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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Strategy/Role-Playing

 

Publisher

Atlus

 

Developer

Nippon Ichi Software

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

August 27, 2003

 

 

- Makes leveling up fun

- Lots of different character classes

- Interesting stat altering tile system on the battlefield

- Very open-ended combat system

- Character design has a lot of personality

- Fun, lighthearted story

 

 

- Hit and miss voice acting

- Occasionally awkward cameras

- Happy-go-lucky story isn't for everyone

 

 

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Disgaea: Hour of Darkness

Score: 8.5 / 10

 

There havenít been a huge wealth of turn-based strategy RPGs hitting the console scene this generation, unless youíve been keeping an eye on the Japanese market in which case you may very well be crying yourself to sleep each night as one strategy title after the next does not get released in North America (feel free to shoot an angry glare at Namco now for keeping Seven: The Cavalry of Molmorth and Venus & Braves in Japan, folks).  However, the powers that be at Atlus have clued in that gamers really like a good strategy RPG romp on their console now and then, so they have localized Disgaea: Hour of Darkness for North America.  Proving to be a very engaging game riddled with tiny gameplay nuances to explore, nice visuals, and a fun, lighthearted story, Disgaea is well worth checking out for fans of the genre.

 

disgaea-hour-darkness-1.jpg (38384 bytes)          disgaea-hour-darkness-2.jpg (39337 bytes)

 

While thereís plenty of strategizing to be done in this game, what makes Disgaea stand out from the competition is how it has turned leveling up into an art form.  Usually fighting the same monsters over and over just to get strong enough to defeat a boss in games with RPG elements is a real chore.  Disgaea has no caps whatsoever on their characters limiting how high of a level they can attain, so you can very well make people whose levels are in the 1000s if you so choose here dishing out idiotic amounts of damage.  If thatís not enough, thereís also the option to ďtransmutateĒ your characters as the game progresses.  So that means you can take a high powered mage, and convert her into a knight who has can not only dish out the damage with a sword, but also an arsenal of magic.  On top of this, as various character classes reach higher levels more classes are unlocked, and there are tons of classes to unlock as well as tons of monsters to add to your forces.  Even more interesting is that you can also level-up all of your items, weapons, and armor by entering the item you want to supe up and fighting the monsters living therein.  You can only leave the itemís world every ten levels to get the weapon to actually level up, and the scale of the level-up is dictated by your performance in the item world.  You can use an item called Mr. Gencyís Exit to escape the item youíre trying to improve and return later, though, if you run into trouble.  All of this being said, Disgaea letís players absolutely go to town, making super strong characters.  Thereís just so many things to level up, and so many combinations during the transmutation process that itís hard to find it at all boring.

 

Moreover, this emphasis changes the whole flow of the game as the strategy isnít so much finding a way to simply pass certain missions, as is the case in some other far less forgiving strategy RPGs.  Playing the levels is more of a challenge to see just how fast you can clear it than anything else, which is definitely a good thing when trying to make very strong party members.  Players can also return to previously passed missions and replay them if they so choose; itís very handy on levels where soaking up huge amounts of experience points is quite easy.  The game constantly challenges you to make the most amazingly powerful characters that you possibly can, and to try and pull it all off in as little time as possible, all the while not getting tedious.

 

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While speedy battles are definitely a very noticeable facet of Disgeae, thatís not to say that the game is a cakewalk by any means.  There are still plenty of battles where the enemy is more than happy to hand you your ass, forcing careful thought as to what tactics to use.  More importantly, the game uses an interesting tile system to add an extra level of strategy to the combat.  On some levels there are a number of glowing tiles placed on the floor, and when a triangular block 

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is placed on it properties are added to all tiles on the battlefield corresponding to the color of the tile the block is on.  These properties can range from increasing or decreasing attack and defense for those standing on the tiles, to warping them around the field, to making enemies becoming super strong and much more.  Players need to take these statistical augmentations into account when navigating the field of battle, making sure that they donít find themselves in a particularly bad area all the while trying to use beneficial tiles to their advantage.  More interesting is that players can destroy the stat adjusting blocks, and this causes a cascade of explosions on all the tiles of the same color as the tile the block is on, resulting enemies (and allies for that matter) on the tiles of that color to take damage.  If a second block is destroyed during this cascade, a second cascade starts, and they will continue until there are no blocks left to destroy.  This can cause a huge combo which will increase your Bonus Meter during the game.  The tile system really brings a nice added layer of depth to the game.  It takes a little bit of time to get the hang of it, but once you do itís great fun and really satisfying when you pull off giant chain combos.

 

The Bonus Meter in and of itself is a pretty nifty little feature too.  It can be maxed out a maximum of ten times in a battle, and for every time it is you get a prize, such as new weapons, armor, or additional experience points, among other things.  It is affected by getting tile combos as well as attack combos when nearby units to the one about to engage the enemy join in to add a little more oomph to the baddy in questions impending whooping.  So with this feature weíre left with one more way to put on our thinking caps in Disgaea.

 

disgaea-hour-darkness-3.jpg (35612 bytes)         disgaea-hour-darkness-4.jpg (51536 bytes)

 

Engaging in battle as a whole is very refreshing here.  Players can put a maximum of 10 characters on the field at once and have the option to really divide up how they control them each turn.  Usually in turn-based strategy RPGs you have to commit your characters to their actions and hope for the best, but here you can divide it up, having characters attack, then have someone else attack, after which returning the the last character and so forth.  On top of this it is very easy to take back moves short of undoing an attack that has already been performed.  What we're left with is a rip-roaringly open-ended approach to battle.

 

On the audio/visual front Disgaea performs admirably.  The graphics are very nice with the expected anime influenced art style many have come to expect from the genre.  The levels range in theme quite drastically, but all are very vibrant with bright colors and crisp lines that make the environments pop off the screen.  One minor problem with the levels, though, is that there are blind spots because of how the terrain is laid out.  While you can rotate the field horizontally as well as zoom in and out, thereís no way to tilt it up and down, making it impossible to see whatís lurking in some of the crevices in certain stages (this is particularly so in the Item World).  The character designs are interesting and varied, and most of all very much exude personality.  They donít feel flat and one dimensional at all, which is no mean feat when you factor in the hit and miss voice acting in the game.  Some of the characters are serviceable, but others are quite bad.  Iím not going to go into yet another rant on the state of voice acting in games here, but be warned there are a number of cringe worthy moments in the game.  The music is decent enough during the game, with tracks that range from whimsical to appropriately peppy for battle sequences, making for a satisfying aural experience.

 

Thankfully the story in Disgaea is relatively peppy as well, moving at a good pace without getting bogged down.  Players take on the role of Laharl, son of the late King Krichevskoy, ruler of the Netherworld.  At the start of the game Laharl wakes up from a two year nap only to discover his dad is dead and the various lords of the realm are all vying to become the new king.  Well, Laharl will have none of that so heís off to claim his birthright.  Along the way Laharl encounters Flonne, a rookie angel from the land of Celestia, and the plot thickens as the unlikely pairing of demon and angel march forward together.  The story is very lighthearted, not trying to shape anyoneís opinions on world views, re-examine their lives, or even change their long distance carrier, Disgaeaís narrative is there solely for the players to have a good time and chuckle a few times along the way.  There is quite a bit of silly humor throughout the game, be it from the naivety of Flonne, or the downright delusional chapter introductions from Etna, with very little of it coming off as corny.  All this put together makes for a very fun romp with Disgaea, but if you are looking for something with more heady subject matter the happy-go-lucky nature of the titles story will likely be a turn off for you.

 

What we have here is a game that follows the norm in basic premise as to what weíve come to expect from console strategy RPGs, but twists it just enough to play a little different and still be very fun.  If you like the idea of leveling up your characters to astronomic proportions, unlocking all sorts of new character classes, all the while enjoying a carefree, lighthearted story, Disgaea is definitely a game to add to your library.

 

- Mr. Nash

(October 21, 2003)

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