Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (PS2) Review

Developer: Nippon Ichi Software | Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 8.3/10

Overview
With red-hot popularity in Japan, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is any turn-based RPG gamer’s dream. It plays much like the other turn-based “Tactics” titled games such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre, where you control individuals in a set area and take turns bludgeoning each other’s skulls with swords and axes, but there’s something else this game adds in to the mix to spice it up: there is virtually no level cap. You can level to your heart’s content. While there are other additions, this lack of level cap is insanity. Stack on random battle map generations and bosses with a million hit points, and you got yourself some replay value. How will it fare, when replay value is what most gamers nag about? Let’s find out:

Story
You are Prince Laharl, heir to the throne of the underworld. The game starts out as your subordinate, Etna, is thrashing your little body around in hopes to awaken you from your two-year slumber. As you awaken, you find that your father, King Krichevskoy, has died, and the residents of the underworld are in chaos fighting for the title of “Overlord”. As claiming the title of overlord, you go on to kill off any of the opposition to the throne with the help of Etna, your badass lil’ penguins called Prinnies, and anyone else you hire/pick up on the way.

The game has many funny sequences. Spoofs on Power Rangers, lots of screaming, Prinny humor (Dood!), plenty of irony, Flash Gordon spoofs, and lots of sexual and other crude humor. Not to mention a nod to President Bush’s accident with a pretzel (King Krichevskoy died that way, as far as you know). Laharl’s favorite taunt to his female companion’s is “flat chest-ed”. Guys and cooler girls will like this game. Cool girls as in: a girl who would be looking at a game site. Congratulations if you’re a chick!

Graphics
In the tradition of turn-based RPGs of the Playstation, Disgaea uses 2D characters on a 3D map. The sprites are very nice, and detailed enough for their size. Most characters are designed well (Majins are the definition of badass design) and have many animations that fit the part. Characters’ special moves have some 3D flair; lots of explosions and ultimately cool looking moves. Dragon Ball fans rejoice: brawlers do a Dragon Ball-ish move: “King of Beasts”. Spells and the lot are nice effects, but nothing special. Map detail is bland at best. There is nothing really engaging about the environment, especially when you get to the randomly generated maps. Eventually, you’ll feel like you’re playing the same maps constantly because of how boring the levels can be. The drawn art in the game which accompanies the “scenes” are adequate, but one animated sequence for something would have been nice. Side note: if you love large anime breasts, you are playing the right game. Tons of them, and lots of humor on it as previously stated.

Sound
The music is nice, and it fits the game. No gripes here; some of the music can even be catchy. The dubbing is very nice. All of the voices are professional (or at least sound that way) actors. You may even recognize Prince Laharl’s voice as Barbara Goodson of anime dub fame. Most units only have basic voices, like the male warrior’s pretty cool voice (Be gone!), etc. I actually find the English voices much better than the Japanese voices. The Japanese voices are so squeaky… ugh. Perhaps that’s sexy in Japan, but I couldn’t bear it and switched it back to English. Sound effects are decent, nothing really stands out. Just stay away from the Japanese voices. For the love of Pete.

Gameplay
Disgaea will be nothing new to fans of the genre, nothing really out of the comprehensible for veterans of Final Fantasy Tactics or the like. Movement is very nice in regards to the other games. All units move in the same phase, meaning, you can move all the units at once instead of waiting for each unit to get to its own turn. This is VERY handy when it’s the computer’s turn, as all their units will move in a big mass as opposed to 20 units taking turns. Attacking is much the same as other “Tactics” games, but one difference–you can combo if there are units one panel adjacent to you. Combos not only look cool, but often will do a lot more damage. If normal attacks aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of special moves with any of the seven weapon types, in addition to unique character skills (Such as Laharl’s “Blazing Knuckle) and monster skills. The moves can’t combo like normal attacks can, but most special moves affect an area, or hit more than once, perhaps even knocking the enemy to another panel as some do. You’ll also be pleased to know that classes can use and gain skill with any weapons they wish, but they are very proficient with some specific ones. In example, mage/skull classes are proficient with staves, which also enhance their spell range if they practice enough. Using a weapon will increase the skill with that weapon. When you reach a certain level with a weapon, new moves will become unlocked, and your proficiency with the weapon becomes even greater. There are no staff moves, but with increased skill comes enhanced spell range. Without staves, your range will barely go 3 tiles. While there are many skills, I found myself wishing there were more special moves for the weapons seeing as how there’s only 7 weapon types.

Combat is nothing difficult, and very easy to get used to once you gain a grasp of things like geo tiles, colored flashing panels with effects that match what geo crystal you put on them. For example, putting a geo crystal with the effect of “+100% EXP” on a blue tile will make all geo panels of the same color increase EXP by 100% if a unit is killed on that color. Geo panels can also be changed by way of breaking a different color geo crystal (The color of the geo crystal only effects what the color tile it’s on will change to when the crystal is broken) or with the “Change Geo” move of the Scout unit. Get used to lifting other units/geo crystals with your units, as it gets to be extremely useful. While some units will be indispensable, many like the Rouges, Scouts and Knights are just not useful in the slightest. Many other units can do what they do, and much better. If you really want a warrior that cast spells, overlook the Knight and instead give a warrior a mage pupil. When the warrior learns spells from the pupil (One tile away you’re able to share moves with a pupil) she/he will be much more effective than a Knight would ever be.

Also to note is that there’s a deep system for leveling. There is no level cap, and you’re able to reset your characters to level 1 with much enhanced stats. Not only that, but you can alter your weapons, which carry “residents” who enhance the power of the weapons they are on. By entering a weapon, you can raise its base stats with each level you descend in to the weapon, and by subduing residents from other items and putting them on the item of your choice. On top of this, add in many unlockable levels, classes, and items, and you’ve got yourself a couple hundred hours of game play if you are a perfectionist.

Overall
While it is fun, and a very good game, is not exactly all that deep. The story is nice, but short. There’s plenty of gameplay, but sadly, it’s just not deep enough for how much you may end up playing. If the story were longer, or if there were more special moves/things to look forward to as you level higher besides stats, my opinion would be much different. While it supports the capacity for high level characters, it doesn’t seem to do that in anything more than no level cap, and one supremely hard secret boss. I do very much enjoy this game, and I have purchased it, but I have hopes that a sequel will come along and add more depth to this game and its fun and quirky story.

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