King of Demons

While we are familiar with Japanese publishers such as Capcom, Konami, and Square Enix over the decades there have been many companies that have flirted with game’s publishing that you have probably never heard of.  Usually this is with good reason; when a large multimedia conglomerate like Victor or FCI enters the game industry it’s to make a quick buck and the terrible products bear that out.  However you do get a jewel every so often.  KSS Inc. were only involved with games for a brief period but that was long enough to drop Majyūō (or King of Demons) on the market.  This dark themed action platformer is excellent and ranks with Castlevania and Actraiser in the system’s lineup in my opinion.

Abel is a simple man living the American dream.  That is shattered when his best friend Bayer kills his wife and kidnaps his daughter to resurrect the King of Demons.  To make matters worse Bayer kills him with his newfound power!  But a sacrifice from his wife restores Abel to enter the depths of Hell to rescue his daughter.

King of Demons is a game that should have come to the US.  But with the rising costs of cartridge production and its late 1995 release it was doomed to stay in Japan.  If this were released a year or two prior I have no doubt any number of publishers would have snapped it up.  For Christ sake we got crap like Kendo Rage, this might as well have been Super Mario Brothers in comparison.  Whether you play it with the English patch or tough it out in Japanese King of Demons is a great hidden gem and one of my favorite action games for the system.

At first Abel is pretty limited in his human form.  Your gun is not especially strong but it does have infinite ammo and hits anything in its path.  You can double jump and perform a defensive roll to avoid damage with timing.  You can also perform a downward kicking attack that I’ll be honest rarely ever connects.  Your most powerful asset is the charge attack, which unleashes a Hadoken like burst of fire which can be spammed.

The true meat of the game comes in the demon transformations.  Once you have defeated the first major boss a jewel drops which cycles through 3 colors.  The Red jewel transforms you into a harpy with rapid fire boomerangs as its attack.  The Green jewel changes you into a winged lizard with large arms that can fire laser beams.  The Blue jewel is a dragon with very strong breath attacks but slow movement. 

It is an incredibly cool feature but it goes even deeper.  Choosing the same jewel three times grants an even more powerful version of that form with radically different attacks.  The green demon wasn’t my favorite as its standard attack was too thin for my liking.  In its powered up state its beams are significantly wider and its charge attack even more destructive.   To reach the ultimate form you’ll need to try each form in a specific order but it is worth it.  Not only is the last form really strong but it also grants access to the game’s good ending, not that it is all that different.  The variety in demons is the real incentive to play through the game more than once.

Despite its appearance I found King of Demons to be pretty easy.  Regardless of which form you inhabit they are pretty overpowered compared to the enemies.  To a certain extent a particular form might excel in one stage but completely fail in another but not to the point of constant death.  The charge attack mows through demons and can be spammed regularly.  Every 5000 points your life bar expands enabling you to survive that much longer and is an easy target to hit frequently.  Combined with instantly respawning upon death you can brute force your way to the game’s climax.  You have the option to remain in human form which does make the game far more complex.  But you would have to be pretty dumb to even do that. 

The world of King of Demons is much darker than most of the game’s released for the Super NES.  Hell as it is depicted here is full of ruined cities and fantastical landscapes that are delightful to marvel at.  The collection of enemies is fairly original and the game isn’t shy with the blood and gore.  The subject matter can be out there as monsters explode in blood, hearts bleed, and in one completely random moment two Minotaurs beat a crucified woman to death with clubs.  This would have fit in right alongside Demon’s Crest and Nosferatu and helped shed the system of its kiddy image in the US. 

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As expected of a game released in 1995 the visuals are fantastic.  The character sprites are small however the artists really went to town on the game’s collection of large, gruesome bosses.  The detail that is lacking in the sprites is poured into the game’s exquisite backgrounds.  Every new stage is that much more lavish than the last and is incredibly atmospheric.  Special effects are kept to a minimum leaving the art direction to carry the presentation which it is more than up to the task.

In Closing

King of Demons is an all-around great title and another in a cool list of import only action games for the SNES.  Don’t let the language barrier deter you from discovering an awesome hidden gem.

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