Review by Vesper
An interesting upgrade to the strategy RPG genre, but what values does it have that really makes it great?
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is a strategy-RPG (Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, Vandal Hearts). It is a very innovative type of game, and with the success of Tactics Ogre and the eventual huge success of Final Fantasy Tactics making it onto the PS1 best-seller list, the genre has a track record of success. How does Disgaea rank up to the rest? My overall reaction: Pretty well, indeed.
This, really, is the category where Disgaea really shines. The game added many, many new features to the strategy-RPG structure, including, mostly, original ideas such as geopanels (''Status effects'' on certain squares of the battlefield, giving the character on that square +50% attack power, invincibility, etc.), the Item World (Where you can enter to empower items that you have), team combo attacks, and more. It takes awhile to suck it all in, but the tutorial really helps you along with things. Once you get the hang of things, battles become more exciting as you can have many characters in battle at once, and the enemies can have very numerous amounts as well.
You can ''create'' most of your own characters from tons of different classes, from Brawlers to Warriors to Mages and Monsters. A few story character join you on the way that are really a class of their own, though. Newer classes are unlocked by meeting certain level requirements in one or more classes. Most classes learn new abilities by level.
Geopanel effects add a whole new element of strategy to the game. Sometimes, squares on the battlefield will be marked a certain color. Depending on the level, certain colors may give/take away benefits to your allies and your enemies. For example, one square may give +50% attack power, but also decreases defense by 50%. One square may increase all enemy abilities by x3, making it very dangerous to encounter an enemy that is on one of them. Geopanels are explained in detail in the tutorial, but is one of the hugest advantages (or disadvantages) you can have in the game.
One thing about the gameplay that irked me was that it is very difficult to level up mage-type characters, mostly in the beginning of the game. The only way to gain experience is through the death of enemies. Clerics, especially, have a very hard time doing this in the beginning, as they are almost incapable of doing damage. The only way to get them experience is to have them participate in a team attack, and that team attack must kill the enemy, therefore the Cleric receives a share of the exp. Offensive mages have a tough time in the beginning, but as their spells become stronger, their capability to kill the enemy outright becomes greater.
One other small beef I had with the game engine was the camera angles during battle. Sometimes it became very tough to see the ''squares'' of movement around all the objects that can be on the screen at once. This makes it a little tough to identify where your characters are, even by looks, and where the enemies are, mainly when there are many characters on the screen. Overall, though, it's not a big problem.
Overall Gameplay Score: 9/10
This is, in my opinion, where the game sort-of bombed. The story of Disgaea is sort of a ''taste'' that you have to have, and I don't have it. The story in this game is meant to be humorous, above all else. Very, very lighthearted, and the story that is actually there is very cliche.
When I play any kind of RPG, I like large, epic storylines that have immense character development and interaction, as well as dramatic events. Disgaea has only some of this, and only to a certain extent. A lot of the development gave me a ''I've seen this before.'' feeling. I suppose if you don't mind a ridiculously lighthearted storyline with a bunch of ''humor'' packed in, you won't mind Disgaea's story. However, it's not my taste at all.
Overall Story Score: 2/10
The graphics in Disgaea are pretty well done. It's basically a 2-D sprite-based system in a 3D game world, like many other popular strategy-RPGs. The sprites are done very well and are really detailed, and so are the environments. The magic effects on the graphics are also impressive. I'm not a big fan of anime, so the character portraits during ''story scenes'' don't thrill me, but I suppose they don't look necessarily bad. Very good graphics overall.
Final Graphics Score: 9/10
I don't have any major complaints about Disgaea's music. Sometimes it seemed a little too ''happy'' especially the Overlord castle theme. It's a fortress in the Netherworld, for crying out loud, not a circus. Most of the music that plays during battle is done well enough, but I don't recall hearing any dramatic battle music, save for a couple times possibly.
Sound effects are fine. Nothing to complain about there.
Final Music/Sound Score: 7/10
The play time you can put into this game is gigantic, especially if you try to empower your characters as much as you can. If you like games that'll keep you busy for quite some time, Disgaea fits that description.
As far as replayability goes, there are quite a few factors that may get you to play through the game again. Trying new strategies and class combinations is a big one. I can see playing through the game again.
Final Play Time/Replayability Score: 8/10
As far as renting or buying goes, I'd definitely say you should rent the game first to see if it fits your tastes in story and gameplay. If it does, I wouldn't hesitate to buy it, because I can understand how some people would like this game a little more than I do, although I don't necessarily dislike it. Anyone who has tried Final Fantasy Tactics of Tactics Ogre should at least give it a whirl to see if it's a kind of game you'd like to play.
Final Disgaea: Hour of Darkness Score: 7/10
(Final rating is not an average of the individual category scores, it's just a rating I feel about the game overall.)
Rating: 3.5 - Good
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