Pokemon Ruby & Sapphire, Mega Man Battle Network Blue & White, and now DemiKids: Light & Dark. The Game Boy Advance is no stranger to monster-collector RPGs that span two different versions. DemiKids hopes to distance itself from the pack with a strong storyline and the experience behind the Shin Megami series.
Make that two strong storylines. While each version shares the same conclusion, they have different introductions and rising action. They also have separate protagonists: Jin (Light) and Akira (Dark). These two, together with Lena, make up a school posse that investigates all things weird and mysterious. Imagine their rapture when they find a book in the school library that details the mechanics of demon summoning. And of course, as we all did at their age, they summon a demon. A little later, the school gets caught in a Groundhog Day-type time warp. Enter Amy, a girl who claims to be from a dimension called Valhalla, who gives the boys a weapon that allows them to capture demons. But all things come with a price, and Amy insists that they follow her into Valhalla, where there are troubles related to the time warp.
Here the boys part ways. Jin goes straight to Valhalla to join a revolution to free the human population from the demons of the region, but Akira heads first to the Demon dimension itself, where he uncovers more about the time anomaly. Clearly, DemiKids has a more interesting plot than any of its mates in the sub-genre. Some would also say a more controversial plot. After all, North Americans have been known to protest children's media smacking of the occult. Atlus has taken care not to poke the sleeping dragon in the eye: they've changed the game's name from Devil Children; they've filled in some of the pentagrams and made them into stars; and they've edited out the swear words. To the previewer's ears, all of this sounds merely precautionary. DemiKids is too much of an under-the-radar game to attract significant attention, positive or negative. Atlus will have to be careful if the anime series ever gets syndicated, but for now, the bulk of DemiKids remains unchanged.
The collecting process itself also shows signs of innovation. Players acquires any of the 350 demons not by pounding them and forcing them into inhumanely-sized balls, but instead by using their existing demons as emissaries and negotiating an alliance. Different kinds of demons have different prejudices to other demons, and the player will have to take care that they send a demon type that is amicable to the potential comrade. This consideration can go quite deep, for even a demon's status as a mongrel or a purebred is known to the player. Demons can also join the player through the fusion system, where two demons are combined to form a new one. The fusion system is doubly useful in that it can strengthen existing demons and make them more effective in battle. For their part, battles are traditionally turn-based, but they are also a cut above other games' in terms of the challenge level.
DemiKids' graphics have been compared to Earthbound's, but they lack that title's innovation and temporal superiority. DemiKids' field graphics look particularly antiquated, and characters' feet are in constant motion. It may not seem like much, but it screams lazy animation nonetheless. The music is good, but not outstanding.
The monster-collecting genre has shown itself to be popular, but so far most of its titles have been heavily juvenile. DemiKids may still be aimed at children, but in a sterilized world, every little bit of edginess helps.