So much content, such a tiny cartridge.
The Disgaea series has slowly become one of the most beloved franchises that most gamers have never heard of. This quirky turn-based strategy game has – over the years – developed such a strong following that it has spawned five games across three systems. The latest incarnation is actually a remake of the original game that started it all on the PlayStation 2 over five years ago with some minor altercations to make it feel at home on Nintendo’s touch-happy handheld. If you are new to the series this is easily the most accessible, but if you have been down this road before there is little here to warrant purchasing yet another version of the same game.
The story of Disgaea is as idiosyncratic as it ever has been. You assume the role of Prince Laharl, who is awakened from a two-year slumber by an attempt on your life only to discover that your father has been killed and you are the new Overlord of the netherworld. The game begins in the depths of the netherworld, but eventually progresses all the way to Heaven in typical Japanese fashion. The one thing Disgaea has always done well is never take itself too seriously. The story is chock full of wacky references, dark humor and characters that could only belong to this out-of-sync universe.
Much like its console counterparts Disgaea DS utilizes a grid-based combat system. On this portable version the grid is presented on the bottom touch screen while the top plays host to a map that tracks both enemy and ally units. You can use the touch screen to select individual grid spaces and even zoom in for easier selection. Needless to say this isn’t a quick and dirty port; the developers have actually taken the time to optimize the experience to take full advantage of the DS’ strengths. For the most part if you are a fan of the series everything here will feel familiar, so if you are in need of turn-based strategy on the go, this version is certainly proficient enough to hold your interest.
While a lot of things remain the same the differences found in the DS version are what make it a unique experience. The entire game can be controlled using only the stylus minus a few exceptions. There are new icons littered on the screen that perform an assortment of functions such as camera scrolling and zooming in and out of the battlefield. It is also noteworthy that the developers managed to squeeze every bit of content found in the console version onto the tiny DS cartridge. The only downside to having all of this depth in the palm of your hands is that it sometimes becomes overbearing. Managing such a complicated battle system can become cumbersome using only the stylus, which is why I preferred using the regular button setup most of the time.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of Disgaea DS is the visuals. Where the console versions were known for lively 2D sprites and animated characters, squeezing them all onto the miniscule DS cartridge has taken its toll. Now don’t get me wrong, the game is still one of the better looking DS games, but when the sheen of HD is washed away (from the recently released PS3 version) everything just comes across dull and bland at times. From a sound perspective the game delivers a solid soundtrack with numerous catchy tunes and the amount of voice acting is again impressive considering the medium.
Disgaea DS is probably the most feature-rich experience currently on the system. There is a nearly endless amount of content to sift through and the story and combat system are so well refined you cannot help but enjoy it, if you can get past the learning curve that is. There is also a wireless multi-player mode for two players, but game sharing is not available so you will both need your own cartridge to play. There are nine maps and you can use your party from the single player game however, you will not gain new items or level up during multi-player. Overall Disgaea DS is more than worth the price of admission for fans of the series and newcomers alike. If you enjoy turn-based strategy games and are feeling the need for some action on-the-go there are few better than Nippon Ichi’s latest.