Name of Game - Review  

Angels, Demons, and Humans
by StormofSwords

40-60 Hours
+ Fast, fun battles.
+ Great story.
+ Level capof 9,999 suits multiple replays.
- Poor graphics.
- Sloppy menus.
Click here for scoring definitions 

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is not a game for everybody. With a high, occassionally obtuse level of difficulty, low spec graphics, and quirky jokes about things like leveling, numerous replays, and multiple endings sprinkled throughout the dialogue, it most likely won't appeal to first-time T/JRPG players, or make converts out of anyone who doesn't like them already.

Getting past these issues, however, an experienced player will find Disgaea to be refreshingly fun and disarmingly humorous adventure.

The story is set in The Netherworld, a realm very similar to hell, where powerful and petty demons alike strut their stuff and try to appear tough. The world is ruled by the most powerful demon there, and that demon is awarded with the title of Supreme Overlord.

When the game begins, the player will see one of the main characters, Etna, attempting to awake her employer, the nefarious Prince Laharl, from his two-year slumber. When she finally succeeds, she informs the Prince of the death of his father, King Krichevskoy, The Overlord of the Netherworld, two years ago. Laharl, somewhat alarmed, discovers the Netherworld has been thrown into anarchy with the death of his father, and subsequently sets out to thrash the demons lining up to claim the throne, and take up the mantle of Overlord for himself.

The story is excellent, loaded with twists, turns, and a healthy dose of demonic humor, with a colorful cast ranging from the sassy and arrogant Prince Laharl, to a goody-goody angel-in-training-slash-assasin, to a former superhero from earth and his sidekicks, stranded in the Netherworld. These are complemented by a similarly bizarre cast of villains, like the powerful yet incompetent 'Dark Adonis'(Or, as Laharl names him in a bit of RPG humor, 'Mid-Boss')to the avaricious and confused General Carter. However, the main plot often seems stretched out, and takes far too long to reveal simple or unimportant things. Further, should you get the 'bad ending'(A very easy ending to get, just on accident)several plot points will be left entirely unresolved, calling for an immediate replay.

...And, he's a whack-job. ...And, he's a whack-job.

The game is merciful here, however, allowing for a New Game+ where all party members retain levels and equipment, making it possible to see just about all of the game's multiple endings in just six to eight hours.

Gameplay in Disgaea is as refreshing and fun to play as the story is to watch. In between missions, Laharl will be free to walk around his castle, talk with occasionally helpful NPC's, shop, rest, and warp to new missions. The player can also enter the madcap 'world', inside of every item in the game, from a Mint Gum to a Diabolic Sword, and rank them up by beating 10 levels, thus increasing that item's power. Finally, the player can petition to the hellish Dark Assembly, politely requesting that they do things such as open up new maps to clear, improve the items sold in the shop, create pupils, and rank said pupils up for use in battle. Regrettably, the Dark Assembly is always incredibly unwilling to perform even simple requests, no matter how much money you throw at them, to the point of being obtuse. You can try to beat them into submission, but it's not advised, as they are extremely tough. This is rather annoying, considering they're supposed to remember the gifts you give them, and vote more your way the next time you petition.

Battles in Disgaea play mostly like other TRPG's, but with a few significant twists. Every map begins with an isometric view of the arena, showing all your enemies. Rather than choosing a number of units to deploy on the map prior to the mission, there is a blue portal on the ground on the player's side of the map. By selecting the portal, you can draw out any unit on your team, and deploy up to ten of them on the map. Any unit has a given set of options: Attack, use skill, use item, and defend. Simply move around the arena, try and get high-ground, and unleash your attacks. As well as these basic things, if one of your units is standing beside another unit(friend or foe)they can lift and throw that unit. This may sound simple, but a huge portion of Disgaea's originality comes from this. After acting, one of your units can actually be picked up and thrown back into the blue portal, keeping them safe. Also, two enemy units can be thrown together, to eliminate one, while doubling the strength of the other, allowing for easier leveling. Also enemies can be thrown into one area, and pummeled with a single AOE skill, just to name a few uses for throwing.

Skills are also a little far from the norm. Just about any given skill is offensive, and they usually don't differ that much in terms of damage from eachother. However, the areas they hit set them apart. Blade Rush will hit three enemies in a line, providing the fourth straight square is empty. Asteroid Drop will hit a 3x3 area so long as the third space behind the user is empty for them to jump to after the skill is used, and Triple Strike will hit an enemy three times and knock it back, but the square the enemy is being knocked to must be empty. All in all, skills are diverse and interesting, and never useless or redundant.

Pretty crazy, huh? Pretty crazy, huh?

The third thing setting Disgaea apart is the Geo Effects found on almost every map. These effects vary widely, but are only active if you stand on certain colored panels on the map. For instance, a certain panel may have 'ally damage 20%' on it. This means that any ally that stands on this panel or any panel of the same will color will take 1/5 of their max HP every turn until they die.

These effects are caused by Geo Symbols set in the right area. If a red Geo Symbol has the 'invincibility' effect on it, then when it is thrown on, say, a yellow colored base panel, every yellow colored base panel on the map will have that effect on it, making anyone standing on them unkillable. One solution to this problem would be to throw a green Geo Symbol with any effect onto a blue colored base panel, and then destroy the green Geo Symbol with an attack. This would convert the blue base panels into green base panels, consequentially destroying those panels, and sending a shockwave across every blue panel. If this shockwave hit the red 'invincibilty' Geo Symbol, it would break, nullifying the effect, and continuing the shockwave, which would damage anyone it hit. If these shockwaves are planned, huge damage can be dealt to enemies, Geo Effects can be destroyed, and huge Color Combos can be acrued, which lead to more loot yielded at the end of battle.

These things are all examples of how Disgaea encourages outside-the-box-thinking rather than high levels and expensive equipment to get through. In one mission, the boss is a healer who will summon a powerful dragon to fight for him. Remember, two enemies can be thrown together to make one. Since healers don't attack well, and since the game won't let bosses be killed by being thrown into another unit, throwing the two together will eliminate the far more powerful dragon, and make it a snap to pummel the healer into submission. In short, the battles are fun and intuitive, and are complemented by a level cap of 9,999, so they don't get boring fast.

Graphics are where Disgaea hits one of its major snags. Though the sprites themselves make for an interesting art style, they are extremely pixelated and grainy, even for an early PS2 game, and the environments don't look any better. However, battle animations, particularly for spells and Special Attacks, are excellent. It really looks like the main characters are brutalizing their foes, and gives the feeling of playing with power. Crisp, well drawn anime portraits also help, and the character and costumes designs are consistently excellent, making Disgaea's graphics a little more bearable.

The second big problem with Disgaea would be its menus. While not terrible, they could have used a lot more work. While buying equipment, like, say, a new sword for Laharl, it would be logical to press the Triangle Button to try it on. Now, there's only one slot where weapons can be equipped, which is the top one. For some reason, though, you can 'try it on' on any slot, but when you try to buy & equip it on any slot but the top one, you can't. Also, while you 'try it on' on the top slot, it will tell you that it's better than what's equipped, but not by how much. Now, if this sword is about to wipe out all your Hl(The currency in the game, pronounced 'hell')you'd probably want to make sure it's significantly better, right? To do this, unfortunately, you'll have to press Circle, leave the shop, go to the 'equip screen' and check that character's attack stat there. This gets tedious quick, considering the short load time between screens, and this applies to all equipment, not just weapons.

To further exacerbate this problem, the shop basically randomly chooses what to sell you when you open the shop screen. This statement sums up what I mean accurately enough: "Looking for the latest healing item, an Eclair? You're out of luck. We only have the oldest healing item here, Mint Gum. Please press Circle, and come back again and see if we have what you want.". This is annoying, especially near the end of the game, when there's a number of healing items and equipment on sale that you could miss. Add that to the fact that there is no real description for battle skills in your menu, beyond something vague, like 'Winged death from the sky' and you end up with a rather frustrating mess of a menu.

Ultimately, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is a fantastic game with a few shortcomings dwarfed by excellent music, enjoyable voicework, fast-paced and entertaining battles, and a healthy dose of quirky humor. If you've ever enjoyed a TRPG and don't mind a story that's somewhat surreal or bizarre, Disgaea should please.

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