM and GameFan Magazine during the holiday season of 1994, but it was well reviewed, too. EGM gave it scores of 8, 8, 8 and 9. GameFan gave it ratings of 97, 97 and 98%. Super Play rated it 80%. Yet despite the praise from the press, it’s been a well-documented fact that this game sold very poorly. According to Nintendo Power Magazine, the game flopped at the box office. Capcom did very little to hype this release. True, Demon’s Crest did come out around the same time as Donkey Kong Country (which sold off-the-chart numbers), but did you know during one week Demon’s Crest generated NEGATIVE sales?! Preposterous! It’s a gaming tragedy that more people returned the game than bought it for that one particular week!
While Demon’s Crest performed poorly in 1994 based on sales (despite critical acclaim), it’s made its mark ever since. Over the past 15 years or so, many people have had the pleasure of playing it and it’s been on many “Underrated SNES Games” lists. So much so, in fact, that it’s probably rated just right nowadays. I’m happy to see this game get the kind of respect that it deserved from day one. Magazines did their part to extol the virtues of Demon’s Crest but the buying public did not bite, and they missed out on a true gem as a result. Thankfully, one of the many luxuries of being a retro gamer is the ability to revisit these titles from yesteryear. And after playing through Demon’s Crest back in 2007, there is no doubt in my mind that it stands as one of Super Nintendo’s very finest action adventures.
Playing through this game reminded me of the early SNES days where the games came packed with a true sense of awe and wonder. Titles like F-Zero, Contra III, Super Castlevania IV, Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Remember the sense of magic you felt playing such games early on in the SNES lifespan? Somewhere along the lines, the magic got a little lost in a wave of countless decent but ultimately forgettable “me too” titles. Demon’s Crest, however, was a mighty return to the fold; it recaptured the spellbinding wonderment of early SNES masterpieces that you remember fondly even to this day.
Graphically, almost every trick in the book is used: transparency, umpteen layers of parallax, soft eerie swirling mist, some excellent Mode 7 and so on. It fares even better with regards to the sound and music. At times it feels like a slice of Castlevania! You can’t ever go wrong when you can rightfully claim that. The music runs circles around other games which try desperately to summon a foreboding atmosphere but fail to do so. Demon’s Crest is packed with authentic sounding church organ, haunting horns and jiggling flute effects. It’s very orchestral and that boss theme is unforgettable! It’s tense and dramatic which perfectly fits the mood as the behemoth boss reveals itself to you. Classic Capcom quality. Even the little sound effect that plays each time you add another life unit to your health is spot-on perfect.
Gameplay? It’s the best part of all! The nonlinear, open-ended aspect of the game made it extremely fun to play. I love how gaining new powers would open up new parts of a world you’ve previously conquered. It’s quite similar to Super Metroid in that regard. There’s also an “RPG quest” flair to it, thanks to its various side games, shops, interesting NPCs and so forth. And let’s face it, Firebrand is an awesome anti-hero to control. Discovering and properly utilizing your various spells and forms add much strategic quality to a stellar product. However, for as much as I have raved about this game, it isn’t without a few imperfections. Namely, Capcom failed to make use of the shoulder buttons. Unlike Mega Man X where you could switch weapons on the fly using L or R, you cannot do that here. Thus, there’s quite a bit of menu toggling and it can interrupt the flow of the action. When you consider Demon’s Crest came out nearly a year AFTER Mega Man X, you can’t help but feel Capcom dropped the ball a bit here. It’s no deal breaker by any means, but would have made for a smoother playing experience.
Bottom line, Demon’s Crest just sucks you in with its macabre and dark nature. It’s definitely not another me-too platform action game from the mid ’90s! And yes, there are multiple endings depending on what you do or don’t do. The game is pretty short, and you’ll feel bad when it ends all too soon, but you’ll have an absolute blast while it lasts. Not only is it one of the best action games on the Super Nintendo but, in my book, it’s one of the best, PERIOD. I recommend it highly. Sans the Street Fighter II games, Capcom’s finest hour on the Super Nintendo — the best of the rest — is easily…