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Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness

Four years ago, a remarkable strategy role-playing (strat-RPG) entitled Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was released on the Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2). This exhilarating game was loved by fans and became the title that made the developer Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) popular. Following Disgaea, NIS created a stake hold in the strat-RPG genre and started to release U.S. games under NIS America. (Disgaea was released in the United States by Atlus Software.) Some of their games were good and some were bad, but none quite compared to absolute fun of Disgaea, perhaps with the exception of the sequel Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories.

Disgaea's popularity did not stop at the video game world, as an anime (Japanese animation) series was developed that was based upon the game's storyline. In October of 2007, NIS America re-released Disgaea: Hour of Darkness on the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) under the name of Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness. This review covers this release. For the most part, the PSP and the PS2 versions are very similar in game play. Once you get used to the PSP's control of the game (which is very different than a PS2 controller), there is not too much to differentiate the two. Disgaea on the PSP is just as much fun as on the PS2.

The remainder of this review will contain an overview of the storyline, game play (information partly reused from the PS2 review), comparison between the two versions, audio/video technical information, and concluding thoughts. However, if you want the quick and dirty, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is one hell of an addictive game. I spent countless hours on the PS2 version and despite that, I have spent even more hours on the PSP version. It's addictive, it's fun, and it's portable.

Disgaea: The Storyline

The story of Disgaea revolves around the demon prince, Laharl. He awakens after a two-year slumber and learns his father, King Krichevskoy of the Netherworld, has passed away. With the Overlord (King Krichevskoy) deceased, his once loyal subjects have long forgotten him and the birthright that follows. Despite Laharl being the rightful heir to the throne, the demons feud amongst one another to take control of the Netherworld. Meanwhile an overly diabolic scheme is plotted in the heavens by the angels. An angel trainee Flonne is sent to assassinate the believed-to-be-living Overlord, King Krichevskoy. However, angel trainee Flonne learns that in his stead is the demon prince. Without being able to complete her objective, she decides to join Laharl to spread love amongst the demons. Laharl is also joined by his coup de aide, Etna and her pervasive and idiotic band of monsters, prinnies, small creatures that resemble penguins. So join Laharl, his coup de aide Etna, and the angle trainee Flonne, as they race to overcome those who wish to usurp the throne from the rightful heir and under cover the treacherous plot that heralds from the heavens in this exciting and entertaining game.

Disgaea: The Game Play

The Disgaea story mode goes pretty quickly and has only fourteen episodes. However, each episode has a number of sub-episodes (battles) to go through. So you cannot simply play through all of the episodes right off the bat. The real breadth of game play takes place in preparing for battle. In the game you can revisit all the sub-episodes, where you can level up your characters and acquire new items, play through the game over and over again, maintaining item inventory, character levels, etc. You can also venture into a place called the Item World, which is one of the most important parts of the game, to make stronger items.

Every item (accessory, weapon, armor, or usable item) has an Item World. In the Item World, you can level up your items (and your characters in the process) to make them stronger. Each item consists of up to 100 levels. Each level is a floor where you must battle on a random map with a random number of enemies. Of course, the more powerful the item is the stronger the enemies. At the end of every ten levels, you face a floor boss. These bosses range from Item Generals to Item Kings to Item Gods. Of course, these guys are tough and while you do not need to defeat them, if you do, you're rewarded with a bigger increase in your item's statistics. Also, you can only exit the Item World every ten floors or by using a Mr. Gency Exit.

Furthermore, each item has a rarity level. The higher the rarity, the more slots it has. What are these slots for? Well, in each item there are different "specialists" that give bonuses to the item's attributes. During your trials in the item world, if you defeat a specialist, they're considered to be subdued. Once subdued, you can move them from item to item and also combine them with other subdued specialists of the same type. For instance, a Gladiator increases item strength. If the population of a Gladiator specialist is 600, then the item gets a boost of 600 to attack power. What it boils down to is that you can customize your items however you want.

Associated with each item is a different skill set. The more you use a particular item type, the higher your skill level with it rises. As it rises, you can learn more special skills. Now comes into play the character classes. There are various classes in the game that have different learning aptitudes with the various types of weapons, which consists of guns, swords, axes, staves, fists, bows, and spears. Of course, magic enabled classes are given special magic of a healing nature or elemental types like fire, wind, ice, prism, or galaxy. Some classes get their own special set of magic spells.

There is also a mentor/apprentice system. Each character can have apprentices. From this you can create very powerful characters with a wide variety of skill sets. For instance a cleric, who has a fire mage apprentice, can learn fire magic from the apprentice. Yes, it would make more sense to go in the other direction, but with this odd concept of apprentice teaching the mentor, you can create characters with a wide variety of skills.

Another key portion of the game is the Dark Assembly. Oddly enough in a demon ruled world, there is a somewhat democratic portion of the government. Here you must convince monster senators to buy higher quality equipment, increase your characters moving range and counter attack. The senators take bribes and also can be subdued by force. The Dark Assembly must be consulted if you wish to create really powerful characters. It's an interesting twist in the game and quite honestly, good luck convincing them by force!

Beyond these aspects, the remainder of the game play is very similar to other games of the genre, although there are a still a couple twists. You can deploy a maximum of ten characters on the battle field. You take turns moving them on the map, where you can use your skills, items, defend, or conduct melee attacks against your foes. There's an added twist to the board. Unlike some of the other strat-RPGs, you can perform team attacks and combos by placing your characters in key locations. These tactics can results in some interesting twists in planning your combat strategy. Another twist adds "geosymbols" to the battlefield. This geosymbols provide different effects for various colored tiles. For instance, some geosymbols will give you an extra attack or invincibility. Some may even cause your character damage or create an enemy clone! The geosymbols effects can also stack, providing helpful or deadly results. Humanoid characters can also throw each other, which is very useful when trying to race through levels in the Item World.

Disgaea: PS2 vs. PSP

For the most part, there are not many differences between the two versions.

  • First, the controls are different. Obviously, the PS2 controller and the PSP console aren't the same. At first the PSP controls feel awkward (if you are used to the PS2 version), but after a while feel pretty natural.
  • There are technical differences in audio/video, but those details will be discussed in the next section.
  • There is an option to turn off ally and enemy battle animations. This small option is a huge help. The reason I found this detail to be a big plus is that when you get further into the game and are on a map with lots of bad guys, a single round can take minutes as some of the special attacks have longwinded battle animations. Being able to turn off the battle animations reduces the "wait" time significantly. It's a small blessing.
  • There are new special stages that can be unlocked.
  • There are a couple cameo appearances of characters from different video games. For example, Adell fromDisgaea 2 makes an appearance.
  • There is a multiplayer mode. You can connect with a friend using the PSP's ad-hoc wireless and go head-to-head. The multiplayer mode features geo-cubes, which add a new way of conducting tactical combat.
  • "Dark Record" is a statistical tracking tool. You can find stuff out like total play time, total damage dealt, max damage dealt in a single attack, items collected, and other gaming related details.
  • "Music Shop" is a place where you can buy music from the game and listen to it, or set it as the background music in the Item World.
  • Fog of war option! Turn it on and play without seeing the entire map.
  • There is a new story mode, in which you play out the game with Etna having killed Laharl. Etna must save the Netherworld...

Disgaea: The PSP Technical Stuff

Surprisingly, the look and feel of Disgaea on the PSP is very similar to the PS2 version. The graphics and the audio (for the most part) are the same. The game looks different. The major difference is that the PSP port has been re-formatted to support the PSP's widescreen format. Surprisingly enough, it looks very good. The graphics are sharp and comparable to the console version. As for the audio, there are some notable differences. First, the opening title sequence song by Tsunami Bomb is no gone. Another major audio change is the voiceovers. The actress providing Etna's voice has been changed. The new voice is the same person who starred in the sequel and anime series. Overall, the audio/visual aspects are comparable to the console version and will provide the game look and feel.

On the note of "technical stuff", it is worth mentioning load times. While some PSP games have awful delays in load time, Disgaea on the PSP does not. The load time are manageable and not leave you waiting minutes between sequences/stages.

Disgaea: The Final Thoughts

If you have not figured it out by now, I love Disgaea. It is a fantastic game and one of my favorite strat-RPGs (next to Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre). The story has fun and highly animated characters, and offers an engaging storyline with solid production values. The actual game play is insanely addictive. While it can get very repetitive, there is still a lot to do with the story mode, Item World, Dark Assembly, etc. to keep the game play fresh. There are always new items to find, skills to master, character classes to obtain, and so on. As for this PSP port, it is very well done. The controls, while awkward at first, turn out to feel natural with time. The game's load times are manageable and will not interfere with game play (a very big plus!). Overall, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is an awesome game that is a must for every PSP owner.

For more screen shots of the game, click here.