Strategy RPG fans are treated in quick succession to a pair of strategy RPGs this fall, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. I’ve picked up both and must say that I am feelin’ Disgaea a hell of a lot more than Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Disgaea just does so many things right in being a strategy RPG and dare I say that it is everything Final Fantasy Tactics Advance wishes it could be.
Let us get the story out of the way first shall we? The Overlord of the Underworld King Krichevskoy has died. The Underworld is thrown into chaos as demons are lining up at the gates to take the title of Overlord. While this has been going on, Prince Laharl, the now bastard son of Krichevskoy has been sleeping, two years have passed since the king’s death, and now that he’s awake he’s about to show the Underworld who’s boss. Along with his not so faithful vassal Etna, he’s going to take the Underworld by storm, all the while the angels living in Celestia will be watching, and will be providing some divine intervention of sorts. The story is also incredibly funny, every time I see a Prinny (think a stuffed penguin on peg legs) rip out a pair of swords and shout “DOOD!” while swinging away I can’t help but be amused. This isn’t a serious, gotta save the world type story, Laharl and his merry crew are genuinely evil and are out to take over the world, and don’t have a problem with stepping on some toes to get there, although as the story progresses there are some definite character changes along the way, but it is enthralling throughout. Add in a touch of good voice acting and you’re set.
Let’s get the most disappointing aspect out of the way first. This game looks like a high resolution PS1 title. The sprites could have used some more animation in story segments. Overall the graphics are not that good, but you know what, it is very easy to look past, they work for this kind of game. Although I must say that I am a big fan of the art style for this game, the character designs are really cool and only helps to convey how wonderfully devilish they are. Sound is a pleasant mix of chamber music to epic battle scores, other than that can’t really say much, same goes for sound effects, aside from the massive explosions that you will feel with the proper sound system this game has a qualified sound team.
Okay now it is time to get into the serious matter, the gameplay. This game is easily one of the best strategy/tactical games I have and ever will play just because it is a very simple turned based system that works like this. Once you commence a battle, you can deploy up to ten units from your base square. Of course you don’t have to unload all ten at once, and if you want to you can return used units on the next turn for some fresh ones. Or you could just use one to draw out some enemies from across the map and then deploy them all at once for a beat down of massive proportions. Also you are not limited to just telling your units what to do and then the turn ends. In fact you can individually have characters attack, and then move them as necessary, so for instance you can have Laharl walk up to an enemy and then pound then, which would then end his activities for the turn. You can then have another character walk over to him, pick him up and throw him back to the base square so you can bring out a spell caster or healer perhaps. And once you’ve set up all your characters in attack position you can have them do combo attacks that will go towards a bonus meter. Once the battle is concluded you will be awarded depending on how much you filled up said bonus meter.
Throwing has to be one of the coolest things that you can do in this game. All humanoid characters can pick up and throw other units, making the range of a specific character that much greater. So say you’ve got a group of enemies clumped up in a corner of the map, you’ve got a spell caster who can dish out massive damage and take them all out in one turn. You have the spell caster walk over to someone who will then pick them up and toss them over to that group. And you’re not limited to just one person being picked up at a time; you can have a giant totem pole of people ready for tossing. Also remember the Prinny I talked about before? Those act like bombs, so when you toss them the higher their level the more damage they do when they explode, only downside to this is that it counts towards your ten character limit, so once they are gone that’s a dent in your available forces. I say humanoids are the only ones who can throw because there are also monster units in the game. As you defeat them in battle they become available as a character unit.
Character creation is an interesting process. There are archers, thieves, gunners, mages of different varieties, fighters who can be compared to monks, warriors and a slew of hidden classes that you have to meet certain conditions to unlock There is a governing body in the Underworld called the Dark Assembly, and when you want to do certain things, like make a character you have to go to them and propose your character creation. Most characters can be made without a problem, although if you want them to get a massive number of bonus stat points then you need to have it approved by the Dark Assembly. Of course if your influence with the Dark Assembly is low then they’re just going to laugh you right out the hall. You gain pull in the Dark Assembly by taking promotional exams, once you get up to level 6 or so in Demon Rank it becomes a lot easier to get things passed. Also Laharl is not the only one who can make a proposal; any member of your party can do it provided they have the mana to do so.
Of course even still some of the senators in the Dark Assembly might need some, ”Persuasion” in the form of gifts. Each member has a general idea on which way they are going to vote, from loathe to total support, there are going to be some people who you just can’t sway. Of course if you don’t like the decision passed by the Dark Assembly you are more than welcome to go ahead and challenge those who shot you down, just be aware that it will be a tough battle. There is a lot of things you can have passed by them, they govern things like weapon shop inventory, enemy strength, military funds, and then there is the stuff like Prinny Day which makes all the enemies of the next map Prinnies, or Triple EXP which will triple the experience of the first enemy killed on the next map.
But the crazy amount of depth to the game doesn’t end there. There is the Item World; it is where you go when you want to level up certain items. Of course depending on the rarity of the item, the enemies that reside within the item will be leveled accordingly. You can just take an item with a rarity level of 15 and expect it to be loaded with level one enemies. Each item has 100 levels to it and you can stop off for a rest after every tenth level. There are also many things to be considered once inside the Item World. For on the field there are these things called Geo Panels. Basically all the panels of that color will have some sort of effect so long as there is a Geo Crystal on it. So say there is a crystal that makes it so that you can’t lift stuff on a blue panel, all the blue panels on the map will have this condition. There are also beneficial conditions to the Geo Panels like EXP 100% or Hel 100%, or ATK 50%. The other thing about Geo Panels is that they can be lifted and set on other panels or they can be destroyed. In the case of destroying them they will neutralize the panels of said color and will deal damage to anything on them, or they will simply change the panel color, there is usually one crystal that will nullify all the panels on one color, if you manage to convert all the panels to one color and knock out the null crystal then expect massive bonus points. Also be advised that Geo Panels will show up in the normal game, it is only in Item World that they make their destructive presence known. Also your garden-variety gunner character can shift the colors of the Geo Panel so make sure you take advantage of that.
I’ve only scratched the surface of what you can do in this game, my next play through with some more beefed up characters will make getting some of those hidden endings that much easier. If you’ve got a PS2 then head out, get this game and get ready for a good time courtesy of Atlus, they’ve struck gold on this one. Never mind the graphics, they take a back seat to the real stars, the excellent story, and battle system.
Atlus brings us a quirky strategy RPG that is sheer brilliance, do not under any circumstance miss out on this one.