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Disgaea: Hour of Darkness Review

Johnny_Liu By:
DEVELOPER Nippon Ichi 
T Contains Comic Mischief, Mild Language, Mild Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Pleasantly depressing.

There are many types of games out there catering to many different audiences, but has there been a game for the Goths? There's The Crow, but that stinker hardly even counts as a game. Devil May Cry, maybe, but that wasn't really depressing enough. I'm not a Goth myself, but I think Pokemon: Picnic in the Park isn't going to whet one's appetite for doom and gloom.

If Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre are too medieval for you, then try Disgaea, the gothier strategy RPG. Well, I wouldn't exactly classify it as full, depressing Goth - it's actual more like a Goth world of demons and darkness with a dose of Anime Ritalin. "

Laharl, prince of the Demons, has been asleep for two years. During this time, his father, King Krichevskoy, was assassinated, leading to a political struggle for power. Laharl awakens to a tattered Demon World he must rightfully reclaim. "

The dual worlds of Demons and Angels in Disgaea set up a "demon discovering love and caring" plotline. Despite the predictability, the lightness of the storytelling with its goofy Anime hijinks keeps things interesting. Plus, there are four possible endings. "

I especially like the episodic flow of the game and how after each episode, Etna, Laharl's cute-as-a-button Goth-chick vassal, offers her "Next Episode Preview" from her own twisted perspective.

Etna and Laharl begin each episode from within Laharl's castle. This mighty fortress includes everything a demon could want out of life (or death, whatever), including stores in which to upgrade weapons and armor and a hospital for healing up. Sorry, there is no Hot Topic in Hell. The Dimensional Gate allows Laharl's party to teleport to the playing fields. "

Disgaea is played from an isometric Q-bert perspective with two levels of zoom. The player always faces the grids from an angle. While the playing field can be rotated, you can't play it from a straight on, vertical/horizontal perspective. Eventually you get used to the angled controls, but it isn't as intuitive as a traditional grid.

The combat is turn-based with up to 10 characters in your party. Besides the standard attacks and specials, characters can "throw" one another in order to reach the occasional precarious ledge. There are also chances for combo attacks when your character is flanked by teammates. Experience points are only doled out to the character or characters that finish off an enemy, so it pays to combo.

Some of the maps feature inlaid colored squares known as Geo Panels. Standing on one of these squares causes different effects to happen. By tossing a differently colored Geo Crystal onto a Geo Panel and then subsequently destroying that Crystal, you can negate all Panels of that color, starting a chain reaction to sweep enemies away and earning a huge point bonus. It adds almost a puzzle game strategy to some of the stages.

The different side quests can be overwhelming at first, but the game still tries to keep them relevant; one of the NPCs assures that these aren't necessary to beat the game.

An example of the depth can be found in the Item World. Each individual item can be upgraded by going to this alternate dimension, which is essentially a randomized series of 10 floors to conquer. After killing all the ghoulies, the item boosts in power.

One item, "Mr. Gency's Exit," is a one-time use item used to "exit' the Item World. You won't be given Mr. Gency's Exit until about 4 episodes in. If you decide to go into the Item World before then, you must beat the full 10 floors in one go. Not easy.

There is also a Senate within Laharl's castle that can be appealed to in order to add more items to the stores. Appealing in this case means bribery or smacks upside the head.

Disgaea can be on the tough side, and the "game over' screen will come up often, but with the Item World, the ability to continuously develop new characters from a pool of 150 and characters that can level up in four areas, the advantage is on your side.

The throwback graphics are charming, again best described as a Goth Final Fantasy Tactics, with similar character designs in a fittingly drab palette. More frames of animation in the sprite characters to accompany the larger drawn images would have been nice. There are also some polygonal effects for the special moves, but nothing mind blowing. By all accounts, this could have been done on the PSOne.

But then there wouldn't be room for the voiceovers. There's a campy quality to the voices that fits the game to a tee. While the English voices are well done, the game still includes the original Japanese voices, so self-righteous Otakus can say they're playing the game how "it was meant to be played." The music fits the lighthearted tone of the game. "

Disgaea is a solid title with plenty of personality that is unfortunately going to go under the radar next to juggernauts like Soul Calibur II and F-Zero. While it isn't going to wow anyone with cutting edge graphics, there's a great deal to do and it features a very charming atmosphere. I wholly recommend it as a late summer strategy RPG fix. Hey, it might even make a Goth kid smile.

B+ Revolution report card
  • Many, many things to do
  • Good voice work
  • Solid gameplay
  • Quirky nuances and humor
  • Predictable plot
  • Dated graphics
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