Disgaea: Hour of Darkness review
Well, excuse us for being flat!
When Laharl, Prince of the Netherworld awoke from what he intended to be a ten day nap, he was somewhat shocked to discover that two years had passed, he was now an orphan, and that his existence (and claim to the throne of the Netherworld) had been forgotten.
Etna and Laharl.
Together with his 'humble vassal Etna', and a motley crew of various demons, he begins reasserting his claim to the throne in a typically demonic fashion - hitting anyone who objects very firmly over the head with a blunt (or, in the case of the swords and axes, blood-lettingly sharp) object.
Soon, Laharl and Etna are joined by many other characters, demonic, angelic and even human, as well as stalked by self-proclaimed rival, Vyers. However, the fun of the game lies in the creation of a completely unique army - many find themselves ignoring the plot characters altogether, in favour of their own customizations.
By using Mana players are able to create their own characters. Mana is used for many things within the game, and is earned by defeating enemies. The amount of Mana earned is equivalent to the level of the enemy defeated. The Mana is earned on a character, rather than a team, basis.
Creating a character.
Various humanoid classes, many of which are old RPG favourites, are available at the start of the game, such as male and female Clerics (healers), male and female Brawlers (fighters with high attack but low defence, similar to the Monks of the Final Fantasy series), male and female Warriors (fighters with slightly lower attack than Brawlers, but with higher defence, like Final Fantasy Knights), and Red (fire), Blue (Ice) and Green (Wind) Mages/Skulls. The mages/skulls are somewhat unusual, as they cannot be immediately compared to Final Fantasy job classes. Unlike Final Fantasy, where a Red mage uses both Black and White magic, a Blue mage uses enemy skills, and Green mages are non-existent, Red, Blue and Green mages (and skulls, which are merely male mages) learn higher level versions of one type of magic (fire, ice or wind) as they level up, as well as a few buffer spells, such as Magic Boost, which raises a characters intelligence temporarily.
A Star mage.
There are five upgrades for each class, and these are usually unlocked by leveling a lower character up to a certain point. New humanoid classes are unlocked by raising various combinations of other classes to certain levels (i.e., the Angel class is unlocked by having a Cleric, Knight and Archer reach level 100), or by having a character master a weapon to a certain level (i.e., the Archer class is unlocked by having any character master Bows to a skill level of three).
Any humanoid character can equip any one weapon except monster-type weapons, and three accessories or pieces of armour, although certain classes are more skilled with certain weapons than others (i.e., Ronins are great with Axes, while no-one can handle a Staff like a Mage).
Samurai - one of the upgrades for the Ronin class.
Monster and Prinny classes are unlocked by defeating the enemies in question, and can only equip monster-type weapons, although they are not limited in terms of armour or accessories. The cost of creating them lowers with the amount defeated.
Levels aren't the most important part of Disgaea; although the main game can be completed at any average level of around 100, the limit is more like 9999. More important is the ability to Transmigrate your characters. Like the level-down trick players of Final Fantasy Tactics may remember, transmigrating puts your characters back at level one, with a boost to their stats. Repeated abuse of this system results in high stats at low levels, which is always a good thing.
Your characters move around on a 3D battlefield. Each character has an individual move range of a certain number of squares, determined by various factors, including their class and equipment. The action is turn-based, with up to ten of your characters moving before the enemy takes their turns.
A battlefield from early in the game.
If two or more characters are standing next to each other when an attack is initiated, they will sometimes combo. This will usually do a greater amount of damage, since more characters take part in the attack. If the enemy is defeated, the experience is split between the characters involved, although all the Mana goes to the first person. Taking part in a combo does not count as that character's move.
The start of a four-person combo.
In battle, humanoid characters can be lifted and thrown to different areas of the battlefield. Enemies can also be thrown, and even thrown on to each other, resulting in a single enemy whose level is the sum of those who were combined.
In battle, there is a bonus gauge, which will be filled as you fight. It has nine levels, and how full it is affects which items you win at the end of battle. In the menu, you can check the ten bonus items you will receive. You will always receive the first item, even with the bonus gauge at zero. You will receive both the second and first if it reaches the first level, and the first three if it reaches the second. You receive all ten bonus items if you fill the gauge completely. Sometimes the bonus will be extra Hell or experience, which will be awarded to everyone on the battlefield.
An element of battle unique to Disgaea is that of Geo panels and Geo chains.
Sometimes, squares of the area map will be coloured. Geo symbols are small coloured units, which, when placed on these panels, will grant their effect to all panels of that colour. In other words, if you place a Geo Symbol with the effect 'Invincibility' on a blue square, every character or enemy on a blue square will be invincible.
Not all Geo effects are positive. There are such effects as No Lifting, Attack -50%, and Defence -50% among others.
A Geo Chain.
When a Geo Symbol is destroyed, it will usually change the colour of the panels it resides on. For instance, a red Geo Symbol destroyed on a blue square will have the effect of changing all blue squares to red. Every unit standing on one of those squares will experience damage, and if another Geo Symbol is destroyed, you can start a chain reaction., resulting in more and more damage for any unit standing on the coloured squares. This raises your bonus gauge by a relatively large amount, particularly if you manage to use a clear Geo Symbol to remove all coloured squares from the area. Clearing the area will damage every single enemy on the battlefield.
The one place you can explore in a traditional manner is Laharl's Castle. As well as a gateway through which you can access the battlefields fought on throughout the game, the castle contains stores selling weapons, armour and items, as well as a hospital and the Dark Assembly.
For the stores, you have a customer level, which increases depending on the amount of money you spend. You can also increase the quality and variety of items sold through the Dark Assembly, which will be explained shortly.
The hospital, as well as healing all your characters (for a fee set based on extent of your injuries, similar to Final Fantasy II's Inn system), will give you prizes based on the amounts of HP, SP and KO's healed.
The most important part of the castle, the Dark Assembly is where you can create characters, as well as pass various bills. These bills, which are passed by demonic vote, include, but are not limited to, unlocking bonus dungeons, extending the range of equipment sold in the stores, temporarily increasing the amount of experience received, and increasing or decreasing the level of enemies. Please note that you can only decrease enemy levels to the extent that you have previously increased them, preventing the possibility of neutering the enemies completely.
These bills are unlocked dependant on your level within the Dark Assembly, which is unique to each character and increased by completing increasingly difficult battles. Whether a character can attempt to pass a bill or not, depends on the amount of Mana they have.
A successful bill
Assuming they have enough Mana, the proposition is voted on by various NPC Senators, who hold varying affection levels for your party, which affects how they vote. Offering the Senators bribes, consisting of the items within your item bag, can change these affection levels. You can also, if the Senators do not vote your way, choose to pass the bill by force; in short, you must defeat every Senator who voted against you. However, votes are not judged merely on a numerical basis; the Senators command power based on their level; i.e., a vote from a high level Senator is worth more than that of a low level.
There are several bonus dungeons, which can be unlocked through the Dark Assembly, of increasing difficultly levels. A more important sub-quest, however, is the item world.
An image of a battlefield within an item
Each item in Disgaea is unique. Although items of the same type have the same basic stats, these stats are changed by the presence of specialists.
Specialists appear randomly on each item, although, for instance, Gladiators, which boost strength are more likely to be found on a sword, while Teachers, who boost intelligence are more likely to be found on Staffs. These specialists are un-subdued at first, and their names appear in a grey font. When they are subdued, their effect doubles, and they can be moved to other items. Subdued Specialists can also be combined.
Items have varying rarity levels, and they are classed as normal, rare or legendary. This determines the population of the item (how many Specialists it can hold) as well as how many floors the item world it contains has (thirty, sixty or one hundred). Every tenth floor contains an Item Boss, King or God, as well as an option to leave the item. You can return to the same floor at any point later on. The presence of Specialists on the item as you progress through it and it levels up results in a permanent boost in stats.
In other words, every single item is a randomly generated bonus dungeon, the completion of which results in amazing equipment, which is often more important as a stat boost than raising your characters to ridiculous levels. Since many people create an army of various character, leveling up an item which can be moved from person to person is much more effective than improving the actual character in question.
The enemies within the item are of varying difficulty levels, depending on the item. Not every enemy needs to be defeated - on many floors, all you need to do is have one character reach the exit portal. The only characters that you need to defeat would be the Item Gods, Kings and Bosses who provide an increased Stat boost, and raise the population limit.
The graphics of this game aren't amazing, although they are sweet. The on-screen characters are represented by 2D sprites, except during cut-scenes, where an image of the character is displayed above the text box.
Laharl and the Prinnies.
Each character is motionless, although there are usually three or four images of each one, with different expressions.
These conversations are usually voiced, except for on rare occasions. The voice acting is amazing, particularly Etna. Flonne has a very annoying, traditional RPG heroine high-pitched voice.
Vulcanus and the Seraph.
The main plot of this game is only the start of it. Most of the goals of the game will be established personally, in a similar way to the Sims series, and it's just as addictive. With eight endings, and a never-ending stream of increasingly challenging enemies to defeat you won't finish this game quickly, if at all. Unless, of course, you choose to simply rush through the plot rather than get into the subquests, in which case you can finish it easily.
The humour of the plot is similar in style to the Shadow Hearts series, although without the depth of it. It does have some depth, don't get me wrong, but Laharl and Flonne are more cartoony kids than Alice and Yuri.
Laharl, and the newly renamed "Mid-boss"
Disgaea is a fun, long-lasting RPG, with a great tactical battle system. It may not be the best in any one area, but the combination of different skills and styles and the sheer fun of the game works amazingly well. I've seen someone clock up over 400 hours on this game, and frankly, I'm not surprised.
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