Review by MJ

Reviewed: 09/10/03

A charming and unique strategy RPG experience

If you're a strategy RPG fan, like myself, chances are you're dissatisfied with the barren wasteland that is our favorite genre. The few shining gems (Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, Vandal Hearts) are more than enough to quench our thirst during the long droughts (Hoshigami, Saiyuki) and keep us going until the next oasis. Disgaea is everything you could want and more, an icy cool sip of strategy RPG goodness.

Gameplay
The most important part of a strategy RPG, how does it play? The battle system is unique, complex and wonderfully random at times. There are so many aspects to the combat that I dare not begin mentioning them in depth as I'll end up writing an FAQ. From team attacks, to geo symbols and their plethora of effects, to lifting and throwing, color combo chains, Disgaeas intricacies are almost overwhelming.

Battle is done in turns. A player turn and an enemy turn. When it is your turn you can dispatch your warriors from the starting point and begin pummeling your enemies.

One great option in this game is that you can totally undo every move you make before executing. Unless you throw something, you're free to go back and tweak your setup as many times as you like until everything is just right.

While there are lots and lots of ways to dispatch your foes, the game doesn't punish you for taking the easiest route to victory. Flair and masterful combination attacks that decimate throes of enemies in a single turn are optional and only necessary for bonus points. You can still brute force your way out of most fights if you don't feel like fiddling with your attack setup for 5 minutes to make sure you get full bonuses.

All in all, I'd give the battle system, with all its complex goodness and chances for jaw dropping combo mania a 10 if it weren't for one tiny flaw. When your character is out of range of enemies, most of the time they don't attempt to get closer or attack you. In fact they'll just sit perfectly still and let you stalk up for the first hit, or just heal back to full health. A minor flaw in an otherwise awesome setup.

Aside from the battle system, this game features a completists wet dream in bonuses and item harvesting. Items are not static in Disgaea. They vary immensely, with different bonuses and fluctuations in their stats. You'll rarely see the same exact item twice. Throw in the ''item world'', a sequence of battles that take place in an items ''inner world'' that allow you to power up a particular item an enhance its stats even more, and you've got one gigantic and unique system unlike any other game.

Another innovation in Disgaea comes with the Dark Assembly. The Netherworld does not just hand out new party members and pass ordinances all willy nilly. These things need to be deliberated upon by a cadre of ghouls and demons. You accumulate mana by killing foes. Mana can be spent for various Dark Assembly functions, from getting more expensive items in the shops, to creating new soldiers for your army. Some functions do not require approval, but when they do, you're free to ''persuade'' the council to vote your way by giving them ''gifts''. If they still refuse to play ball, you can just choose to wipe them all out and get your way regardless, but, next time they'll dislike you even more.

Classes abound in Disgaea. From thieves to mages, warriors to brawlers, and every type of monster you fight in the game world, they're all at your fingertips for creation. Want to powerup your characters even more? Take advantage of the inheritance system. You essentially recreate a character at level 1 with a percentage of their stats inherited from their former selves. There are even a number of hidden classes to unlock. Disgaea blows the class system wide open.

I believe I ''touched'' on everything worth mentioning. Disgaea is a game just overflowing with innovation and fun gameplay quirks. You even get bonus items from healing at the hospital often enough!

Story
Laharl is the son of the Netherworld Overlord. When his father dies while he is asleep (for 2 long years), he awakens to retake the throne. It seems the entire Netherworld is set against him however. You'll meet lots of interesting characters brought to life by funny dialogue delivered through decent voice acting.

Graphics
The graphics are a mix of clean 2D sprites against pretty looking 3D battle backgrounds. This game does not push the limits of the PS2, however the spell and skill effects are dazzling at times.

Sound
The music is enjoyable but forgettable for the most part. There is tons of voice acting in this game and it's all pretty well done.

Presentation
Strategy RPG fans know what to expect, but anybody playing this type of game for the first time might be a tad overwhelmed by the menus inside of menus and windows inside of windows inside of yet more windows. Disgaea does a good job of keeping it fairly simple however, and you'll be flying through your various menus like a pro after an hour or so.

Score: 9
Disgaea delivers fun and chaotic gameplay with interesting quirks around every corner. The characters are lively and charming, and the story simple yet entertaining. Indeed you can skim along and ''complete'' this game fairly easily, but, you're going to want to dive into its near endless depths and see what's lurking beneath the surface. Between item world, secret classes and the tons of extra bonuses you can acquire on and off the battlefield, you're going to be playing this one for a long long time.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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