Strategy RPG fans rejoice! NIS’ fantastic PS2 classic Disgaea: Hour of Darkness has made it’s way onto the PSP, with a new subtitle (Afternoon of Darkness) and a new second storyline. What hasn’t changed is the incredibly deep and addictive gameplay, as well as the darkly comic humor that this series has become known for.
Disgaea focuses on Laharl, the prince of the Netherworld, who has just woke up from a 2 year nap to find that his father is dead, and his right to the throne is being challenged by just about every demon the Netherworld can hold. Laharl is, of course, none to happy with this turn of events and sets off to claim what is rightfully his. He doesn’t have to go it alone, however. He’ll set off on this journey as any good prince should, accompanied by a whole host of characters including his loyal vassal Etna and a wealth of exploding penguins with a unhealthy obsession with the word “dood”. Unlike most games in this genre, the story in Disgaea is genuinely funny and definitely adds a lot to the gameplay experience.
Afternoon of Darkness also adds a new playable storyline that revolves around the idea that Etna killed Laharl, instead of waking him up, and sets out on her own quest for the crown.. This obviously adds a lot to the replay value of the title, and is a great reason for people who already own the PS2 original to pick up this version.
Before you even reach the battlefield in Disgaea, you’ll be able to see the immense depth this title holds. In Laharl’s castle, you’ll find shops and a hospital like you would find in most RPG’s. In an incredibly innovative twist, however, both will provide further bonuses to you the more you use them.
You’ll also be able to access Item World, which puts a great spin on item leveling found in other games. Through the Item World, you will actually be able to go inside items in your inventory and level them up by clearing out enemies inside the item. This not only breaks from the norm, it also adds a lot of extra length to the game for those people who want to explore it. However, the Item World can be very difficult due to a lack of hospitals or shops, so the weak of heart need not apply. Also found in the castle is the Dark Assembly, where you can create new members for your growing army.
It’s literally possible to spend hours upon hours just working in the hub world to prepare for your next battle. It’s not mandatory though, so those just looking to stock up and move on can certainly do so. Anyone with the patience and interest to dig deeper, however, will find a wealth of information and replayability.
Once you’ve finished with your preparation, you’ll make your way to the portal. From here, you’ll be able to visit new battlefields, or any of the ones you’ve previously visited if you need to brush up a little before moving on. Battles play out like a traditional tabletop strategy game. Your enemies will be scattered across the battlefield, and your characters will be spawned from a single point. Gameplay is turn based, and your characters can move a set number of squares, but have an option to forfeit their attack and throw another character if you need to get somewhere that you just can’t quite reach. If characters on the same side are standing next to each other when they attack, their attacks might turn into an incredibly damaging combo.
There are also certain colored squares on the battlefield called Geo Panels. These panels have different effects depending on what Geo Stone is affecting them. The manipulation of these Geo Stones is a huge part of the strategy in Disgaea, and it can be the deciding factor between victory and defeat. The controls work extremely well for combat, however the camera is a huge liability. For some reason, the developers chose to limit the movement of the camera to 90 degree increments, which results in some characters and enemies becoming lost behind the landscape in certain stages. A more flexible camera system would have reduced some of these frustrations, and made this version a step up from the Playstation 2 original.
The gameplay is incredibly well paced and strategy heavy. This game is not for novices, however, as it will severely test you right from the start. You will often find yourself forced to back track in order to gather the strength to move forward. While hardcore Strategy RPG fans will salivate at the depth of combat, it’s difficulty certainly limits it’s accessibility for the more casual fan.
Audio/Visual quality is incredibly important for games with as much style and comedy as Disgaea, and Afternoon of Darkness doesn’t disappoint. Graphically, the game looks gorgeous. Textures are sharp, colors are vibrant, and the character designs are spot on. The anime/comic book style cut scenes also impress. The sound quality is also top notch, with some amazing voice overs and the ability to purchase songs from the fantastic soundtrack.
All and all, if you are a fan of the original Disgaea (or of Strategy RPG’s in general for that matter), Afternoon of Darkness should definitely be on your list. It has enough new content to appeal to owners of HoD, and enough depth to keep even the most skilled SRPG player busy for weeks. Casual fans may be turned off by the challenge, but anyone willing to invest some time will most definitely find an incredibly funny, very satisfying gaming experience.