Review by plasmabeam
Reviewed: 11/14/05 | Updated: 04/21/06
Disgaea: Hours and Hours of Leveling Up
After slowly dipping into the Strategy RPG genre over the past few years, I'm finally starting to get the hang of how the games are played and what is expected of those who play them. Though I find most of them enjoyable, I honestly must say that I'm not too crazy about some Strategy RPGs, since tons of leveling up isn't my idea of fun. That being said, Disgaea failed to impress me, considering that I heard a lot of great things about it. I was hoping for a solid main adventure, but I didn't get that. One of the game's biggest focuses is the "power leveling" that can take hundreds of hours. Although I didn't take part in that, Disgaea did have several exciting battles and a few nifty ideas thrown into the mix.
To be fair, I should mention that I'm basing this review on the game's story mode, which is about 45 hours long, depending on how you spend your time. If you're really into spending hundreds of hours leveling up and customizing you party, then by all means, add a couple points to the review score.
Now, if you're reading this review, you might have come across this game when discussing the PS1 hit, Final Fantasy Tactics (FFT). It's almost impossible to talk about Disgaea: Hour of Darkness without comparing it to the similar, yet different, FFT. Both games have a similar maps that allow characters to move from place to place on a grid system. The two games also boast plenty of character customization and other various features. But enough with comparing the two. Let's take a look at what Disgaea has to offer.
Disgaea begins by throwing you into an anime-style Netherworld with demon kids and other various monsters, the most famous being talking penguins called Prinnies. Eventually, we see our protagonist, Prince Laharl, awaken from a long slumber. When he awakens, he is greeted by a female vassal, named Etna, who was apparently trying to kill our Prince in his sleep. She quickly covers up her intentions and alerts the Prince that his father died 2 years ago. It's a mediocre-at-best story, and I certainly wasn't feeling compelled to see what would happen to this group of demon kids throughout the game. As the so-so story progresses, Laharl and Etna meet up with other characters that are important to the plot. They team up with an annoying, love-obsessed angel (Who saw that one coming!?), a rather humorous "Defender of Earth," and a few others.
So the basic plot is now set up, and throughout the beginning of the game, your main focus is to subdue all other candidates that desire to take the throne of the Netherworld. This drags on for a few of the game's 16 story-related episodes. I won't go too far into detail and spoil the game, but I just want to give you an idea of what to expect. Although Disgaea has a less than stellar plot, it at least throws in some humorous situations that will make you laugh every now and then. I found a lot of the jokes to be rather immature, but there are plenty that will garner a few chuckles from the player.
Moving away from the plot and characters, let's now take a look at the game play. The creators were nice enough to include a short Tutorial that explains basic movement and attacking, as well as some of Disgaea's unique features. The basic controls are simple enough. Each character can move a certain amount of spaces on the grid, and they can also climb higher terrain, depending on how high they can jump. A rather unique ability that Disgaea makes use of is the option to lift and throw your allies and enemies. This allows you to reach higher ground or cross large gaps on the map. You can also stack a few characters and throw them across the map to cover more ground quickly, which actually makes this idea turn out to be a solid and time-saving feature. The only problem with the idea of lifting and throwing is the fact that your characters can only toss others in a straight line. Sometimes I wished that they could just chuck one of my allies a spot or two diagonally, but unfortunately, you need proper position to make the most of this feature.
Ten of your characters can be on the map at one time, and you can switch them in and out of battle to give yourself the best chance against your opponents. Your entire squad attacks at one time, meaning that you and your enemies take turns as a group. Each individual character can move, attack, heal, use items, equip/un-equip items, lift/throw, and use special abilities during his or her group's turn. When you have decided what you want a character or characters to do, open up a menu by pressing the Triangle button, then select "Execute" to have your warriors follow through with their commands. The battle ends when all of your enemies have been defeated, or when you lose 10 characters (or all of your characters, if you have less than 10).
Aside from the game play basics, Disgaea presents the gamer with two special features that deepen the game play. The first of which is the ability to create Team Attacks. By having one, two, or three characters stand next to a to-be-attacking character, you can set off a more powerful chain of attacks. However, your characters won't always successfully pull off one of these team attacks, since they depend on several circumstances. I used this feature a lot early on in the game, but once my characters started to learn powerful special attacks, I simply ignored it from then on, since this feature can only be used when performing a regular attack.
The other unique feature is the use of Geo-panels. Geo-panels are colored blocks on the grid that can allow the character standing on them to be effected in various ways. These effects are only made possible by Geo-symbols, which are gems that can be thrown on or off a Geo-panel that cause the various effects. Geo-symbols on Geo-panels can also be destroyed to set off chains that can cause damage to allies or enemies standing on a certain color. These chains can also score major bonus points that allow you to obtain plenty of items after the battle is over.
As far as difficulty goes, Disgaea is quite easy, as long as you level up. That's probably the biggest disappointment for me. The game wants you to level up more than use your brain to win battles. Some of my favorite Strategy RPG moments involve a strategic battle where almost every move was crucial. Disgaea requires little strategy to make your way through. Just give a few characters some powerful weapons and abuse their most powerful abilities. And be sure to level up. As a matter of fact, Disgaea goes overboard and lets you level up to a maximum level of 9999. And you can also use a feature called Transmigration to set your characters back to level 1 with a portion of their stats, so you can level up even more. If that doesn't make you fear that Disgaea will become repetitive, then go out and buy it already, and throw your social life out the window as well.
Outside of the game's battles, you will find yourself walking around a surprisingly small castle as Laharl. There are a grand total of 4 rooms in the entire castle, and only one of them is relatively important. There are about five monsters that you can talk to, shops for weapons and armor, a woman who can transport you to the maps, a hospital, the Item World, and the Dark Assembly. Most of those are self-explanatory, but I'll explain the last two.
The Item World is a perfect example of a great idea being poorly executed. By going through at least ten floors of an item, you can make the item a lot more powerful. Sounds fine, right? Well, it is a pretty good idea, but it takes forever, especially if you don't immediately head for the exit of each floor. If you take the time to kill all the enemies on each floor and set off all the Geo-panels to get bonuses, you'll notice that you just spent 30-45 minutes leveling up an item that will be useless after a few hours.
The Dark Assembly is where you will spend a lot of your time outside of battle. It offers the ability to create new characters, Transmigrate, and pass bills that can raise or lower the quality of shop items, power-up your characters, and open up new worlds. In order to do almost anything in the Dark Assembly, you need Mana, which can be obtained by defeating enemies. When you have enough Mana, you can attempt to pass a bill (which usually requires you to bribe senators with gifts or even attack them) or create a new character.
I wont go into much detail, but Disgaea lets you choose from about a million character classes. Actually, it's somewhere over 100, but the amount of things to do in this game is simply overwhelming. Although there are a lot of classes, many of them are just better versions of a previous class. Once you've selected a character from a class that you want to make, you can add some stats to him or her, and you can name the new character. From there you can teach your character special abilities by equipping him or her with one of the weapon types. You can also teach the Mentor (creator) character some of the special abilities of the Pupil (newly created fighter). So if you want Laharl to be able to use Healing spells, have him create a Cleric. That's one of those little things that adds a nice touch to the game.
As for graphics, music, and sound... well, they're a lot less than impressive. For a PS2 game, the graphics are flat out ugly in battles, and most of the dialog involves cardboard-cutout looking characters chatting with each other. However, if you like that anime charm, then you'll feel right at home. I never was really impressed by any of the special attacks, but there's no harm done, since graphics are not at all important in Strategy RPGs. Don't worry, as long as you can see what's going on.
The music is downright childish, and although a few boss battles have some catchy tunes, I wouldn't call this anything other than a low point of the game. There is a good amount of voice acting, and it's actually bearable for the most part. Most voices are fitting, and they help add some humor to the lackluster story. Sounds aren't impressive, but the hold up and get the job done.
Disgaea starts off as a fun game with some cool ideas and unique features, but sadly, that magic can't hold up for very long. I found that the battles get somewhat stale after I realized that they require little strategy. However, if you're crazy about leveling up and customization, then I suggest that you find this game and enjoy it. It's not a bad game, but it misses the mark in a few places.
Rating: 2.5 - Playable
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