Gaming Today Reviews Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness

dis-misc03.jpgDisgaea: Afternoon of Darkness
System: Sony PSP
Price: $50
Rated: T for Teen

The tactical RPG has held a special place in my heart as game genres go. It’s a love/hate relationship. On the one hand I hate being bored while playing games, fighting endless battles with no real goal in mind just to advance the plot. However the strategy elements, the chess-like plotting and considerations that entail fighting through a game of Final Fantasy Tactics or Advance Wars keeps me coming back.

A few years ago I stumbled upon Disgaea 2 and La Pucile Tactics, two games in this genre by NIS America. Both games had the typical turn-based tactical RPG feel to them that reminded me of the classic Final Fantasy games I’d enjoyed in the 90′s. There was one marked difference though for Disgaea – it was legitimately funny.

Not funny in the sense that it thought the mechanics were odd or something was incorrect, but laugh-out-loud funny. The characters were parodies of RPG conventions and Japanese pop-culture. This alone pushed me through the battles to the conclusion and hours of enjoyment leveling up characters and items. While Disgaea 2 was by definition a sequel game I had somehow missed the original so I sought out a used copy at my local game store only to be told by the manager I trusted that Disgaea was one of those titles that people didn’t trade in often, it got purchased quickly when a copy appeared and never seemed to come back unlike say the latest Matrix game or Madden NFL title.

That lone fact sold me even harder on the game. Why didn’t people trade this game back in? What made it a collector’s game as much as a favorite? Finally, six months later the manager called me to give me a heads up that they’d gotten a copy in on trade in good shape and that he’d hold it for me. It took a second for me to remember why I’d cared. Once that realization returned I rushed down to the retailer, put forth my money and bought the used title without looking back.

disgaea.jpgDisgaea: Afternoon of Darkness for the Sony PSP is not quite the same game I purchased that day. Sure it was in a nice travel size form and could now go with me on all my adventures into the real world like any good portable title should, but NIS hadn’t simply shuffled the game onto UMD and called it done. Those wonderful programmers had taken this deep yet hilarious strategy game and expanded it.

The core story, lest I forget to share, surrounds a demon prince named Laharl who decided to take a long nap. When his loyal demon minion Etna wakes him from his slumber 2 years later he finds his realm in chaos and demons fighting around him for ascendancy. It seems during his rest, Laharl’s father the Overlord of the Netherworld managed to kill himself doing something very silly (he choked on a chicken bone) and as a realm populated by chaotic demons infighting and of course chaos had ensued. Newly awoken, Laharl sets off to claim the throne and beat down any upstarts in his path with Etna at his side as well as a number of very colorful and odd characters.

While the basic premise may sound like a traditional Fantasy story, Disgaea is anything but. In fact it parodies many of the traditional cliché concepts found in most JRPG and fantasy games. Laharl encounters an angel sent from heaven to assassinate the Overlord of the Netherworld – Flonne – who is inanely cute and naïve though un-conflicted about her need to kill someone. disgaea-25.jpgThere are costumed power-ranger-like enemies, a galactic and oversexed space hero and some truly biting comments about just how silly the story in video games can get – all backed by a very detailed and deep tactical RPG system.

The PSP version adds some multiplayer features, a new story mode and a new “Fog of War” mode to increase the difficulty for those who have previously conquered this title. These additions all make this title a good value for fans of the series and offer some extra fun for those who missed Disgaea the first time around.

The one negative I might inject here is the same as with any tactical RPG on the Sony PSP. Sure, the slim sports a little longer battery life, but time is a factor when playing a game on the go. Disgaea was designed for tactical gameplay, not short excitement while waiting at the bus stop. Some later scenarios, or the time spent in Item World can quickly eat up your battery if you’re on the go and it is not easy to save and walk away from at a moment’s notice. This limitation makes it an idea console game but does not suit portable play well. Players should keep that in mind when purchasing – Disgaea is a fun and funny tactical RPG but it does require time to play.

cp_disgaea.jpgPresentation (8) – Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness looks very good on the PSP. The landscape presentation suits the game well and the simple control interface inherent in a RPG of this kind means its simple to play on the PSP’s control pad and does not rely on analog sticks in any real way.

Graphics (7) – Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is an older game. It sports sprite based animation that is colorful and character design that is cute. This will not push any graphical limits or shock anyone with its graphical finesse but it does the job well.

Sound (8.5) – The characters in the main storyline often have cut-scenes of spoken text. Many of the primary conversations have full voice acting and in this case the over-th-top acting enhances the game because it is fitting to the characters. The voice cast does an excellent job of bringing these quirky characters to life. One additional change to the PSP version is the loss of some of the songs from the original as well as the Prinny battle cry of “Prinny Dude!” which was noticable only because I’d just played the PS2 version.
Gameplay (7.5) – Combat is what this game is all about. Similarly to other Tactical RPGs you control a band of characters, with jobs and skills who move in a turn-based nature. Completing missions levels up your squad and unlocks new skills and jobs. Pretty typical stuff that fans of Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics will immediately recognize. There is little to no twitch value in the game and battles themselves can take between 15 minutes and an hour to complete depending on your goal.

Replayability (9) – Aside from progressing through story based missions the game also offers a unique setting called Item World. This game mode allows you to take your squad into a series of new scenarios to fight your way up the “levels” of the item you choose. Instead of upgrading items by using alchemy or some other mechanical system, Disgaea required you to fight in Item World to increase the potency of your weapons armor and potions. This adds hours and hours to the gameplay.

Overall (8) – There are far worse games for the PSP, and even worse Tactical RPGs for the PSP. Disgaea is an entertaining reminder that sometimes it is a good idea to make fun of your industry and that even if a game is a parody it does not need to be a one note joke. Disgaea is a solid tactical RPG with a deep but not overly complex system. Newcomers can pick it up and play while anyone who has enjoyed games, especially Japanese RPGs over the last few decades will find the humor on target and worth the investment of time.

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2 Comments on Gaming Today Reviews Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness

Daniel

On December 7, 2007 at 1:03 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more Shawn. Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is a great game. I just wish I traveled more so I could dedicate more time to playing it. I always feel weird sitting in my living room playing either my PSP/DS, but this is one of those titles that I don’t care where I am, I absolutely love playing it!

Gamerush

On December 8, 2007 at 12:32 am

Disgaea is a one of the best RPGs on the PSP!