Review by ulillillia
A powerleveler's dream game
Pretty much ever since I began playing RPGs, I've been an extreme powerleveler. When I first heard about Disgaea, I was told of the level maxing out at not 99, but 9999. I was also told of damage into the hundreds of millions and even billions being possible (tens of millions on a single hit). Although it being an SRPG initially steered me away, Disgaea being an SRPG was actually a nice bonus as it greatly improved the overall experience. Once I played it, I knew it was going to be my dream game. The following highlights each aspect of the game by category (credits are weights - the more, the stronger the effect it has on the overall rating).
Game play (9.5/10; 5 credits):
Disgaea is a turn-based tactical RPG (known as an SRPG). Unlike wondering around and exploring caves and towns, looking for treasures and battling random encounters with enemies, Disgaea uses a 3D battle field which consists of a grid of tiles up to 32x32 in size. You can dispatch up to 10 allies into the battle field from a marked base panel to either attack the enemy or stick to the rear and act as support. Once the actions for every ally have been set and executed and enemies still remain, you must choose to end your turn so the enemies get their turn. Once the enemy's turn is over, it's the player's turn again and this repeats until all enemies are defeated (there is an exception to this rule). Each ally and enemy gets to move once and act once each turn, though there is no set order on which. If acting occurs first, the action must be executed first before the move can be done.
Instead of just focusing on attacking enemies as is, making the most of the terrain, there are also pyramid-shaped objects scattered around called geo symbols that add an extra element of strategy. On the battle field, there are randomly colored panels called geo panels. The panel colors themselves don't mean anything special; however, it's what geo symbols are on that color that does affect it. For example, a blue geo symbol on a green geo panel that provides a "DEF+50%" effect causes all enemies and allies on green geo panels to have their defense increased by 50%, reducing the damage they take. Destroying the geo symbol will turn all green geo panels to blue, as per the color of the geo symbol, inflicting small HP damage to all enemies and allies on that color. Destroying multiple geo symbols at once or when multiple geo symbols are on one color, a color chain occurs, which is one of my favorite things to do. While some geo symbols are useful, such as "exp+50" or "attacks+1", some are downright dangerous like "enemy boost x3", "ally damage 20%" or "clone". The inclusion of up to 6 geo symbols adds greatly to amount of planning and strategic thinking needed to make the most of battles. Sometimes, instead of focusing on defeating enemies, you may need to focus on destroying certain geo symbols first.
In addition to fighting enemies and dealing with geo symbols, there's also throwing things around. This element has numerous uses. One example is to sacrifice one character's turn in exchange for getting another ally who otherwise wouldn't be able to get in range of enemy to be within range and make the first strike. It can also be used to move geo symbols around to change effects, such as moving an "enemy boost x3" or "clone" geo symbol from a geo panel to one not affected by geo panels so that the geo symbol no longer takes effect, eliminating that hazard without destroying it and possibly destroying other geo symbols along with it, unexpectedly damaging your allies. Throwing an enemy out of the way when completely surrounded on all four sides can be used as an escape tactic, if needed. There are many other uses for throwing things around. Only obstacles like barrels cannot be thrown, which, to some extent, is quite disappointing, since there could be uses for this, such as putting a wizard behind barrels and have the wizard constantly strike while enemy physical attacks otherwise can't reach the wizard.
Another element of strategy are combos and team attacks. Combos are when multiple characters attack the same enemy without another character going after a different enemy or character (such as healing). This allows weaker characters who otherwise couldn't do damage to inflict considerable damage as large combos reduce the target's defense. They also allow the physical powerhouses to easily do massive damage. Team attacks, though chance-based, allow multiple characters to strike at once, giving the possibility of one character to attack up to 5 times in all. Utilizing team attacks and combos also requires an element of strategy - too many characters on one enemy will have negative effects as the other characters in the chain now suddenly won't be able to do anything.
Between battles, all the shopping, healing, saving, gathering of information, and other such activities are done, taking place in a castle. This is the only place where battles don't occur. There are 5 key areas here. The first is the hospital, used to restore HP (hit points, a character's life) and SP (special points, used for special skills and magic), also revive the dead (which occurs when HP drops to 0). The second is the 2 shops - one for weapons, the other for armor. There's always only one such item in stock at any given moment, and the items available are randomly generated each time you visit the shop. The third is the Dark Assembly, of which is basically a court-like environment where various bills get passed. If a bill doesn't pass, there is the option to fight and force the bill to pass, but care must be taken with this approach. The Dark Assembly has several uses such as character creation, unlocking new areas, improving a character's ability, getting better and more expensive items in the shops, making enemies stronger so leveling up is faster, and a few others. The fourth is the dimension gate, mainly used to advance the story, though also used to explore any newly unlocked places.
The fifth, and most useful of all, is the item world. Yes, in Disgaea, you literally go inside of an item. This is how items level up and become stronger and more effective. The item world is actually a randomly generated battle field - it's exceedingly rare to find 2 otherwise identical battlefields. There are a lot of reused components present, such as what appears to be castle towers (the place where guards would stand watch in medieval times) or a flat box with a lower center (much like a stadium, in a way). Some parts of the battle field are truly randomized. The item world involves enemies and tends to be full of geo symbols. Unlike normal battles, there is also a dimensional gate in every floor of the item world where you can simply all out skip your way through the floors instead of defeating the enemies. Doing this won't provide any money or bonuses, but at least skill and weapon mastery and experience is still kept. It is important to note that, as you get deeper into the item, the enemies inside also become more powerful. Items have anywhere from 30 to 100 floors, depending on the item's rarity (the rarer the item, the more floors, and the more floors there are, the more powerful the item can potentially become. The item world is also the key to powerleveling as well. This is because the item world is where the specialists are found. By defeating the specialists, they not only become twice as powerful, they can also be moved and combined. It's this combining of specialists that makes it possible to do 8+ million damage or have it so that not a single enemy can hit the character. Yes, that's right, 8 million damage. Only 3 enemies in the entire game can survive taking that much damage! Most level 9999 enemies hover around 500,000 HP. If you're a heavy powerleveler, the item world is where you'll be spending most of your time leveling up and becoming otherwise invincible, even with an "enemy boost x9" effect (from 3 "enemy boost x3" geo symbols on one color). Even after 900 hours of play, I have yet to see what the maximum limits are for any stat except money and the number of turns. Sure it took nearly 500 hours to max out the money at nearly 10 trillion, it's really the only limit I've seen so far. Through my primary technique for leveling up, I discovered that 999 turns is the maximum.
Character creation is nothing new in RPGs, but Disgaea has essentially perfected it. It works by choosing a specific character or monster class, distributing bonus points to further raise 8 different stats (like HP, defense, attack, and intelligence) according to the way you normally play. If you want a powerful wizard that's hard to hit, go ahead and distribute the bonus points toward speed and intelligence. Want a front line damage-absorbing tank? Distribute toward defense, resistance, and HP. The choice is yours. At first, there are only a few character classes to choose from with limited usefulness. Monsters (non-human creatures) can also be created as allies, but they first must at least be defeated in battle somewhere. Yep, you can have an entire team of flaming dragons, zombies, or tree stumps on the rampage. At first, there isn't much in the way of bonus to distribute, but through repeatedly transmigrating the character (this starts the character back at level 1, but allows for faster stat growth (a level 1 character can easily face and defeat level 9999 enemies thanks to specialists) thanks to being able to distribute a lot more bonus (doubling the baseline stat doubles the growth rate)).
Unfortunately, Disgaea is riddled with numerous bugs (35 that I'm aware of at the moment). 3 in particular are troublesome, 1 severe, 2 moderate, and the other 32, fortunately, are relatively minor and harmless. The severe bug is that the game, though very rare, freezes on the "now loading" screen with the music repeatedly playing back a 1-second loop and never stopping, even after 2 minutes (as if it's gone into an infinite loop, hogging up all of the CPU's clock cycles). This causes a complete loss of unsaved data as recovery requires the use of the console's reset button. One time, while advancing the story, none of the character icons were present on the battle field, though effects played as if they were there - the game froze at the "now loading" screen after completing the battle right after (perhaps a clue to reproducing the bug?). Also, if you play Cave of Ordeals 5 and don't have 2 characters that can throw 6 panels (or only 1 such character still alive), or don't have a certain accessory that allows you to move anywhere on the battle field, it's impossible to complete it - unsaved progress must be lost for good. Also, in the item world, certain geo symbol and geo panel setups can make it impossible to advance to the next floor if you don't have a way to work around it. This setup, however, requires numerous otherwise rare things to be present all at once, but if you have an item called "Mr. Gency's Exit" (a play on "emergency exit"), this bug won't cause a loss of unsaved data. The minor bugs otherwise don't affect game play experience, if they do at all. Z buffer faults (you can occasionally see behind things you normally can't), typos (the random name "Alllietta" has 3 L's instead of 2), going through solid walls with certain special skills (like winged slayer), and various other minor things like these that otherwise don't have any real impact on the game play experience. The most annoying of the minor bugs is the half damage bug. A resistance of 300 will not have any effect on 8 million damage, yet, damage sometimes only becomes 4 million, but it only happens with magic on 25% of the enemies outside the item world. It never happens in the item world. Although practically nothing can stand up to 4 million damage anyway, this bug is a troublemaker early in the game.
There are other downsides to Disgaea as well. The most troublesome is the fact you can't view the battlefield from a more top-down view. This often makes it very difficult, sometimes even impossible, to see an enemy or geo symbol hiding in a corner or pit. It even makes it impossible to even know what you're attacking or where you're moving in some areas, especially if enclosed with high walls all around (like a basin in a way). The fact the battlefield can only be rotated to snap at 45 degree angle offsets also limits it - edge-on views would help considerably in some situations.
The way the "attack" command is used is also a bit tricky to use, but only with weapons that can strike from 2 or more panels away. This is because, with a long range weapon and a lot of enemies around, it's often very difficult to find and see what enemy is being selected. Picture a battle field with 12 enemies around in a small area. You have a weapon with a 5-panel range and, in a certain spot, all 12 of these can be targeted. Let's say I'm after one particular enemy, one that's troublesome. Why can't I simply move the cursor over to the panel that the enemy is at instead of having to go through the list of 12 enemies and figuring out whether or not it's the right one made worse by the fact that the list only contains the name of the enemy, it's in an otherwise random order, and it hides what's going in behind the menu. It just seems odd how this is set up.
The speed at which the cursor moves is excruciatingly slow for me and if I'm to get somewhere at the opposite corner of the battle field, I have to wait nearly 12 seconds just to get the cursor over there. I seriously wished there was an option to increase the speed at which the cursor moves from about 5 panels per second to at least 10. I'd prefer something like 1 panel, quarter second pause, then 20 panels per second. The cursor can't even be moved diagonally either which further slows things down.
Another downside is the fact you can't disable effects at all and the effects often take several seconds to unfold. This makes it a real pain to power up the most powerful spells because they take ridiculously long to play - 12 to 17 seconds is far too much. Thus, I rarely use special skills as a consequence, unless the effects are short-lasting. At least most of the effects aren't dull or poorly done. They reflect anime quite well. There are a few annoying ones though, but it's mostly the enemies that use them.
In addition, it takes an extreme amount of time to fully max out a special skill. Even with 900 hours of play, I don't have a single skill that's fully mastered, even though I use a select few very often (especially the "mega star" spell, a rank 2 spell). Even with the fastest development possible, the nearly 10,000 (!) uses (nearly 25,000 for nonmagic users) required just to max out one skill takes an incredibly long time. I can go from level 1 to 9999 four times over in the time (7 times over with my wizard) it takes to max out just one special skill and there's dozens of skills available. Unable to disable effects, and with transmigrating constantly decreasing it, the lack of a specialist that hastens skill mastery is a major disappointment. Still, there are ways to improve the efficiency of gaining skill mastery, though it's not readily apparent. At least weapon mastery doesn't have that problem and that has a far greater effect than skill mastery.
Lastly, SP cost for high-rank spells is ridiculous for how little extra damage they cause. It costs 30 times more SP to cast a spell that does a relatively puny 80% more damage. The high-rank spells also have the longest-lasting effects, but this heavy SP cost and minimal difference in damage that the high-rank spells cause is often enough to steer you away from using them at all. Higher skill levels make it cost even more SP, further limiting the usefulness of high-rank spells. For the most part, you're better off sticking within the first 3 lowest level spells. The sole exception to this is the heal spell, of which does far more healing than attack spells do damage, even on low-res enemies.
Story (7/10; 3 credits):
Surprisingly, despite 900 hours of play, I've only gotten out to the start of episode 5 of the story at the furthest, probably not even 1/3 of the way through the game. Why? I haven't found the story of any interest and I can't seem to get myself into it. If even the game's most powerful enemy is easy for me, the story-based battles are effortless so I can rush the story with ease (an advantage to powerleveling), but I just can't seem to get myself into it. I can say, however, that the story is quite funny in ways, especially Laharl's flareups. The story sort of plays like an animated comic strip. The animated comic strip shows very large 2D still sprites that shows the character's body from the waist up. Behind this is either the actual battle field where the eventual battle will take place or a basic prerendered background. The details in the background are rather limited though but at least it's easy enough to tell what's going on. The large-sized sprites really tell everything, but don't use smooth animation, much like comic strip characters. How Disgaea has its story unfold is quite unique, but it's the fact I can't get into the story at all that makes it score relatively low.
Graphics (8.5/10; 3 credits):
The graphics are quite life-like in quality, especially the stone cliffs and grass. It took until about 300 hours into the game before I even realized that water was present because it's very difficult to tell where it is since it's otherwise textureless and not animated (and the Z buffer bug makes this even harder to see). Disgaea has done a superior job with the sprites and character/enemy icons. Terrain textures are really the only weak point in the graphics.
Sound (10/10; 2 credits):
Disgaea's audio is very well-done and sounds very professional-like. Both the music and sound effects are well-fitting for every situation. Even the voice-overs for the story are well done. There's even a few songs I like to go with it that makes the long and tedious process of reaching level 9999 more tolerable.
Replay (10/10; 2 credits):
In the first 3 months, I've logged 625 hours of play on Disgaea, a record that smashed my previous record with ease. Furthermore, in 5 1/3 months, I peaked at 850 hours. Even then, after only another 6 more months, I returned to Disgaea again and I'm going strong. With the near-complete lack of limits the replay is through the roof, even past the Moon. Disgaea has easily become one of my favorite games and I probably won't stop until I reach the game's limits, which could be another 3000 hours down the road.... Despite a story I haven't been able to get into, I find a huge amount of replay value in Disgaea solely because of the apparent lack of limits.
Disgaea is a player's dream game if you're a heavy powerleveler. There's so much to do and so much variety, it's like it comes with over 13 million levels. Once you play Disgaea, you'll be hooked on it for weeks or even months on end. It is definitely a must have for your game collection!
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (Greatest Hits) (US, 09/02/08)
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