A blessing in Disgaeas.
First, a little background for those of you who may not have been keeping score:
NIS America’s forthcoming Disgaea DS is a port of the PSP title Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, which was released in 2007—and was itself a port of the original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (for the Playstation 2). That’s right—we’re talking about a handheld port of a handheld port of a PS2 game that came out five years ago.
When you say it all at once like that, it sounds…well, it doesn’t sound like good news, does it? But here’s the kicker—this game seems to actually get better each time it’s ported. When Disgaea made the jump to the handheld PSP, it busted out with fresh ad-hoc multiplayer, a spiffy new widescreen presentation, and an entirely new alternate story mode. In a touch of typical Nippon Ichi Software weirdness, the alternate mode assumes that the main character is accidentally killed during the game’s opening sequence, thus turning over the entire narrative to a hitherto supporting character!
Disgaea DS, slated for release in September, will give the already deep, stylish, and massively-replayable game still more new kicks in the butt. For starters, the dual-screen/touchscreen features of the DS make for a much more enjoyable, intuitively controlled strategy RPG. NIS America’s Jack Niida describes the touchscreen/stylus control setup as “probably the closest thing you could get [using the DS] to the mouse-and-keyboard controls of a PC, which I personally think is still best for these games.”
Disgaea DS will get a lot of mileage out of the upper screen, too. For starters, it will offer players incidental tutorials as new concepts are introduced. This is great because Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was critically hailed for it strategic depth, but it has been noted on more than one occasion that it wasn’t exactly the most newbie-accessible title out there. Further, a new real-time automap on that upper screen will help players keep better track of the strategic situation on the lower screen—which can get rather visually cluttered and chaotic when battles start involving crazy numbers of combatants (some of whom are standing on each others’ heads and/or chucking friendlies and enemies alike across the battlefield like crash-test-dummy-sized hand grenades), obscuring barriers, and terrain-altering Geo Panels.
But screw all of that—the big news, for our otaku yen-note, is the new Commentary feature, wherein disgruntled Prinnies (oh, and you can get your own free Prinny Desktop Pet at http://www.disgaeadvd.com/special.html) on the upper screen make constant running comments, wisecracks, and general obscure observations on the character conversations transpiring on the lower screen. It's like they added a demonic penguin version of Statler and Waldolf. As if this anime-inspired netherworld weren't already weird enough—filled with wisecracking teenaged demons, ridiculously epic combo attacks, hospitals that actually reward you for limping into the emergency room in as messed-up condition as you can manage, and an overriding, Cosplay fashion-sense that would put Harajuku Park to shame. Now you’ve got a couple of disgruntled, U.X.B.-penguin Prinnies making like Mystery Science Theater 3000 throughout the entire game. I said it at the recent NIS preview event, and I’ll say it again: Awesome.
Finally, Disgaea DS will offer a new playable character, in the form of cute, red-ribboned Pleinair—the signature ‘mascot’ character of wild-and-crazy Nippon Ichi artist Takehito Harada. She’s popped up all over the place in the past in cameos—in games (including Phantom Brave and Disgaea 2), anime, manga, and of course numerous internet ‘venues’—but now she’s making her playable-character debut (her day job is still being a receptionist for the game’s ‘Dark Assembly’, so she’s a busy girl).
Don’t let the Disgaea series’ cutesy looks fool you. This deep, immensely replayable strategy RPG is out to work you over. If you’ve never experienced the strangeness that is Disgaea, you’ll have a chance to play what is arguably the most feature-loaded incarnation yet when Disgaea DS ships in September. [READER NOTE: No actual penguins were harmed in the development of this game series. Actual penguins. Prinnies, on the other hand, have been dying by the thousands, in both Japan and America, on a pretty much constant basis.]