Disgaea: Hour of Darkness review
Dood, this game is good!
Disgaea: Hour Of Darkness was certainly an interesting beast of a game. Not only was it the first strategy RPG I've ever played (keep in mind that I grew up with a Master System, Game Boy and Nintendo 64, none of which really had any to speak of), but even after playing more of them like Final Fantasy Tactics and the various Fire Emblem games, this one still stood out amongst the rest because it did something special. It's not just the story, but also the playstyle. While Fire Emblem was straight up "move unit to enemy unit and attack", Disgaea has tiles that can make battling vastly different and it has group attacks. It's a special breed of game, but unfortunately, it is quite flawed. Not in the traditional sense because at its core, it works fine, but it's more on an enjoyability level where you'll probably get annoyed with it, unless it just happens to be your kind of thing.
Dood, this story is funny!
Laharl is the prince of the Netherworld, and when he awakens from his long slumber, he finds out that his dad is dead and the Netherworld needs a new overlord. From there, Laharl decides to try and take his throne as the new overlord. However, there's quite the political struggle going on, so he has to assert himself towards the throne, willing to kill anybody (or rekill, if you will) who stands in his way of inheritance - usually those who try to assassinate him, as not everybody is happy with him ruling over them. Then again, as he is a bit of an obnoxious twat, it's pretty easy to see why.
Now, on your first playthrough, this will be a story that you'll find yourself loving. The dialogue is so over the top that you can't help but laugh at it. There are plenty of tongue-in-cheek references towards Japanese culture and this game even takes shots at itself, among other things, and the way these characters interact with each other is the icing on the humor cake. Not only that, but the characters actually do develop, especially Laharl. You'll not only be laughing along with them, but you'll also get attached to these characters as they start to grow as, well, characters.
But what's so wrong with this upon repeated playthroughs? Well, the humor... it's just not nearly as funny the second time around. Actually, it comes across as a bit annoying because it's pretty simple humor that doesn't require much thought, and while it could be funny referencing it to your mates who have also played this, eh, not so much when it's coming from the game a second time. Plus you can't skip story scenes, and while the characters are good, the story itself isn't. It's fairly generic and doesn't really do much except serve as a backdrop for these characters to breathe. Not bad, but not that great either. This is one that really relies on its humor, which has very little staying power.
Dood, this is pretty strategic!
At its core, it plays out like a traditional SRPG. You take your units, move them towards the enemy and kill it. Whether you're moving adjacent to them or attacking from a distance, it's easy enough to get the hang of the basics. But there's more to it than that – sometimes, the terrain will be too high for your units to jump onto. It's not all flat terrain here guys. Some have many different heights for its tiles, others may have a few, but the point is that you'll be obstructed by tiles too high to jump. Introducing the throwing feature, where you get a unit to throw another unit over to a tile too high to jump up to. But sometimes, even that has its limits. It just depends on your positioning...
…and that's the name of the game here, fellas – positioning. Where you place your units is crucial when it comes to delivering the pain, or at least trying to survive. When you place units together – like in a line or diagonally with them also facing the enemy you're attacking, those two will initiate a combo attack, which will do even more damage to an enemy than a single attack. Certain combo attacks can only be used under specific circumstances though, and far more often than not, special attacks can't be chained together like this; only regular attacks can be. After a while, combo attacks become obsolete because you have a deadly arsenal of special attacks.
To keep it up are Geo Panels. Depending on the color, they can either hinder or strengthen whoever is standing on those tiles, but only if there's a Geo Symbol on them. Geo Symbols can be destroyed and if you destroy one on a Geo Panel of a different color, then you can recolor those panels into the same as the Geo Symbol that you destroyed. Early on, they're little additions that are pretty cool but aren't all that big of a deal; later on, they can either make or break a battle so it's important that early on, you get the hang of it or you get left behind. Add onto the fact that enemies are actually fairly tactical themselves, and you have yourself a game that definitely knows its shit in this department!
Dood, how long is this going to take?!
Disgaea's gameplay isn't quite as good as it could've been. For one thing, it is a very grind heavy game. As in, you could spend hours upon hours grinding via repeating past chapters. As in, if you have plans and you feel like playing some Disgaea, you better choose what you'd rather do. At times, you can go ages without actually progressing the story because you have to level up a shitty unit, or you just unlocked a class that you really want to use but because all new characters start off at level 1, there's a loooooot of grinding ahead of you. Normally, this wouldn't be a huge issue because that's what you'd normally do in an RPG, but Disgaea goes WAY over the top with this one and it really undermines the strategy aspect of the game because even with some sick tactics at your disposal, you'll still get your ass kicked unless you level up a few times. While this works fine for the obsessive who think that completing the story is like completing the tutorial level, folks like myself who don't have 500 hours a day to play games aren't going to be all that impressed that this is what's considered lastability. Honestly, had the battle system been any less awesome, this would be every nail on the coffin, but as the battle system *bleep*ing rocks, it's only a problem when you need to grind heaps.
But it's more than that – the difficulty can fluctuate quite a bit between easy and hard because the enemies' levels fluctuate between microscopic and about 30 levels higher. Because of this, stats play a bigger role than strategy at certain points. Like, you can have the best strategy ever, which can basically destroy anything that's of a similar level to you, but if they're significantly higher than you, then *bleep* strategy, it's all about the mother*bleep*ing stats! It doesn't happen too often thankfully and it could emphasize the need for careful Geo Symbol usage, but it can still be a real pain, and it can lead to what I spent the last paragraph bitching about... grinding.
There are plenty of things to do outside of story battles that'll empower you... as long as you'd be willing to grind your way through them. One is the Dark Assembly, where you can create new characters and Transmigrate... which resets a character's level back to 1 but speeds up level growth, changes their class and increases their stats a bit (so long as it's not a story character you're doing this on), but the big thing is the Dark Assembly itself, which allows you to pass laws like making items cheaper or get better items from the stores inside Laharl's Castle (the overworld). When passing a law, there's a small chance that the senate will agree to pass a law, but when they don't, you'll either have to bribe them or fight them... usually fight them because you can bribe them like 400 items and they'd still be like “NAY”. When fighting them, it's like all semblance of good design is thrown out of the window as the senators are just bland to fight against. That's if they don't *bleep* you up – they are at a pretty high level, which means... GRINDING!!!
Then there's the Item World, where you can enter an item in an attempt to level it up... by going through 100 rounds of fights, and depending on what item you're levelling up, you'll either fight 100 easy rounds that get boring after a while, or 2 rounds of tough bastards that'll *bleep* you up. While the fights on their own terms seem to be a bit more exciting than the Dark Assembly ones, going through heaps upon heaps of fights in a row really takes its toll on you. Of course, that's if you can actually beat them, otherwise... you guessed it – MORE GRINDING!!! To loosely quote Egoraptor, “what's the difference between A) killing a bunch of zombies to get a bunch of experience points, and then going back to the overworld to get to do a later part of the game, and B) killing a bunch of zombies that are obstructing your forward path to another part of the game? Answer: 30 HOURS”. This is the kind of shit that can hurt a game for me and a lot of other people because you spend more time grinding than actually playing through the story, which reminds me so much of Phantasy Star on the Sega Master System that I ended up hating both games a little whenever I play this, and just a heads up – the series keeps this up. I'm not bullshitting you, the rest of the series has this sort of thing going on, only the ratio of grinding:story went from 60:40 to something between 55:45 and 80:20. While the rest of the games add little things to make individual bits and bops of battle go by faster, they still keep up the big time wasting structure – it's a pretty damn *bleep*ing good thing that they also keep up the good stuff like the battle system and the humor.
Dood, this picture is sick!
At first, the graphics seem a bit primitive – I mean, sprites for a PS2 game, get out of here, that shit's unheard of! But then you get a good look at them and go “it looks nice”. The sprites are all distinguishable – which is really impressive when given that there are heaps of classes, and then there are the main characters to consider - with a lot of vibrancy to boot! The special effects are especially colorful and yet easy on the eyes. Besides the special effects though, the only thing that's really impressive is just the novelty of a 2D game being on the PS2. To put it simply, the only thing it did with the graphics is just make the flow feel a bit faster and yet more natural than 3D models would've at the time.
Dood, this track is tits!
Disgaea certainly has one of the catchiest soundtracks I've heard in a while. A lot of the songs are upbeat, peppy and, really, it just goes with the fact that Disgaea doesn't take itself all that seriously. Its biggest strength is its replayability – because you'll be grinding a lot, you'll be subject to the same songs over and over again, so it's nice that the songs are composed in such a way that they can remain enjoyable upon repeated listenings. It's even more impressive than just having like one or two songs that have that factor going for them (like every grind heavy JRPG ever made such as the Dragon Quest and Pokemon franchises). The voice acting is very over the top and a lot of fun to listen to. It's clear that everybody in the studio had fun trying to convey the ridiculous dialogue in a way that works in its favor... and successfully I might add, though some voices can be rather grating on your nerves – in particular, the more “cutesy” ones that sound less cute and more annoying, like most of those bloody moe anime dubs. But yeah, the sound design for Disgaea is just excellent for what it's actually trying to do and for that reason, your ears will enjoy this game.
A cool dood or a lame dood?
The content of Disgaea is fantastic, no doubt about it. The story itself is alright but the humor is what drives it home, and the battle system is very, very well constructed. However, Disgaea also encourages you to do a lot of grinding, which amounts to wasting your time which can be spent doing better things. When it gets to that point, I almost get to the point where I'm ready to get out my GBA and play Fire Emblem instead, but then I remember that Disgaea's content is just bloody brilliant, and it keeps me in a cool and calm frame of mind while grinding my time away to level up enough to beat the next boss, and once I feel like I can stand a chance, the amount of strategy involved in defeating them and the hilarity of the next cutscene makes up for all the boredom I experienced through grinding. In short, it's one of those games where you have to grin and bare the shitty grinding in order to enjoy the sweet, luscious content.
The story itself isn't much, but the characters really steal the show... just as long as you don't replay it too soon because the humor is a very one-note sort of thing.
Combat is a whole lot of fun, and it really emphasizes tactics on the harder levels. Eh, just expect to grind more than you would want to. Very grind heavy.
It's easy to navigate around the overworld and to use commands and shit.
They're nice and colorful with some neat animations, but nothing really impressive, save for the fact that it's like OH MY GOD SPRITES ON A PS2 GAME!!!
Some of the voices can grate on your nerves, but the others are a lot of fun to listen to. The music is pretty damn good too.
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