Ah, Disgaea. What can you say about it?
Oh, here's something. WHY THE FUCK IS IT CALLED DISGAEA?! In the opening cinematic of game one it's implied Disgaea is the name of the underworld, but it's never referred to that in-game, so what's with the title?!
Sorry. Disgaea is the flagship tactical RPG series of developer Nipon Ichi, responsible for a wide series of similar games that for the most part are interesting but sell poorly. It was part of the golden PS2 age and was the only real competition for the Fire Emblem series, but Disgaea is the only series from that group that ever receives any attention. Which really is too bad, the team does decent work. For a rough summary of the Disgaea series, it's the precursor to the Halo syndrome. The first title is (Arguably) good, the second title has some improvements but lacks some of the feel of the first game, the third game blows and only die hard fans and complete idiots deny that, and the fourth game makes everything better. By the way, I'm referring to Halo Reach there, all my money is on Halo 4 sucking since they're bringing back Master Chief.
Anyway, Disgaea is for the most part Sony exclusive with the exception that Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the game that started it all, has a DS and PSP port. Also, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories had a PSP port, though I haven't heard news of it getting a DS or PS Vita port. Disgaea 3 and 4 are PS3 exclusive, and I still don't have a PS3 and one of the two people I know was too hurt by Disgaea 3 to test Disgaea 4 at it's current price, so those reviews will have to wait. So for now, here's my review of the DS port of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, aptly named Disgaea DS.
Disgaea takes place in the netherworld that's not ever called Disgaea. The overlord, King Krichevskoy, has died suddenly and his son Prince Laharl overslept and missed his funeral.
By two years.
With the netherworld in a state of practical anarchy without the lead of Krichevskoy, his son Laharl must step up to claim his throne with the aid of his questionably loyal vassal Etna. She's named after the world's most active volcanoes and has inadequacy issues over her flat chest, that should give you an idea of her rough head count before the game even starts. While attempting to claim the throne of Overlord in a meaningful way, Laharl intercepts an angelic "Assassin" named Flonne, an obnoxious love and friendship blinded dumbass who would have been laughed out of Yu-Gi-Oh, especially since she's also a major hypocrite and will kill without remorse when the actual chapters start up, and Laharl gets involved with a conspiracy that envelops both the angelic land of Celestia, the demonic land of Not Disgaea, and the human world and a final plot set in motion by his father. During the course of his less than glorious mission to become a great overlord Laharl will face human soldiers, angels, demons, dragons, cat women martial artists, love freaks, exploding penguins paid minimum wage, and some satire that people tend to miss. Some of it is references to other Nipon Ichi games, but my favorite is a crack about how the king of hell died choking on a pretzel, possibly referencing a time that governor bush choked on a pretzel and died before being reanimated by the dark powers of Dick Cheney, Darth Baby-Eater. But that's neither here nor there.
Disgaea is a grid based tactical RPG with battle taking place on a 3D map, but everything else is so retro there actually isn't a significant drop in quality between the PS2 and DS versions aside from the fact that several voice clips have been removed.
...oh wait, that's not a bad thing. The voice acting is pretty bad. While it's managed to get some decent talent behind it, especially in Disgaea 2 which had Wendee Lee perform a few roles, this is largely based on the voice cast of the first Disgaea meaning the opening cutscene has Etna's original grating voice. And of course a major character, angel trainee Flonne, has always been brutally annoying. Luckily you're not actually required to use any specific character, so there's no need to use the rather useless Flonne. Laharl and Etna are useful but for the most part you're better off making your front line fighters since characters gained through story progression disappear from your roster whenever you start a new game.
In terms of gameplay Disgaea is pretty good. The bad news is that the game is rather faithfully a copy paste of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness so improvements made in Disgaea 2 don't pop up even though it is possible to unlock Adell and Rozalin from Disgaea 2 in this game.
The pros are that even though it is turned based, you are free to move your characters about and plot attacks in any order you want and undo any plan you've made until you execute your movements, and even then the turn doesn't end until you say it does, so you can soften up a boss by using a special attack that repositions the boss, then attack his new position with multiple new characters. The downside to this is that while you do gain bonus points for attacking one character multiple times in a row, the game cannot predict where an enemy is going to be until the actual attack, and since you can't order characters to target empty spaces, even if an enemy is going to be there by the time they move, the game doesn't flow as well as it should. Another issue that will catch some people off guard is that you can target and kill your own teammates. While simply damaging a teammate isn't a problem, killing teammates affects what ending you'll get, and in some points it's actually possible to get a premature ending as sort of an unofficial game over if you kill too many characters and select an option that doesn't fit with the story canon.
Actual combat is somewhat complex, there is a decent variety of weapons and abilities human characters can use and monster characters have a wide variety ranging from martial artist furries to Legacy of Kain era vampires that don't sparkle to succubi to walking shark.
Yeah, walking sharks. Pretty terrifying, yes? With the exception of characters you recruit through story progression like Flonne and Gordon, human characters only gain new abilities through weapon mastery. You gain weapon experience by attacking with bonus points gained through countering enemy attacks (This happens automatically with standard attacks at a point blank range) and killing enemies, though some characters are better with some weapons. For example, Laharl sucks with ranged weapons but is very good with swords, Etna is poor with guns but is your best bet for spears and axes early on, and the samurai class you unlock by having a level 10 female warrior and level 10 female martial artist has an S rank in several weapons, meaning she not only gains weapon mastery fairly quick she also gains stat bonuses for using said weapons that increase with weapon mastery.
There is an enormous amount of strategies available to you since there is such a wide variety of characters, I personally pair hardy cannon fodder like dragons or a well armored Laharl with glass cannon mages who at a certain level can actually one-hit kill enemies several levels stronger than them. The difficulty curve is tricky though since enemies level up fairly quickly between chapters and VERY quickly in between games, especially if you start the bonus Etna mode after your first play through and don't have access to Laharl, though this is made somewhat easier by the fact that you can play any map again to quickly level up and gain Hell (The in-game currency) to buy equipment that can, in later stages, let level 50 characters hold their own against level 100 enemies. Enemies don't begin to use equipment until late in the game, and suddenly taking not just more damage but receiving status ailments can throw you through the loop. There is even more strategy with the Geo Panel system which applies certain affects to certain panels to aid or hinder you, but talking about that would take too much time.
In terms of writing the game is pretty good for something T rated. While for the most part it's played or intentional camp with parodies of items that could already be called parodies like the Power Rangers, the writing actually does have some subtle plot details that tie into other Nipon Ichi games, and there are some interesting recurring themes, namely the big theme that good and evil are illusions and that there are angels capable of being even more evil than demons. The fact that the typical good guy is actually the major villain is something I really like, and there is also a recurring plot element with an enemy called Mid-Boss that plays into a mystery and long term conspiracy that fits very well into the entire theme and plot, but that would be an enormous spoiler if I went deeper.
The big question of "Is Disgaea good?" has to be answered yes. While strategy games like this aren't for everyone, I personally am someone who really likes them. While I wouldn't rate it higher than the golden age Fire Emblem games, this is definitely a must own for DS users who thought Golden Sun: Dark Dawn was insultingly stupid and easy. Yes it's kind of silly and at times juvenile, but Disgaea knows what it wants to be and succeeds, and for a B-list game, that's a pretty impressive accomplishment. Check it out if you liked other titles like Tactics Ogre or, Jah forbid, Hoshigami: Ruining Blue Earth.
No. No one mentioned space detectives.
Next Game Review: BioShock