Much of the fun provided by Daemon's Gate comes as a result of the lack of any supporting documentation that would have accompanied any normal commercial release. The plot of the Lynx version of Daemon's Gate seems to roughly parallel the version found on some other consoles -- the town names are, at least, similar -- but there are also enough differences here that it truly is a distinct title in itself and players will find themselves in truly uncharted territory.
Daemon's Gate opens in Tormis, the capitol of the Civilized Lands, without an introductory orientation to the game. the only assumption that will actually help you here is the generic truism that you'll be sent on some type of quest. Playing Daemon's Gate is like waking up with amnesia in a foreign land; you're going to have to find out what's going on all by yourself the old fashioned way: ask questions without getting pummeled to a pulp by unfriendly townspeople.
Exploration is required and experimentation is essential; players will have to waste a few lives before determining that those little brown creatures who flock to greet you aren't, in fact, Girl Guides out to sell you some cookies. Fortunately, the game has a built-in map which is accessed by pressing "option 1" and "A" during gameplay, and offers up to 48x magnification of the region. You'll soon realize that the towns are absolutely huge, and that it's easy to miss individual buildings.
A number of status icons, which variously indicate health, gold, and weapons, are located at the bottom of the playing field. You'll no doubt want to keep an eye on the "life" indicator, as your initial quota of 200 "life points" are going to decrease very, very rapidly (unless you stumble your way to invincibility: see below) Gold can be increased by killing monsters (stealing their money?) and by looting private hoards located in various town buildings. Don't worry about alienating townsfolk by engaging in a little break-and-enter; they'll still talk to you even after you rob them blind.
The game does, however, "remember" which houses you've raided, and you won't be able to steal the same treasure twice.
You'll also soon learn that it's hard to discern friend from foe. It's particularly difficult at first to determine who's willing to talk and who'd rather eat you up (and answer questions later), so it's important to remember that the "option" button is your friend in this game. I would suggest, when you encounter an unfamiliar face, to press the "option" button and see what options are given to you. It's generally true that, when you see the option "conversation" appear, the threat of being killed outright is going to be somewhat decreased.
Not all secrets will be revealed at once, and you may have to return to converse with individual characters once you find out more background plot details. Many of the characters have been developed to the point that they provide "smart" responses to questions; for instance, when you ask Joseph Halleck, the innkeep of Tormis, about "Joseph Halleck", he'll reply "that's me!!" Other characters won't know who they are, and the many blank responses illustrate that coding was incomplete here.
Pressing the "Option 1" button once will bring you to the options screen, where you'll be able to converse with a friendly character, shop (if you're in one), look at your inventory, or make a magic potion...if you've got the right herbs. Herbs and magic ingredients can be bought in every town, but as the Potions list hasn't yet been discovered, you'll have to experiment yourself to see what works on a trial-and-error basis. I keep losing life points from imbibing my own strange concoctions, so it's a safe bet that I won't be invited to attend Hogwarts' Academy in the near future. Fortunately, there seems to be a bug in the game which awards players invincibility at erratic and unpredictable points in the game.
Players enter the world of Daemon's Gate equipped only with a dagger that inflicts varying amounts of damage upon different enemies. It's possible to purchase new weapons with gold that you'll loot from houses as you explore the various towns, but these additional items don't seem to increase fighting efficacy: it's basically point-and-stab throughout the game.
Gameplay is largely focused on life in the various towns in the game. As you explore Tormis, you'll encounter innkeepers, guards, store owners and townsfolk who may or may not suggest that you talk to this character or that in order to find out "more." Conversation is handled quite well in the game; subjects are divided into people, places, objects, and "temporary" items, and you simply point and click the topic that you'd like someone to comment on once you're in "conversation mode."
The only character who will appear in all towns is the mysterious "Amulet of Knowledge." He is, essentially, the game's encyclopedia. You'll want to ask the Amulet a number of questions in order to orient yourself to this world, and he's always nearby if you get stuck or can't remember a crucial detail. The Amulet can be annoying, but he's crucial to playing the game since there are no other instructions to follow. The Amulet will also reveal gaming hints sequentially, so it's important to ask him questions in each town that you visit to obtain new facts.
Players who follow these tips carefully will find that, after they talk to a number of "key" characters, they'll be able to leave Tormis for the outlying towns of Anchor or Point Jornuli and, from those towns, even more distant locations in the Civilized Lands like Atteia. I've only made to four towns so far, but it's clear from the Amulet's ramblings that this is likely 30-40% of what the game designers had in mind when they began to code the game. Other cities are undoubtedly present on the cart, but they may exist only as unplayable fragments. A general plot will unfold as you explore more of Daemon's Gate... but learning about that is half the fun of playing the game, and I won't divulge it here.
The world of Daemon's Gate is presented in an overhead perspective. Characters are small, but nicely detailed and clearly distinct from each other. You'll be able to observe their individual portraits the conversation option, and I'm still continually amazed by the sheer variety of people in the game. Not all types of characters appear in every town, and many are appropriately unique to their region. The seaside town of Anchor, for instance, contains a number of sailors, and the graphical layout of the town is appropriately nautical. It's clear that much thought was placed into the design of this game.
Each of the four towns that I've seen to this point have their own distinct look and feel, even if they seem to conform to a standard grid layout. Atteia, the prison-city, is especially well done, and the use of greys, blacks, and stonework there clearly invoke an Orwellian dystopia.
A simple background tune plays throughout the game, but you can turn down the sound if this becomes annoying. There are, aside from this, only rudimentary sound effects which accompany battle scrimmages. Sound is not, in any case, crucial to gameplay.
It's doubtful that any gamer will be able to fully explore the world of Daemon's Gate, but the fun here is made in the attempt to do this. Had it been completed, the good folk at Imagitec would have given the Lynx gaming world what would seem to be a huge, sprawling (if fairly standard) RPG which would likely have ranked in the upper echelons of the Lynx's library. In my mind, though, the fragmented prototype cart of Daemon's Gate is just that much more exotic and mysterious because we just don't know much about it -- an element that really does invite exploration. You might even become the first person to explore Tan-Eldorith, or find the Sword of Venom and destroy the Daemon's Gate -- the stuff, no doubt, of the dreams of real-life explorers in our own days of old.