The ultimate time-absorption device
The side quest. Used correctly, a side quest can add hours to the replay value of an RPG. Used incorrectly, however, and it can prove to be an utter chore, with the addition it makes to a players completion percentage being the only reason anyone would undertake it.
And then there's Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
, which has more side quests than main quests
, in both quantity and quality. Honestly, I reckon that they could have named it Disgaea: The Neverending RPG
Anyway, onto the story. You play as Laharl, the prince of demons. After being awakened by your vassal Etna following a two-year nap, you find that your father, the King Krichevskoy, has died after apparently choking on a black pretzel. (Honestly, I'm not making this up). Being the (forgotten) heir to the demon throne, it is up to you to claim the title of Overlord, and then you do Overlord-y things, I guess. (I don't know, that's how far I got in 16 days of playing)
The game is divided into chapters. Every time you progress to a new chapter, you unlock a level. Each level is split into several stages. Complete all the stages of the latest level you have unlocked, and you complete the chapter. Each stage plays out like a level of Suikoden Tactics, in that you order your characters around the level grid, getting them to attack and such until you kill all the bad guys. Simple.
Until you get to the extras.
During the stages, you'll find strange pyramids called Geo Symbols. These grant abilities to anyone standing on the same coloured floor title as the Symbol. These abilities can be positive (such as invincibility and stat boosting), negative (such as stat draining and damaging) and neutral (such as random warping to other same-colour squares).
These Geo Symbols have colours of their own too. Destroy a Geo Symbol on a coloured square, and those squares will turn into the same colour as the Geo Symbol you just destroyed. When they change color, they also inflict damage on anyone (or anything) also on the squares. Considering that most stages will have several different Geo Symbols around, you can set up some large combos dealing massive damage to the enemy.
Then you get to the Combo attacks. A Combo attack is caused when the character who is initiating an attack is surrounded by allies with a high Combo attack percentage. A Combo attack is more powerful than a regular attack, in that two, three or four characters are attacking at the same time. Combo attacks only occur when the first character is attacking someone next to them with a physical attack. Plus, your characters can participate in a Combo attack and still act out another action (unless they initiated the Combo attack), which means that if your Combo attack 'partner/s' have a ranged attack, they will be able to attack twice. Once in the Combo, and again on their own. It all adds up, y'know.
Much like the side quests.
The first one is the Dark Assembly. Here, you can put a vote to the Dark Assembly about anything you have the Dark Assembly level for. These can be unlocking shop items, a cash bonus or even improving your char's stats. The Assembly also approves/disallows the creation of certain party members. If you have enough mana (earnt by defeating enemys) you will be able to create a new party member from scratch. Be warned though that having the minimal mana to create them does mean you will have to 'kill' their stats a bit. Exactly what characters you can create are dependant on the mana you have and your progress through the main storyline.
Anyway, when the Dark Assembly votes on a matter, they will go 'Yay' or 'Nay'. Their influence on the rest of the Assembly affects how much their vote matters in the scheme of things. Them again, their votes can always be swayed in your favor with a little 'gift', of sorts. Failing that, you could always beat the living (or undead) daylights out of them in order to get them to agree, although that option isn't exactly for low-level parties.
Then there's the Item Worlds, where most of Disgaea
's longevity lies. Every
item in this game has an Item World. This Item World plays out like the stages of the story missions, except with some extra rules. For one, you can only leave at the end of every 10th stage, unless you have a Mr Gency's Exit item. You can also proceed to the next stage by reaching the portal that is in the stage somewhere.
Also, you can encounter specialists. These specialists will be on their own team, fighting you and the other enemies. Killing the specialist allows you to harness their powers fully, to transfer them from item to item, and to combine them with other, similar specialists. Each specialist will improve a certain trait in the item. However, each item only has a certain capacity for specialists, with that capacity depending on the rarity of the item. For example, a Rare Broadsword would have more room for specialists than a Common Broadsword. Then again, the rarity also means that the inhabitants of the item will be stronger than others.
If this looks confusing, don't worry. Once you start putting it into practice, it all becomes clear.
Much like the atmosphere of Disgaea
. I've often said how humor in a game can make it all the more enjoyable, and thankfully this game is a prime example of how it can work. From the clueless angel Flonne to the glimpses into the overactive imagination of Etna in between chapters, this game will have you laughing more than most other games on the market.
The graphics of Disgaea
aren't exactly top-of-the-line, but they look great. The battle animations are very well done and make watching a real treat, particularly the four-character Combo attacks. The soundtrack behind the game is rather impressive too, matching the light-hearted evilness perfectly. Whoever did the soundtrack knew what they were doing, and it shows. Or, rather, it plays.
Now, you may remember how in my Suikoden V review
that I said how I hated games that forced level-crunching. Well, I stand by that statement. However, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
does to some extent enforce level-crunching. But, for some reason, I don't mind it. Perhaps it's because you can always get to a good place to level up your characters thanks to the Item Worlds. Perhaps it's because there's no sense of urgency when it comes to the storyline. Then again, perhaps it's because the place where you go to get healed up after a battle gives you prizes for getting beaten up really badly (Seriously, I'm not making that up).
I don't know which it is, and given how much fun I found Disgaea
, I don't think I care enough to want to find out. If you find a copy of this game for sale somewhere, then get it. The longevity alone is well worth it.