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Japanator Review: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness

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Nippon Ichi Software, purveyors of anime-lookin' game titles such as La Pucelle Tactics and Phantom Brave, has done some damn fine work over the years, delighting those of us who fancy big-eyed artwork in our tactically ass-kicking gameplay. None are finer or dearer to this ol' gamer's heart, though, than the PlayStation 2's Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, which launched a whole slew of spin-offs and sequel stuff, including a 12-episode anime, second and not-yet-US'ed third games, a PSP (and sooon-to-DS) port, and a cell-phone fighter only available in Japan. (And Prinny hats!)

I lost this game when my house was broken into a few weeks ago, along with my memory card and 5 years of accumulated data, and no losses amongst it grieved me so much as that of my Disgaea parties. Hit the jump and find out why gamers and anime fans alike have turned this series into a multimedia giant; veterans can also come along, for a little nostalgia.

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness

Nippon Ichi

PlayStation 2 

(Till the photo uploads unbugger themselves...)

If I had to pick one macro to sum up the series, this would be it.

You see, this is a strategy game, of course, but "strategy," applied to Disgaea, applies as in most people's understanding of "the incestuous tentacle-monster love child of chess, Terry Pratchett, Excel Saga and steroid-laced Pop Tarts." Besides your usual grid-based combat, you can throw your characters (or enemies!) around the board, or manipulate Geo Panels for good or ill effects, earn multiple endings, engage in political intrigue via bribe and/or murder, create your own unholy army from scratch...and a bunch of other stuff. Did I mention that every single item, from your first bit of ABC Gum to the ultra-powerful Yoshitsuna blade, is its own randomly generated dungeon, down which you can go bazillions of levels? This game is a timesuck of such magnificent proportions that the reincarncation of the most powerful hidden boss, Baal, is Level 6,000. Yes, 6, comma, three zeros: the 650-ish crew I lost to those thieving [censored for legal purposes] was really still in its infancy.

The story behind this glorious madness is simple enough: You wake up as Laharl, son of the Netherworld's reigning Overlord, after a two-year nap. Guess what? King Krichevskoy's dead, and you - and your delightfully evil underling, Etna, and her squad of zombie-penguin Prinnies - get to take his place. All you have to do is kill (or recruit) lots of other demons, turn aside a space-age human invasion, and avoid the clutches of the cutest angelic assassin ever to grace a game screen.

Hi, Flonne! Doesn't she fail to terrify, folks? :D

In keeping with the off-the-wall plot, the characters are all recognizable types from any manner of anime or game genres: the badass who'll Never Love Again with the heart of...copper, at least; the scheming sidekick; the tooth-melting "Love Freak" who annoys everyone by insisting you should all hug instead of fighting; the 60s American action hero, and big-boobed assistant; the human murderers stitched into penguin form and made to serve penance in the afterlife...you know 'em all by now. The important thing is that the way they're thrown together is really entertaining, often hilarious (Etna's fake Next Chapter previews are some of the funniest parodies I've ever seen, period), and sometimes quite touching.

Nothing's perfect, though. Sometimes the story battles surge in difficulty, especially with Geo Panels thrown in to give the other side massive advantages, and those moments are usually made all the more unfair by the fact that you really, really want to see what happens next; however, thanks to Item World and a couple of maps with EXP bonus panels, levelling up isn't too hard, especially with the help of gamesfaqs guides, some of which know more about the mechanics of calculating a given character's Steal rates than postgraduate math majors would ever bother with.

There's also some uneven English voice acting. Near-perfect writing helps a lot, but while the Japanese cast was uniformly spot-on, I winced a little at certain times--that which seems boisterous and fun in one language is a little scary in another. I also found it odd that your peon characters tended to voice attacks in Japanese, but some classes were distinctly in English (usually the ones I avoid using entirely because they annoy the hell out of me), as are your main guys. Some things are universal, though; I never grow weary of hearing Laharl laugh maniacally as he rides a flaming meteor towards its unlucky targets on the battlefield. :')

If spending hundreds of hours replaying anything sounds like a bad or at least unfeasible idea, fear not: the main story itself is no longer than your average RPG, with all the gooey extras lying just below the surface, waiting to be dug into for nerdular goodness. It's also good to know that the best ending is the one considered canon going into Disgaea 2 (not the one featured in Makai Senki Disgaea, which was very pretty and a bit of fun, but really couldn't do the game justice in just 12 episodes). Either way, this puppy came out in 2003, and it has yet to get old for me. Give it a whirl if you haven't, or think about revisiting it if you have. Do it for me, and the replacements my sister recently gave me to restart with. (My sister = awesomeness.) Did I mention that Prinnies explode when thrown?

Verdict: 10

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reviewed by Aoi

 

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Aoi
Aoi   gamer profile

'Ello, luvs. I be a sometime editor o' Jtor, dependent on my school and work schedule. Thanks for reading! Remember, the first one's free. more + disclosures


 



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