Into The Breach and Persona fuse into ultra stylish new tactical RPG

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Blending the ineffable style of the Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games with their ‘students fighting demons’ aesthetic, and the satisfying turn-based tactical combat of Into the Breach, Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem, and even the recent Like a Dragon games, Demonschool is one of the slickest and most stylish RPGs set to hit Steam in 2024. Ahead of the game’s launch, PCGamesN spoke to Brandon Sheffield, creative director at developer Necrosoft Games, about the team’s influences and how it’s working to make Demonschool approachable for players of all experience levels.

Demonschool takes place in a university on an island where demonic rituals are attempting to pull monsters through into our world. It’s of course up to you and your crew of very capable companions to figure out what’s behind it, dealing with everything from possessed students and mysterious gangsters to the demons themselves in this tactical turn-based RPG. It takes place in 1999, Sheffield explains, “largely for the convenience of technology – the island gets cut off from the rest of the world and so I needed that to be technologically reasonable.”

Along with the more obvious influences such as the Shin Megami Tensei series and its offshoot Persona, Sheffield lists Italian horror films and Japanese horror manga among the game’s key inspirations. He picks out the “Stark colored lighting, music [with] 70s synthesizers, live instruments, fretless bass – there tends to be a mystery to the horror as well.”

“It’s very Shin Megami Tensei, and people often mention Persona 1 and 2,” Sheffield remarks of the game’s looks, but says that this likeness is actually “amusingly coincidental. We did all these experiments, about 20 different trials to see what would look right, and what we wound up with we realized, oh it basically looks like Persona 1 and 2. So we were feeling like they maybe went along the same process as us, just 20 years before us.”

The combat itself is all about grid-based tactics, and is designed to be simple to understand but with a good amount to think about. Much like the excellent Into The Breach, you can plan out your moves with the ability to rewind at any time during the planning phase if you’re unsure about your decisions or want to try different strategies out to see how they look. Characters can only move in straight lines and side steps; “We wanted to reduce the number of clicks players have to do,” Sheffield explains.

Damage numbers are kept small and simple “to be more understandable,” with some characters focused on direct attacks while others can debuff, stun, or lower the defenses of your foes. Conversely, your healers don’t all have direct attack potential, but they can buff the damage their allies will deal if they’re already at full health, meaning they won’t ever be standing around with nothing to do. Another key element is combos – if you push or pull an enemy into another friendly character, they’ll team up for a stronger attack.

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Between the battles, which typically task you with a specific goal to meet in order to seal the latest demonic portal, you’ll retire to your student clubhouse, where you can hang out with your squadmates and companions. There are 15 of these you’ll meet during your adventure, Sheffield tells us, and you’ll also have the option to customize the clubhouse to your liking.

Taking on main missions will progress time – more on that in a moment – while the optional side missions won’t, something Sheffield says is “kind of influenced by the Yakuza series.” Alongside that, you’ll have the option to spend time with characters to learn more about them and progress their individual stories, which can increase their combo strength in battle and potentially even unlock new endings.

Demonschool - Four characters meet in the clubhouse. Faye says, "I'm pretty sure it's demonic possession."

You’ll also be able to study with characters to unlock new abilities, such as increasing your movement range or gaining immunity to certain effects. Once you’ve done this with a character, however, they’ll become unavailable to study again for a few in-game days, so you’ll want to plan carefully to maximize your potential.

Sheffield says the characters will start out as fairly recognizable tropes, to give players a quick first impression that he can play around with later. There’s also the potential to romance many of the companions when your relationship reaches a deep enough level. “There are a few where I don’t allow romance,” he notes, “either because I feel like they need to be friends or for other reasons.”

Demonschool - A photograph of a manual made for the game showing its battle systems.

Demonschool is shaping up to be something rather delightful, then, and Sheffield tells us he hopes players new to the genre will find it easy to jump in and learn by playing. Any battle you fail can be retried repeatedly, or skipped altogether if you’ve had enough of it. “We found from showing it at PAX that a lot of people who did find it difficult would at least try again once,” he remarks.

Demonschool is set to launch in the second quarter of 2024. You can head to Steam right now to add it to your wishlist if you want to be notified when it becomes available.

To keep you busy until Demonschool arrives, then, take a look through more of the best RPG games you need to play in 2024, along with the best indie games we think are well worth your time on PC right now.

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Additional reporting by Nat Smith for PCGamesN at GDC.

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