Demon’s Crest might be the weirdest video game out there.
Now, of course, there are a number of “weird” video games for a number of different reasons. Within the last sixty or so posts, I’ve looked at a game where Tarzan gets turned into a fire-breathing monkey to battle a techno witch doctor, another where a magical guitar from space is able to repel Elvis the Bee, and whatever the hell was going on in Fester’s Quest. And that’s just looking at the “weird” of plots and enemies without even considering stuff like Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem as weird with its fairly unique gameplay mechanics, or WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! which is pretty dang weird in every conceivable way.
But compared to Demon’s Crest, all those other games are fairly surface level. Demon’s Crest is, by the numbers, one of the weirdest things to ever grace the Super Nintendo.
1. This Happened
First, let us remember the old days of the Super Nintendo, and Nintendo’s apparent “religious” policies.
Many people remember Nintendo of America for being distinctly puritan in its aversion to sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll in any game produced for its systems. “Pubs” must be “inns”. All references to alcohol must be expunged and modified to be… soup? Any depictions of sexiness or remote lewdness must be covered, so no bare ass for Siren. And (perhaps most oddly of all considering who is usually responsible for this kind of censorship) any references to “real” religions must be demolished or at least modified so heavily that they’re unrecognizable. A cross is cool, as long as it’s a boomerang or has a billion little points sticking out. A spell may not be “holy”, let’s go with… pearl.
Capcom, whether it was through Nintendo’s influence or internal policies, seemed content to follow the restrictive standards of the time. Final Fight modified genders to circumvent the concept of men punching (and piledriving) women, and crosses were changed to ankhs in Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Things seemed to improve by the time Mega Man 7 allowed “damn”, or the cast of Breath of Fire 2 battled Jesus to the death, but Capcom would remain skittish up through the Playstation era, when Breath of Fire 4 dropped any pants dropping for the American release (also some decapitation).
And then, from the same company that brought you Disney’s Magical Quest starring Mickey Mouse and Mega Man Soccer comes the story of a demon from Hell battling gelatinous eyeballs and corpse monsters. What the arremer?
2. Firebrand… evolves
This game wasn’t completely out of left field; it was the third in a trilogy of games starring Firebrand, presumably the titular demon of Demon’s Crest.
But if you actually play Firebrand’s previous adventures, you’ll notice a distinct shift in graphic style and general plot. Yes, you’re in the Demon Realm, and, yes, you’re a red, winged demon, but the general tone is markedly different. Firebrand’s original Gameboy and NES sprites are probably best described as… jaunty. Firebrand may be a demon, but he walks around like Popeye fixin’ for a brawl, and appears to be just about as threatening as Olive Oyl. The gameplay also places a premium on very measured platforming: you have wings, but for most of the games, you have limited flight capabilities, effectively making your “flight” a very long jump. Many of the stages appear to be challenges straight out of Mega Man, with long gaps and floating platforms that must be properly vaulted to proceed. And, obviously, Firebrand’s various fireballs distinctly recall Mega Man’s jump ‘n shoot gameplay. Firebrand is the Blue Bomber with a new paintjob, nothing scary about that. Add in some JRPG-esque overworld exploration areas, and you’ve got a game that’s a little bit Mega Man, a little bit Final Fantasy, and all fun. Firebrand’s Adventure.
Similarly, the plot is very “medieval hero”, so, while Firebrand is still demonic, he’s acting as (almost literally) a king’s knight. He’s not flying around to menace preschoolers or bargain for souls and fiddles, he’s just a dude trying to save his kingdom, the same as 90% of video game heroes. Again, taken as a whole, Firebrand seems to have more in common with a stuffed plushy than a demon of yore, and, ultimately, that’s how you make Satanism palatable: only the most adamant of old church ladies are going to object to Little Debbie Devil snacks or one of those adorable demons with the diaper and mini-pitch fork. Aw, he tortures like such a lil’ champ.
Really, this all comes from the source material for Firebrand, Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Even at its grossest, G‘nG still featured demons that proudly displayed “♥ Mom” tattoos or cute dances. Firebrand was an (annoying) enemy in those games, and his sprite was only slightly modified for his initial starring roles. The Demon Realm as we knew it was a harsh, unforgiving place, but there were still good odds you’d encounter a zombie that was less a shambling corpse and more “kinda goofy”.
Demon’s Crest forsook all of this. Firebrand was no mere sprite mod of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghost’s Red Arremer, no, now he was… well, take a look at this guy:
The first enemy encountered is a gigantic, rotting Dragon that threatens to devour you whole, and the game proceeds from there through a graveyard where Firebrand is able to headbutt a fellow demon’s upper torso clear off. There’s no question about Firebrand’s demonic origins now. Even Firebrand’s lively dance-walk is gone! The horror!
The gameplay has changed dramatically, too. Firebrand’s flight is now infinite, so, while there are still platforming “challenges”, an area early in the forest level seems to flaunt the fact that Firebrand can now lazily soar over any and all moving platforms. Later, Firebrand gains true flight with the Air Crest, and any vertical issues are completely circumvented. Perhaps to compensate, there is now a greater emphasis on the combat and bosses of each stage, so, rather than worrying about bottomless pits, Firebrand must now fret over life-sapping goo and skeleton cleavers. Of course, your main adversary is much more immediate…
3. The Start Button is your Enemy
Like Mega Man before him, Firebrand’s greatest foe is the player’s own lack of enthusiasm at opening the pause menu.
Demon’s Crest provides all new gameplay features in the form of the eponymous crests, one for each element (mostly). Firebrand is default equipped with the Fire Crest (which allows him to breath fire… and headbutt?), but, as the game progresses, you can earn additional crests to unlock new powers like ground dashing, flying, or swimming. As a lovely flourish, each crest also grants Firebrand a different form, and, aside from Ground Gargoyle being larger than most, the switch is generally merely cosmetic. The only problem with this whole system is that thou must enter the pause menu to switch between forms. This… isn’t any fun, and the game knows it.
The latter stages of Demon’s Crest delight in forcing the player to rapidly switch between forms. A dark passage with spiked walls can only gain illumination through the fire blasts of the Fire Crest, but scaling the room requires the Air Crest. The final boss (well, one of them) floods the room, forcing Firebrand to forgo his primarily defensive or offensive forms for exclusively the Water Crest. And, while it’s not very perceptibly conveyed to the player, each boss has a weakness to a particular form’s attacks, but that attack is not likely to be linked to the form most effective at dodging. Even more obviously, the Ground Gargoyle has a powerful fireball, but you’re constantly forced to switch from the more offensive form to the agile, but weaker, Fire Form.
Conceptually, this shouldn’t be a problem. The forms do not require MP or some finite resource, and switching around requires only the will to stop the action and tinker around in menus… which is a problem. This is an action game, and every second spent away from the action feels… wrong. What’s more, this problem was solved years earlier in Mega Man X, when Inafuking decided to implement those L & R buttons to allow X to cycle through his full weapon complement without ever taking a break. It’s entirely possible to beat the Mega Man X SNES titles without pausing(citation needed), but it is literally impossible to do the same with Firebrand’s quest. Why did the designers forsake this excellent design decision? Was it to accommodate the graphical form switches? To add a little more challenge? Who knows? It’s weird.
4. The Crests don’t make sense
The entire point of Demon’s Crest is to collected the titular crests that “fell to the Demon Realm” in the prologue of the game. Firebrand, prior to the player’s involvement, nearly collected all of the crests, but he was defeated at the last moment by a sneak attack compliments of Phalanx. Phalanx now possesses the crests, and spread them all about the Demon Realm, because, I don’t know, maybe he didn’t have Firebrand’s infinite bag of holding.
The crests, as has already been mentioned, grant Firebrand different powers. For instance, the fire crest allows Firebrand to breathe fire, or… tornados? What? How does that make any sense? Shouldn’t that be a facet of the Air Crest? No, I guess that wouldn’t work, because you absolutely don’t need tornado platforms when you already have the power to fly anywhere. I suppose you could no-prize this one and claim that Firebrand is shooting fire that creates a localized vacuum that allows for climbing on tornados. Right? Erm, sure.
Swimming with the Water Crest or smashing rocks with the Earth Crest makes a bit of sense, but then we get to the Time Crest. The Time Crest, to quote the game directly:
“Ruling over the past, the crest enables the owner to go back in time.”
Wow, cool! We’re going to be able to rewind mistakes and… no, wait, this isn’t Braid, it’s a Super Nintendo game, we can’t do anything that complicated. Or, wait, the entire Demon Realm is looking pretty ratty, maybe the Time Crest allows Firebrand to jump back to earlier times and collect items in slightly different environments. Or is it more immediately practical, like “undoing” fallen platforms or… Nope, all wrong. The Time Crest allows Firebrand to simulate his older, stronger self, and… take double the hits.
Really, game? “Enables the owner to go back in time” and the best you could use it for is additional armor? It doesn’t even really make sense, either, because the “younger Firebrand” is just the Firebrand that possessed nearly all of the crests… which is exactly what you have done by the time you’ve acquired the Time Crest. What the heck!?
But the weird thing here is that there was no reason there had to be a Time Crest. This game’s crests were all invented for this game and this game only. There’s no, I don’t know, Evil Clock Monster that possesses the Time Crest, or the only way to acquire the crest is through time tunnels, or whatever justification may exist. There’s no reason such a lame, generic ability had to be tied to a Time Crest at all, or why the Time Crest’s description seems so robust compared to “lets you take a couple extra hits”. This easily could have been the Hard Crest or Carapace Crest or Armor Crest and who would have cared? But, no, Time Crest, because I guess it sounds cool.
And don’t get me started on the Infinity Crest that can “give the bearer unimaginable power”… and it only imparts upon Firebrand skills he already has. Oh boy, now I can swim and fly at the same time, this sure is unimaginable power!
I’d really like to know what the designers were thinking, but…
5. Nobody knows who made this game
Want to check the credits for Demon’s Crest? Too bad, there aren’t any. The “staff roll” for the game is just a greatest hits of Firebrand’s enemies, and, should you defeat the super secret final boss of the second quest, you get an expanded credits that also showcases Firebrand’s various forms and crests, but still no credits for real world people.
Since the release of the game, there was a soundtrack released for the 20th anniversary of Ghosts ‘n Ghouls, and it was confirmed at that time that the music of this game was handled by Toshihiko Horiyama and Ippo Yamada. That’s about it for credit for this game. I want to say that the same fellow that handled the art for Breath of Fire around this time did the concept art for Demon’s Crest, because there seems to be a similar style there, but that’s all I got.
So you’re welcome to ask the designers of this weird game what they were thinking… if you can find them.
6. It sold… poorly
Despite being what I consider to be one of the best games of 1994 (granted, a crowded year), Demon’s Crest sold pretty poorly. How poorly? Well, according to the 100th issue of Nintendo Power, there was a week when Demon’s Crest had negative sales. Somehow, more people returned the game than bought it. We have to consider that this information is unsourced and was presented by the same magazine that once recommended using Crash Bomber against Heat Man, but there’s no reason to believe NP was pulling information straight out of thin air.
Possibly related, around the time of release, there were rumors that there was a parent/religious organization that deliberately purchased the game simply to return it by the crateful as some kind of ridiculous protest of the “demonic” content. This sounds insane (and generally time wasting), but this was the era of Mortal Kombat and Night Trap, so there were any number of concerned old biddies trying to send the message that gaming would destroy us all… or whatever the game plan there was. Look, no one ever said any of these organizations knew what they were doing, or, for that matter, were at all effective. I mean, I suppose we should be glad they were all morons… right? Gaming lives on, even if Firebrand…
7. Killed the franchise, killed the legacy
Whether it was because of low sales or Capcom generally losing interest (this was also around the time G’nG was ignored until Maximo), Demon’s Crest became a forgotten gem of the Capcom library. At a time when even Son-Son and dancin’ cacti were making appearances in Capcom “crossover” games, Firebrand was left to rot back in the Demon Realm. Every once in a while you’d see a Red Arremer cameo somewhere, but any mention of battles over crests were ignored.
“Red Arremer” finally made a return in SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos, a game that, let’s be honest, wasn’t any good. Its Red Arremer was also very much just a G’nG holdover Red Arremer and not the Firebrand of Demon’s Crest. Similarly, Firebrand popped up years later in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but was once again portrayed as merely Sir Arthur’s enemy, and not the calculating, transforming Firebrand of Demon’s Crest. Even when it came time to give the guy hyper combos and alternate costumes that would be ideal for showcasing the DC abilities and forms, everything was ignored in favor of a set of armor that recalled a random Gameboy Advance G’nG remake.
The message to fans was clear: Demon’s Crest was a mistake, and shall be ignored. Firebrand returned to being an effectively mute, generic enemy, and it seemed unlikely we would ever hear so much as a reference to the Firebrand of Demon’s Crest again. Until…
8. Demon’s Crest returns!
Finally, someone remembered Demon’s Crest existed, and the “Red Arremer Joker” that was a “hero of the War of the Crests” returns… in Namco x Capcom, a fanservice-based tactics game featuring a thousand Capcom and Namco characters. But, hey, who cares, Firebrand is back, and someone is finally acknowledging the events of Demon’s Crest! My love for the game is vindicated! Nothing could make me happier!
And then Arthur slays him. They brought back the “real” Firebrand just to prop him up on the bad guys’ team and kill ‘em.
A weird end for a weird hero.
FGC #95 Demon’s Crest
- System: Super Nintendo, and recently released for the WiiU Virtual Console. Hey, maybe this means we’ll see another Demon’s Crest title! And another Mega Man title! And I’ll get my own pony!
- Number of Players: One. You know, you can summon mini demons with a spell, it’d be neat if they could be controlled by a second controller.
- Drown!: I have to admire the (kinda) final boss, Phalanx. His plan against his winged, fire breathing opponent is to flood the arena. It doesn’t work because Phalanx should have maybe recognized the Water Crest might have some countering effects, but it’s up there with “Why doesn’t Dr. Wily just make a fortress out of spikes” for super villain good ideas.
- Favorite Boss: The Crawler is creepy as all get out and pretty powerful, but he’s manageable once you recognize he’s dependable in his pattern adherence. This is basically what I look for from an action game boss, so props to the corpse monster. Second place goes to Scula, who goes the extra mile and chucks his head at you. Man, does that guy get mad if you destroy his brain before his body.
- Mode 7: Forgot to mention that the “overworld” of the previous games has now become a perfunctory Mode 7 flight mode that could easily be replaced by a Mega Man-esque level select screen. All that said, though, I did always have fun swooping around the Demon Realm, hoping to randomly land on a secret…
- So, did you beat it? Yes, and I even beat the ultra super deluxe final boss back in the day on the original hardware (so no save states). It’s not that hard when you have five full life potions, a mastery of the Infinity Crest, and you’re in the middle of the biggest blizzard your region has ever seen in your lifetime so a lot of spare time to kill. To think, some kids shoveled snow for actual money. Losers.
- Did you know? There wasn’t enough Demon’s Crest trivia in this article for you? Alright, fine, how about… The Infinity Crest claims to grant Firebrand all the powers of all the other crests, but it does not unleash a fireblast that is actually fire-based. It’s powerful, yes, but it won’t light a candle or cause a puddle of oil-ooze to blaze up, so the Fire Crest becomes one of the few crests still worth using after acquiring Infinity. Back to basics, even at the finale.
- Did you know (article related)? The word “crest” is used 67 times in this article. Well, 68 now.
- Would I play again: Yes. This is easily one of the best games on the SNES, and possibly ever in the history of action-platforming-demoning. It might be weird, but I like it. I like it a lot. I would play Demon’s Crest again. Heh, 69.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Marvel Comics X-Men vs Street Fighter for the Playstation! Hey, ROB, that’s almost relevant. Good job, robot, you’re on a roll here. Anyway, the only thing that can stop the Juggernaut is a dragon punch, and it’s coming up next. Please look forward to it!
I learned this from the HG101 article on the series, but there were a couple of games that used the GnG license between Demon’s Crest and Maximo. It’s just that they were both Japan-only. One was a Wonderswan exclusive platformer that didn’t have the series’ original designer on board and the other was an odd macabre take on The Incredible Machine.
Anyway, I love Demon’s Crest but I’m definitely not surprised it didn’t sell well. Between the graphics, music, art design, and setting, Demon’s Crest is a much darker game, not to mention one that came out just as Nintendo was cutting back on its Draconian censorship policies.
I mean, it’s not a particularly gory game (the more gruesome stuff like the dragon’s face rotting as its head falls off, Firebrand’s death animations, and the Iron Maiden with bleeding eye sockets and a half-dismembered corpse with its guts hanging out inside are in the minority compared to the shit Konami’s SotN got away with on PSone), but it’s dark enough that I can see why some parents would be upset if their kids played it…and not just the religious nuts losing their shit over a flying red devil fighting other devils in Devil World.
Probably not helping was that Demon’s Crest is the kind of game that could be completed over the course of a rental. The game’s hard, but it’s not particularly large, and the collection aspects are less like Super Metroid and more like Mega Man X’s exploring of far off hidden corners of an otherwise straightforward map combined with Mega Man 6’s alternate level paths except they lead to different bosses instead of the same boss but he has part of the BEAT item.
Still, great game, easily one of the highest points of third party output on the Super Nintendo. Just a shame it didn’t sell, but I’m glad to have it on Wii U Virtual Console, even if it’ll never net as many purchases as Earthbound hitting VC did.