Disgaea: Hour of Darkness - Reader Re-Retroview  

The Divine Comedy
by Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland

Medium to Hard
50+ Hours


Rating definitions 

   King Krichevskoy, Overlord of the Netherworld, has died. However, his son, Prince Laharl, has been sleeping for two years for mysterious reasons, during which chaos has erupted in the Netherworld. When he finally awakens, he hears the news of his father's death and then rounds up his vassals, including Etna, to secure his throne from possible contenders. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, developed by Nippon Ichi, which had worked on other games such as Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, proves to be a unique tactical RPG, which, while fairly complex, can easily keep players occupied for endless hours.

   Battles in Disgaea feature grid-based and elevation-based fields, with the player drawing up to ten characters from a "base," and moving them around as desired. One unique feature is that your characters can lift one another (and enemies as well), and throw them across the field. Doing so is sometimes necessary in maps with disconnected terrain, chiefly on the randomly-generated maps of the Item World. Characters can move close to enemies and perform various commands, such as normally attacking or using special skills. Using a normal attack builds up that character's affinity with the type of weapon equipped, and using special skills gradually increases their level, effectiveness, and weapon level if that skill is linked to a particular weapon type. Your characters and the enemy, I should mention, have separate turn sessions.

When Bowflex doesn't cut it Get used to seeing this guy a lot.

   Disgaea features a combo system, where the player can set characters to attack the same enemies with normal attacks or special skills, and which is sometimes necessary to damage enemies with high stats. Up to four characters, moreover, can participate in team attacks, which are random and typically depend on the participating characters equipping the same types of weapons, and if their team attack kills an enemy, all who participated will gain experience.

   Many maps also contain Geo Panels of various colors, and crystals with certain effects such as increased or decreased stats when characters are standing on them. If characters destroy a crystal on a Geo Panel whose color differs from that of the Geo Panel, then all Geo Panels will then turn to the color of the destroyed crystal, and can also continue to change the colors of the panel until there are no more crystals destroyed by the chain reaction and/or transparent crystals clear those particular Geo Panels from the field. Sparking chain reactions with crystals and Geo Panels is sometimes necessary to gain special bonuses awarded on victory, such as items and a fixed experience gain for all characters.

   Characters can only gain experience from killing enemies or from said victory bonuses, yet also gain Mana that they can use at the Dark Assembly to create new characters, offer proposals that Senators vote on, and so forth. Before the Senators vote, the player can bribe them with items to sway their votes. If the Dark Assembly rejects a proposal, the player can try to battle the opposing Senators to get the legislation passed, though doing so can be fairly tedious. Characters can also fight battles in the Dark Assembly to promote their characters and allow them to propose higher-level legislation, although once they've reached Rank 3, they can transmigrate to another class while starting at level one and keeping some skills and stats from their previous class.

   Disgaea also features a unique Item World, where the player can enter an item and fight through randomly-generated floors, with the ability to exit every tenth floor or with a Mr. Gency's Exit. Each item also has special residents that provide certain effects such as increased experience, and whom the player can kill to gain the ability to transfer them to another item. Regardless of whether or not players have "subdued" residents, they can combine them with other residents of the same class to create a higher-level resident, although if a subdued resident is combined with a resident that isn't subdued, the player must go through that particular item and subdue the resident again. That the player can back out of the Item World at any time with a Mr. Gency's Exit makes it an ideal place for leveling up if necessary, and once the player does exit that item, it levels up depending on how many floors the player has completed, how many enemies the player has killed in that item, and so forth, and can make for more powerful items.

Amazing he can split a laser... Operation Human Shield

   Despite claims by many, Disgaea is by no means a cakewalk. While the player can breeze through certain story maps, sometimes even if their characters' levels are lower than those of the enemy (which typically depends on character transmigration, which increases the base stats of your characters), some maps will certainly make the player spend a few hours leveling in the Item World, though there are a few maps where defeat means a special premature ending, after which the player can restart the game from the very beginning in a new Cycle, with character stats and items intact. Overall, Disgaea's battle system can seem fairly cumbersome, though it is the main reason to play the game.

   Given the complexity of Disgaea's battle system, interaction, though, can be far more cumbersome than combat itself. For one, there's no "Equip Best" feature, and that each character can equip three different kinds of equipment or accessories in addition to one weapon can make swapping around equipment to ensure their stats are high can be a chore, as can managing item residents. The menus themselves, though, are fairly simple, and finding out how to advance the game is a no-brainer. Even so, Disgaea's interface could've certainly been more user-friendly.

   Disgaea just screams inventive--the Item World, the Dark Assembly, Geo Panels, and such, really help it stand apart from other tactical RPGs. It does borrow some minor elements from La Pucelle, such as separate turn sessions for your characters and the enemy, and maybe filches the idea of building up weapon levels from Secret of Mana, although it hardly plays like anything else.

   The story isn't as big a reason as the battle system to play the game, although it does decently glue the game together. Characters are reasonably developed, although the events that occur midway through the game are somewhat ludicrous. There are, however, multiple endings, mostly depending on how often players kill their own characters in battle, and overall, the story is passable at best.

   Disgaea's music is passable as well, with a few decent tracks and a central theme reminiscent of the Harry Potter theme, although many of the weaker tracks tend to show up more often, and the central theme itself is largely neglected. The band Tsunami Bomb provided a song called "The Invasion Within," though it only shows up in one battle and is hardly enough to bring up the music. The English voicework leaves something to desire, as well (children are always hard to voice-act well, it seems), although the Japanese voicework is available, yet the battle voices, which hybrid English and Japanese voices and annoyingly have the same voice clips stringed together and repeated during many attacks, remain intact. I also noticed that turning the Japanese voice acting on allows the player to hear some music not present when the English voicework is set. Overall, the aurals are okay, yet certainly won't drive you to buy the soundtrack.

Finish him! Finish him! Etna the Vampire Slayer

   Disgaea uses a visual style that assimilates 3-D environments and 2-D sprites, although this combination leaves something to desire. Much of the scenery looks blocky, rushed, and flat-textured, and the sprites, while decent, consist of many palette swaps, and do bear some imperfections, such as the sprites of characters supposedly winged not having wings, and the sprites of characters supposedly blonde-haired having orange hair. Granted, the game does try to mask this with decent artwork, though Nippon Ichi's character designer admitted in an interview that he's had to compromise his art to accommodate the company's graphics engine. In this day and age of gorgeous graphics, game artists shouldn't be forced to compromise their designs, and overall, Disgaea's visuals could've certainly used more polish, considering the visual capabilities of the Playstation 2.

   Finally, players can play the game endlessly, with at least fifty hours being necessary to play straight through. Overall, Disgaea is a fairly decent tactical RPG that hits a few of the right notes yet still leaves plenty of room for improvement. If you're expecting a tactical RPG like Shining Force or Final Fantasy Tactics, don't--Disgaea is very much one-of-a-kind, and players must certainly grasp the mechanisms well for maximum enjoyment, or otherwise, they will struggle and likely hate the game. You'll obviously have to love fighting if you want to play Disgaea, and depending on how well you adjust to unique games of its sort and how much you like to fight, your mileage will certainly vary.

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