Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
How many of you play an RPG and try to complete it 'perfectly'? But then, after hours of hours playing you give up, because you realize that the levels you need in order to defeat that last damn extra boss are just too long to get and that the game no longer entertains you … but it frustrates and bores you to no end. But Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is different. Why you ask? Despite the fact that you need to level over level4000 (you read correctly) to beat the last boss you will still do it. Why? Because you will enjoy it, because you will have FUN doing it!
That is why Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is so great, because it is FUN.
You play as Laharl, a fresh demon prince that is waken up by his vassal Etna after a two years nap. He doesn't even have the chance to yawn good, already he is confronted with the hard truth: his father, the Overlorld King Krichevskoy is dead and that the demons are fighting for the throne, although you are the rightfull heir. So … what does our hero do? Stretches his body good, eats a good meal after two years (honestly, how in hell did he survive TWO years without food or water?!) and begins his adventure!
In the next paragraphs I will grade the game via four meassures:
Graphics are like art, a matter of taste. Some will crave for realism, while others love innovative artistic design. To he honest I would place myself in the second group. Why you ask? Because games are fantasy and why would realism always have to interfere with it?
People that like games with realistic graphics will be dissapointed with this one. Because everything in it is done with sprites.Characters, background and etc. Still I think that even these sprites are a bit unpolished. If I have observed correctly, in the castle (the only place where you can move freely), you can only move in eight directions: left, right, up, down and all the diagonals. Also the face animations and character moves seem a little chunky, especialy in the cutscenes. Sometimes I literally feel that I can see Laharls face forming his 'evil' (try visualising the most cutest thing doing an evil laugh) smile frame by frame. In my opinion for a graphical style that does not push the systems limits these thing would deserve a bit more 'fluidness'.Cutscenes are also very simple –usualy the character speaking is drawn and his appearance only changes when he screams, is shocked, scared … in general when is under emotions.
To be honest though, I also think that these 'sprites' and simplicity are a vital part of Disgaea. Why? Well … mostly because they make the game vibrant, cheerful, joyful … they simply induce life into it. And despite the simplistic cutscenes, they still get the message sent. When someone is sad, angry … you will feel for and with them. I did and many others did too. Also some of the animations are very very well done. Especialy the special attack ones. One springs into my mind, where you leap the enemy into the air and slash about 10 times with your sword in Matrix style. Honestly, how COOL is that?!
Overal my final grade would be: B+. Why? Cutscenes are very simple, but they get their job done well and the sprites may not be top notch but they make it up through their style and art.
Ah yes … the curse of many Japanese RPG's when they are sent to Americans and the people beyond the great puddle – Europeans (hey that's me!). Bad bad voice acting or as the veterans like to call it, bad dubbing. I still remember the days I played a Japanese RPG (forgot the name of it …) and laughed at the saddest part of the game (someone dies, a girl I think). Why? Well … what would you do if the characters speaks while his mouth is shut and is silent while his mouth is moving? Think I'm not the only with such expiriences, now am I?
Happily this is not the case in Disgaea. The voice acting is very good. I especialy like the voices of Etna, Flonne and Vyers. They give their characters believability. Etnas voice matches perfectly with her character: hyperactive, 'diabolical', depressed … as does Flonnes: naive, kindhearted, optimistic. Granted some are worse, but they are few and far betwen. Their witty and funny dialogue just adds cream to the already perfect cake. Who doesn't laugh when hearing Etnas version of the game? I mean honestly, if you at least don't chuckle while you will hear that then you honestly have no heart.
About the music in the game I'd have to say so. It is good, but thats it. Good – not very good, not so – so but just good. It gets its job done, but I don't really remember any soundtrack that would make me go: 'Damn good piece! Right to my iPod … NOW!'.
Overal my final grade would be: B+. Why? The music deserves a C, but the near perfect voice acting and witty dialogue raises the grade to a solid B+.
No one likes the controls type Mako in Mass Effect right? But everyone loves the sweet gent silky smooth ones type Bioshock (I think a right? is not needed here). Now you surely are asking yourselves: 'Well … this games haaaaas … ?' Let me tell you. Good news. It has the latter ones.
Partialy also because it really can't mess it up. It's still a strategic RPG. You don't really move your characters (minus your shopping time in the castle), you order them to move. Well, because of that you surely think it deserves an A, right? Well it doesn't. For a strategy game it offers you quite a limited arsenal of movement. Basicaly it boils down to: attack, defend, throw, lift, special attacks, magic, items. Quite simple for a game that depend on strategic decisions, right? But for its humble and a bit marginal orders, they are executed very well.
Overall my final grade would be: B+. Why? For a strategy game it offers you limited options of control and order and strategy options are the core of a STRATEGY game, right?
Ah yes … the simple reason you buy games in stores, to entertainyourself! To kill those hours that would otherwise be seemingly endless boring. And this is where Disgaea scores big, really big.
If I were you I would already prepare myself for a bit of family drama, love rifts and maybe a dead dog or cat. Why? Weeeeeeell … this game will eat alot of your ours and by alot I mean REALLY alot. You'll find yourself quite many times saying: 'Oh, just this map. Just one more time for this level or maybe this item will drop!' Then after the map's been done not once but about twice or more you'll ask yourself:'Wait … didn't I forget something?'. Then you'll look at your cellphone and see the message of your angry girlfriend. Well this is the curse of fun games. They devour too much of our time way to fast.
And Disgaea will eat alot of it. Especialy the side quests. If I recall correctly. There are more SIDE QUESTS then MAIN QUESTS. Pretty strange world we live in today eh? Alas … many of this side quests will require quite big levels to complete. But don't fret, in Disgaea it is very easy to level up once you know how to. And it is not that difficult to find out AND the most important thing … it is FUN. Side quests are usualy in form of extra maps and the neverending Item World. The Item World is the 'inside' of the item. In it are specialists that can power – up your gear and weapons to immense strength. And every item can be entered … you heard me right, EVERY DAMN ITEM. Now someone tell me that this game has no replay value!
After some months when you will recognize that you probably spent way to long on this game you'll actually realize: 'Hey, it was fun and I don't regret it. Not one bit.' You are given more then 40 classes, 5 types of magic, endless levels, monsters you can capture, a battle system that is not frustrating but it promotes rational thinking and placing the best strategic orders in the perfect moment … yes ladies and gentelman. This game is fun (think I said 'fun' too many times now … but heck … when it is!).
And this is what games should be all about! Having fun! That you will laugh, cry, be scared, angry … anything you like, as long you are having a good time. Nowadays real life is way to stressfull … good thing there are other things besides pain killers and antidepressants to minder the pain. In the form of very good games like Disgaea: Hour of Darkness.
My overall grade would be: A. Why? Haven't I said enough already?
Final grade: A -. Why? Solid graphic, solid sound, solid controls, almost perfect entertainment give you and almost perfect grade.
Authors notice: this has been written by a 16 year old Slovenian boy. So I apologize in advance for any grammar mistakes.