Review by nastynate3118
Into the Darkness
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is a 2003 tactical RPG for the PlayStation 2. I had first heard of this game thanks to an old GameFAQs contest (game of the decade, I believe) and found the title to be pretty interesting. I had the pleasure of being able to play this game completely blind and although I battled a very steep learning curve I also find this to be one of the most addicting and immersive gaming experiences on the console. I should note that I, the reviewer, had substantial experience with tactical RPGs and was able to overcome some of the complexities of this game; make no mistake, casual gamers will find this a very tough nut to crack but it contains a very rewarding journey as well.
Disgaeas gameplay follows the tradition tactical RPG formula. Battles take place on a giant grid and the player maneuvers friendly units as they try to attack and destroy enemy units in turn-based combat. The camera angle is isometric and the player is able to rotate the camera allowing them to have full view of the battlefield when planning a strategy. Battles can take anywhere from a few seconds to 30 minutes, depending on the difficulty and complexity of the enemies presented. One unique aspect of Disgaea is the environmental tiles that one must overcome; these can help or hurt the player and enemy units and throw a large amount of variables into the battles.
Disgaea provides a stimulating experience thanks to its incredibly complex battle system. Party members are subject to endless customization based on their equipment, abilities, levels and other attributes. There are tons of opponents who have a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses and the player is forced to craft battle strategies to overcome these challenges. The environments these battles take place in are absolutely massive and give the gameplay an extravagant feel to it. The game also throws a lot of exotic situations that boast some puzzle elements that offer variety to the gameplay; this is usually achieved by certain tiles giving the enemies a distinct advantage that must be conquered.
The only major complaint I have with the gameplay comes with the extremely steep learning curve. This is a battle system that, while intricate, is also needlessly complex in certain areas. Simple tasks such as shopping or checking a weapons statistics are overly-complicated with superfluous levels and stats that serve no real purpose. The clutter is very disconcerting and makes the game a very challenging title to get into. Outside of battle, there isnt too much to do except wander around a hub that offers shops, NPCs to talk to and portals to optional battles. There is also a Dark Assembly that allows the player to change job classes and unlock other abilities and features. Although the variety is a bit lacking in terms of what to do outside of battle, the player will never be bored thanks to the addicting and enthralling gameplay (even if it is tough to fully master).
The interface of Disgaea for the most part is very well done. Simplicity is the key to navigating through this game thanks to the hub system that is used with the Overlords Castle. It makes selecting where to go a cinch and one can never get lost in terms of where to go or what they should be doing. The menus are fairly easy to navigate and the options are pretty self-explanatory, even though the inventory/equipment menus are a bit tedious. Your party can only carry a certain number of items and the rest must be placed in a warehouse outside of battle. I understand why the developers added this; they are forcing the player to only have a limited number of healing items and rely more on strategy. My problem is that having two inventories coexist is a very messy business and neither of them are organized particularly well. The entire system is a bit unnecessary considering that using items in battles costs the character a turn.
The developers faced a daunting challenge by presenting an extremely complex gameplay system to gamers of all backgrounds and for the most part they succeed. Tutorials are provided both at the players will and throughout the beginning of the game that explain the different features of the gameplay. It is never overly-confusing and they arm you with plenty of knowledge to get through the game. The only other area of the interface that must be addressed is the random shopping system. There are only two shops in the entire game (both next to each other) and every time the player visits them their wares are different. The player is able to increase the shops rank and allow them to sell more powerful and expensive equipment but the player may have to enter and exit the shop several times before they see the item they want. Similar to the double inventory, I found this shopping system to be completely unnecessary and a waste of time. I appreciate that the developers wanted to do something different and add an exciting element of chance to the mundane task of shopping, but this whole aspect is a flop and makes the experience much more tedious.
Disgaea follows the story of Prince Laharl, a ruler in the demon realm of the Netherworld. The adventure explores the rise of Laharl as he encounters new friends and challenges during his reign as the new Overlord. This game has one of the best scripts I have ever seen in a video game. There are many hilarious moments combined with surprisingly moving segments that pack an emotional punch. The primary focus of the story is how Lahral matures and how other characters influence him; the players own choices throughout the plot also have an impact on the story making the game far more engaging.
The biggest selling point of the story comes with the superb ending(s) the player can view. Laharls quest to become a powerful Overlord culminates in a giant plot that ends with a cathartic variety of endings that can be enjoyed. The thematic elements of the story are presented very clearly as if the player was reading a good novel and the lines between good and evil become blurred as the story progresses. The only complaint about the presentation I have is that some cutscenes drag on far too long. Aside from this, Disgaea is the entertaining and poignant tale of a ruler and his relationship with power and his servants.
Disgaea uses a very distinct animation style that may, at first glance, seem subpar for a PlayStation 2 game. The biggest issue comes with the lackluster sprites that often look so bland it is impossible to tell who is a male and who is female. While it was a nice touch to have each sprite represent a different job class and have a wide variety of enemies to look at, I feel that their design was pretty subpar.
Aside from the character sprites, I greatly enjoyed the other visuals of the game. There is a huge amount of environments to fight in that range from medium-sized to absolutely enormous. There are a staggering number of creative features that the developers placed in these battlefields to bring them to life. The battle animations and character movements are equally fluid and impressive, especially when viewing the characters special attacks. The anime displayed in the cutscenes is also well done and the expressions on the faces of the characters are quite entertaining.
The soundtrack of Disgaea is one of the catchier collections of songs I have heard from a game. There is an excellent variety of rock, jazz, dance and classical music that brings the game to life and meshes surprisingly well with the dark tones of the game. The battle music is especially fun and make these engagements much more exciting (this is especially true for the wonderful boss music). The soundtrack also boasts some surprisingly moving and emotional music that really haunts you and stays with the player long after they have played the game. I can still hum the music to this game in my head to a tee.
My only gripe with the audio comes with the fact that there really isnt a huge selection of songs to listen to (at least it doesnt seem that way) and as a result the music becomes rather repetitive. Considering that some of the special stages in this game require the player to level grind for dozens of hours, hearing the same few songs over and over can really become taxing. Aside from that, there are no other issues with the soundtrack. The voice acting is extremely clear and the sound effects have a nice, boisterous sound (even if they are mixed a bit too loud).
Play Time/Replay Value 8/10
I completed my play through of Disgaea in 40 hours, 23 minutes and 54 seconds. I really did not do any of the optional missions but did spend a substantial amount of time level grinding to get past some of the tougher missions in the game. I imagine this game could easily exceed the realm of 100 hours considering how many side quests there are and how much time the player can spend leveling up their characters. Personally, I find the difficulty of some of these quests to be far too time-consuming because the player has to spend hour upon hour level grinding and that greatly inflates the length of the adventure.
Aside from that, there is a ton of replay value to this game. New game+ allows the player to go through the adventure again and acquire any item they missed or work for a different ending while maintaining their previous equipment, money and levels. The addictive gameplay and multitude of things to do will keep the player coming back for more and playing this game over and over again.
+Complex, intricate battle system
+Tons of customization over characters
+Variety of battle obstacles and enemies
+Clear sound effects and voice acting
+Plenty of replay value
+Packed with optional content
-Steep learning curve
-Sloppy inventory and shopping system
-Some cutscenes drag on too long
-Poorly designed sprites
-Soundtrack can sound repetitive
-Some optional quests take far too long to reach/complete
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is certainly not a game for everyone but it does suck you into a deep and engaging world of gameplay if you give it time and a chance. The battle system takes a while to master but it can be well worth the effort thanks to the challenging gameplay and entertaining story. I first played this game years ago and still have not even begun to conquer all of the optional content that lies within; this is a game that boasts tremendous value and stands the test of time. Disgaea is a must-have for RPG/strategy fans and gamers wanting to strengthen their PS2 collection.
Final Score: 8.41667/10 rounded to 8/10
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (Greatest Hits) (US, 09/02/08)
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