Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
The story of Disgaea revolves around a demon prince, Laharl who awakens after a long two year slumber to learn that his father, King Krichevskoy of the Netherworld, has passed away. With the Overlord (King Krichevskoy) deceased, his once loyal subjects have long forgotten him and the birthright that follows. Despite Laharl being the rightful heir to the throne, the once loyal demons feud amongst one another to take control of the Netherworld. Meanwhile an overly diabolic scheme is plotted in the heavens by the angels. An angel trainee Flonne is sent to assassinate the believed-to-be-living Overlord, King Krichevskoy. However, trainee Flonne learns that in his stead lays the demon prince. Without being able to complete her objective, she decides to join Laharl, in order to spread love amongst the demons. Laharl is also joined by his coup de aide, Etna and her pervasive and idiotic band of monsters, prinnies, small creatures that resemble penguins. So join Laharl, his coup de aide Etna, and the angle trainee Flonne, as they race to overcome those who wish to usurp the throne from the rightful heir and under cover the treacherous plot that heralds from the heavens in this exciting and entertaining game.
The actual story of Disgaea goes pretty quickly, with only fourteen episodes. However, each episode has a number of sub-episodes (battles) to go through. So you can't simply play through all of the episodes right off the bat. The real breadth of game play takes place in your preparation for each battle. In the game you can revisit all the sub-episodes, where you can level up your characters and acquire new items.
One of the most important features of this game is the Item World. Every single item, whether an accessory, weapon, armor, or usable item can be visited in the Item World. Here you can level up your items (and your characters in the process) to make them stronger. Each item consists of 100 levels. Each level is a floor where you must battle on a random map with a random number of enemies. Of course, the more powerful the item, the stronger the enemies, as well the higher levels consist of stronger enemies. At the end of every 10 levels, you face a floor boss. These bosses range from Item Generals to Item Kings to Item Gods. Of course, these guys are really tough and while you do not need to defeat them, if you do, you're rewarded with a bigger increase in your item's statistics. Also you can't exit the Item World unless you have a certain item, a Mr. Gency Exit. However, at the end of every 10 floors, you are given a chance to exit the item world.
Furthermore, each item has a rarity level. The higher the rarity, the more slots it has. What are these slots for? Well, in each item there are different "specialists", which give bonuses to the item's attributes. During your trials in the item world, if you defeat a specialist, they're considered to be subdued. Once subdued, you can move them from item to item and also combine them with other subdued specialists of the same type. This enables you with the ability to customize your items and the ability to produce very powerful items.
Associated with each item is a different skill set. The more you use a particular item type, the higher your skill level with it rises. As it rises, you can learn more special skills. Now comes into play the character classes. There are various classes in the game that have different learning aptitudes with the various types of weapons, which consists of guns, swords, axes, staves, fists, bows, and spears. Of course, magic enabled classes are given special magic of a healing nature or elemental types like fire, wind, ice, prism, or galaxy. Some classes get their own special set of magic spells. Furthermore, there is a mentor/apprentice system. Each character can have apprentices. From this you can create very powerful characters with a wide variety of skill sets. For instance a cleric, who has a fire mage apprentice, can learn fire magic from the apprentice. Yes it would make more sense to go in the other direction, but with this odd concept of apprentice teaching the mentor, you can create characters with a wide variety of skills.
Another key portion of the game is the Dark Assembly. Oddly enough in a demon ruled world, there is a somewhat democratic portion of the government. Here you must convince monster senators to raise the level of weapons/armor/items you can purchase or increase your characters moving range by bribes or force. As well, the Dark Assembly must be consulted if you wish to create really powerful characters. It's an interesting twist in the game and quite honestly, good luck convincing them by force!
For those familiar with any of the strategy-RPG titles listed in the beginning of this review, the game plays similarly. You can control a maximum of 10 characters, for deployment on the battle field. You take turns moving them on the game board, where you can use your skills, items, defend, or conduct melee attacks against your foes. There's an added twist to the board. Unlike some of the other strategy-RPG's, you can perform team attacks and combos by placing your characters in key locations. This results in some interesting twists in planning your combat tactics. Another twist adds "geosymbols" to the battlefield. This geosymbols provide different effects for various colored tiles. For instance, some geosymbols will give you an extra attack or invincibility. Some may even cause your character damage or create an enemy clone! The geosymbols effects can also stack, providing helpful or deadly results.
The graphics are quite beautiful, presented with stunning 3D isometric battlefields and 2D characters. While some claim that the graphics aren't top notch, I must admit they are no way comparable to games like Final Fantasy X or Xenosaga, but they're still quite impressive. Still the graphics are still quite good.
The audio is very clean and clear. It sounds great at first, but after a while it can get highly repetitive and annoying. Perhaps this is the only bad part about this game. However it can be argued that this can happen with any game you play a lot.
The last two quarters of 2003 held the fans of the strategy-RPG genre with quite a bit of anticipation. With the upcoming releases of Onimusha Tactics [review], Final Fantasy Tactics Advance [review], and Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, we were all in for a treat. I remember I initially pre-ordered Disgaea, but due to some unfortunate incident I wasn't able to get a copy of the game through the mail. So I just figured I'd pick up a copy at one of the local retailers (there are about 10 different stores in my proximity). Well week after week I called and I visited, to only find the game sold out. Not wanting to put a down payment on the game, because I feared I might find the title elsewhere on hand, I didn't end up getting the game until I reordered it online! It turns out I wasn't the only one really interested in this release. Disgaea brings an interesting twist to strategy-RPG's with the item world, character system, and geosymbols. I found myself easily lost in the game. It's quite exciting and if you haven't had the chance to pick this up, I highly recommend you do so. There are countless hours for entertainment to be had!