Review by HYD

Reviewed: 09/20/06

Unorthodox, hilarious, great fun.

Strategic styled RPGs never appeal to me. I have never imagined myself being able to accept the idea of enduring over an hour for just one single battle alone. Even more so, when the game is played on an isometric perspective coupled with 2D character sprites scurrying around a 3D background. Things just don't look interesting, and the battles are just way too draggy for me. Console games nowadays focus on innovative, new and refreshing ideas to appeal to the range of audiences who have already witnessed the days of strategic RPGs and normal console RPGs, but Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is one oddball. Instead of introducing new ideas to the already tried-and-tested method of strategic RPGs, Disgaea remains true to the genre and presents it exactly as the way it is expected to be. Fans of critically-acclaimed strategic RPGs such as Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, or Front Mission will be right at home here, but what would the rest of us do? Fret not, the unorthodox manner of this game, coupled with its wicked sense of humour and totally nonsensical storyline will probably change your mind.

Disgaea represents the body and soul of every other single solid strategic RPG out there. It stays true to the genre - presenting battles in an isometric perspective coupled with colourful 2D sprites and a beautiful 3D background. The control of the game is as like any other in the genre, with the shoulder buttons allowing you to cleverly rotate the field to strategise your moves, and the D-pad controlling your on-screen cursor and also executing commands via the buttons; all these just seem all too familiar and reeks of nothing new to us players who have seen it all. Despite all these, you will soon come to realise that there's more to this that meets the eye.

You take on the role of Laharl, prince of the Underworld, supposedly heir to the throne after your father died while you were in a devilish slumber. You awaken after your faithful vassal, Etna, tried all kinds of means to wake you up ranging from rockets to pneumatic drills. Just from this introduction alone, you should come with a conclusion that Disgaea is a game not to be taken seriously. And it is true, for you will come to realise that the combination of the 2D artwork, dialogues and very cleverly done voice-overs are overflowing with humour that just keeps getting better. Anything goes in the Underworld, as you will learn soon enough, as you travel with Laharl and gang, meeting new friends and also utilising the characters that you create to maximum efficiency.

Like all strategic RPGs, Disgaea is broken down into different chapters each separated by a series of battles. In between these battles, you are allowed to explore your Underworld and engage in various different activities. The Underworld serves as a hub for you, to purchase new weapons and armours, create new characters towards your liking, explore the Item World, heal and patch up and many more. Basically, you will find yourself running a lot of errands in between battles, either for preparation for the next battle or by participating in the Dark Assembly, which is an area in the game where you attempt to pass on bills in hoping that the NPCs in the game vote in your favour. This is a very interesting feature of the game, and it is also absolutely vital for you to be involved in this in order to progress smoothly throughout the game. Let's say you're trying to pass a bill for higher levelled weapons to be sold in stores, the Dark Senators will then evaluate your proposal and vote accordingly. If they're not in your favour, you can either attempt to bribe them with your rare hold, kick their butts right there and then, or leave.

In short, there are ENDLESS amount of things that you can do in this game, and this is because Disgaea over-exaggerates, or totally defies the limit that your characters can reach. If you like playing an RPG and scoff at a character whose level is only in the hundreds, Disgaea is your game. In Disgaea, it is possible and highly recommended to train to the thousands of levels. And this is not a task that is easily accomplishable. The main campaign can be completed under a few dozen hours, but much more awaits you after that completion.

The character creation part of Disgaea is really the bread and butter of this game. To create a character, one has to choose who shall be the mentor of the character, and this has several effects on the player during the game, but I shan't go into details. There are countless amounts of classes to unlock ranging from simple tried-and-tested classes like Clerics and Thieves to really complicated and powerful ones like Angels and Majins. The criteria for unlocking them are also extremely tedious, but the ability to create a character out of a powerful class is well worth the trouble against the odds that you are going to face. A carefully-crafted team with powerful mentors and students will definitely give you a much needed edge over the enemy during the campaign story, where the odds seem to overwhelm you most of the time.

A feature that is exclusive to Disgaea is the Item World. In this little alternate dimension of the game, the player goes through a series of randomized dungeons one level lower at a time, to increase the level of a certain item (weapon, armour, etc). By doing this over and over again, it is possible to increase the ability of the item tremendously, and hence boost your army's strength. Another one of the exploitable features of Disgaea is the meticulous and strategic usage of Geo Symbols. These symbols are just elements that introduce a certain attribute to the field that it is thrown on, for example, it might double the attack strength of the enemies. Using these fields, it is possible to create an opportunity out of anything as the game presents Geo Symbols that are beneficial or highly vital to your victory. Learning how to take full advantage of the Item World and the Geo Symbols will pave a much easier route for you to walk on during the game's campaign missions.

In Disgaea, it is possible to deploy up to 10 different characters in a single battle. During battles, you always get to move first and your turn only ends when you finish deploying the characters that you want to, move them to a spot and end your turn. After that, the enemy moves all at once (a very good feature IMO, as I do not have the patience to wait for enemies to move one by one) and engage in battles. Characters fight with a variety of weapons ranging from traditional swords, axes to ranged weapons such as bows and guns. Aside from these, it is also possible to use special techniques that are unique to the weapon, and unique to the storyline characters. Additionally, combo-attacks that are executed when characters are side by side are also part and parcel to your victory. The enemy AI in the game isn't very tactical, but this is vital as you are almost always presented into the battlefield with the enemy outnumbering your troops by a vast amount. Hence, it is essential that you learn how to exploit your environmental advantages and combos to emerge victorious.

From a technical point of view, Disgaea is not graphically impressive at all, but yet within this normality it presents a unique charm that appeal to me. While in dialogues or cut scenes, the hand-drawn artwork are very pretty and colourful and the different expressions that are portrayed from the artists are hilarious. The animation within the game are pretty normal, nothing impressive but good enough to be looked at. Simple attacks such as the swinging of the sword or the shooting of an arrow are animated with nothing much to be impressed about, but the skills and spells that can be cast are usually very colourful and some can be pretty lengthy as well. The game's audio is probably one of the strongest standpoints of the game. The Disgaea soundtrack is extremely fitting of the game, and is definitely something to look forward to. It combines upbeat and electronic sounds for battles that loops itself after a while, which is not a problem since it's normally pretty good, and the usual orchestral music for the Underworld castle and some other songs for the other special cut scenes. The voiceover in Disgaea is also an extremely commendable part of the game. It features both English voice-over and the Japanese original language. Both are good, surprisingly and the English dub is extremely fitting to the game. All in all, it's something to look forward to in Disgaea.

Disgaea is a game that sticks solely true to its genre within this era of games that try to be different, but yet it still retains this unique charm that appeals to gamers like me. Within Disgaea, it contains elements of an intriguing and interesting gameplay, a very likable character crew and a story that while nonsensical, drags you in and makes you want to be part of it. The humour that gets thrown in and exploited to high degrees is also one of the powerful attractive elements of this game. The game itself has high replay-ability value with the level defiance that it has, and while you might not be interested in over-levelling yourself, it is still good for you to get this game and play it just for the storyline alone. Disgaea is one of those games that is unorthodox, hilarious, and will definitely be an enjoyable experience for most gamers.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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