Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness PSP Review
If you’ve not heard of the company Nippon Ichi Software, then they could be two reasons for that. The first one is that you never owned a Playstation 2 and the second one is that you aren’t interested in strategy RPGs. Ever since the first Disgaea hit the market, Nippon Ichi have been making a name for themselves as the king of all things strategy RPG. After spawning a sequel and allowing fans to play more of their gaming catalogue, Nippon Ichi has decided to go back to the game that started the rise of Nippon Ichi in the west, with the release of Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness on the PSP.
The release of Disgaea on the PSP could go two ways for the fans. Firstly people who were hoping for a new saga in the story will be disappointed as the game is a port of the Playstation 2 game. The plus side of things though is that this is the best version of the game to date. It contains all the stuff that the Playstation 2 version had, but with extra content, multiplayer, new story and some polish to boot. Either way you look at it, it’s an extremely worthwhile game to be added to the PSP catalogue that shouldn’t be missed by any people who are interested in the genre.
One thing is clear when playing through Disgaea and that is the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. I mean could you really take a game seriously that contains things like explode penguins that say “DOOD”, a main character that is scared of girls with giant breasts and a group of wannabe heroes who just want to be like the power rangers.. nah didn’t think so. The story of Disgaea starts with Laharl, the main character of the game, waking up from a two year nap to find that his dad, the great King Krichevskoy, has passed away (I warn you, those pretzels are dangerous!) Since the King died while Laharl was a sleep, the Netherworld has been fighting over who gets to take the rightful place to the throne. With Laharl now awake, he’s not overly impressed that his title as the Overlord of the Netherworld is been disputed. Thus the crazy adventure with his evil plotting vassal Etna begins.
The game takes place over fourteen chapters, each featuring their own array of battles. Everything is accessible from the game’s hub, which is Laharl’s mighty netherworld castle. When you aren’t battling you’ll be spending most of your time here. It’s the place where you heal, buy items, weapons and choose your next battle. Disgaea gives you the ability to replay any battle you’ve already beaten, great if you want to level up some of your characters. There’s also other stuff featured, which will get on to in a bit.
Combat is deep and complex, yet you don’t have to know every feature to be able to play the game, but it does help if you learn it. Disgaea, when it really comes down to it, is a game that will make hardcore strategy RPG players wet their pants with glee, it’s that in-depth. Battles take place on an isometric viewed grid map where movement is measured on how many squares your characters can move. The player is able to release up to ten characters from the “base panel”, which is where all your characters begin from. The game is turn based, no speed stats are involved, as the whole team moves in the same turn before switching over to the other side.
While it might seem like every other strategy RPG from that brief description of the battle system, it is for deeper than anything else available. Apart from being able to attack, defend, cast magic and use special powers, you can also throw your partners to move them past obstacles. For the special treat, throw those prinnies for a comical explosion on your enemies, whoever came up with the idea of suicide penguins is a genius! A good way to defeat your opposition is through combos. The way the system works is that you don’t have to attack right after you have moved a unit. The game allows you to move your team strategically and if you manage to get a group of characters adjacent to each other, you’ll set off a combo that will do extra damage to your opponent.
Finally the last major thing is the Geo symbol, a block that contains special stat that increases/decreases if placed on coloured squares on the battlefield. These can range from defence and attack increases, healing percentages and other more worthwhile effects. If you don’t like the Geo symbol, just destroy it on a coloured grid, like some devilish overlord and watch it set off a chain reaction, damaging all those it touches, even those precious prinnies.
It’s a sure thing that you’ll be spending a lot of time fighting, but as mentioned before, you’ll be in your castle for most of the game as well. The Castle contains a lot of stuff to do. Apart from buying weapons and items, a hospital is available to heal. The hospital is pretty generous because the more you use it, the more presents you receive from it. It’s like it has its own little GAME reward scheme going on, making you an addict.
The Dark Assembly is a major aspect of the castle and one you’ll be using often. Here you can propose for things to help you. If you want cheaper items or maybe more cash to spend on that high powered weapon, then just ask away and see if they vote in your favour. Senators have a rating on how they feel about you, if you think they won’t vote then you can try blackmailing them, giving them an item they want just to get them on your side. If the worst comes to worst and they are still giving you that “Nay” then show them whose boss and kick the crap out of them like any great overlord would, just make sure you’re a high enough level or it’s bye bye Laharl.
Character creation is done through the Dark Assembly as well. Apart from the story characters that you gain throughout the game, you also unlock classes that appear in the Dark Assembly to create your own group of minions. Everything costs mana in the Dark Assembly, which is earned by defeating enemies. There are plenty of classes to choose from, each with its strength and weaknesses. The only downside is that these start at level 1, so you’ll need to use that feature of replaying missions to level up your fellow minions. If you are fed up with that class, terminate him and then recreate him as something else, although he will be level 1, he does come with some skills and stats from his past life.
As if the game didn’t feature enough stuff already. Disgaea goes one step further with items. In most RPGs you usually visit multiple stores and buy better weaponry, which increases throughout the game. Disgaea contains only one store to buy weapons and there are also multiple versions of the same weapon. For example one of your characters might use a sword. Looking in the shop you’ll notice different types of swords you can use, copper, gold, and ones with fancy names you can never pronounce correctly. But when looking you’ll see there are a few swords called copper swords, only closely inspecting will you notice that these weapons contain stats, which vary for every weapon. Just to make stuff even more extreme, they are rare and legend editions of the weapons as well. Oh and it doesn’t finish there. Items also have levels too and going through the game’s Item World you can make your weapon/armour/item level up to become even stronger. The Item World creates randomly generated dungeons from your item. If you are wanting to take on the higher level bosses then this is one thing you’ll need to make use off, otherwise you don’t really need to touch this area apart from one of the story chapters that explains it to you.
Everything mentioned so far was in the original Playstation 2 game, but Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness has been given some fresh content in form of the new Etna story mode. This is a “what if” scenario about Etna killing off Laharl at the start of the game. It features fresh dialogue and situations not seen before. It’s certainly made for people who have played the game as it’s more challenging than the original story mode. There are also nice surprises for people who have played some of the other Nippon Ichi games, namely Disgaea 2 and Makai Kingdom.
Multiplayer is included but only in local Ad-hoc form. It allows you to dual it out with a friend in a few game types. It also helps that if you are inexperienced that you can set out some Geo Panels to allow yourself, or the opposition a kind of handicap, just to make it that bit fair on the guy who’s not got an army of killer. Players may also use the Ad-hoc to trade items with fellow friends, great if you are on a mission to find all those powerful items, since the game keeps a list of all the items you have in a collection portfolio.
Disgaea is a game that will last you a long time. The main story campaign will last you around 35-40 hours. That’s only for the basic of basics. There are plenty of optional battles to explore and a game where the max level stops at 9999, you know there’s got to be some extreme fights hidden in there. New game + is in there to allow you to carry over your army once you’ve finished the game, great for wanting to see a alternative ending. Oh and with the inclusion of Etna mode too, you’ve got a game that will last you way over the 100 hour mark. This game could keep you going on and on till you grow grey hair.
Nippon Ichi has managed to port the game to the PSP flawlessly and it actually looks better than the Playstation 2 equivalent. The smaller screen really helps how the sprites and 3-D battlegrounds look as they appear a lot smoother. The problem with the camera is still there though. It will only spin 90 degrees when you press the button to switch, so it can be annoying when a wall is blocking your view and you can’t just manage to get the right view on it. It would have been nice to have a free rotating camera rather than the 90 degree featured, but it doesn’t affect you that much in the battles, there’s only a few maps that will obscure your view. The voice acting is brilliant, the only difference is Etna has been replaced by the actress who did her in Disgaea 2; it’s not a bad thing as she is great at replicating all the lines in Disgaea. All of Etna’s lines have been rerecorded for the PSP game. You can even switch over to Japanese voiceovers, which are included in this game.
Even after playing the original over four years ago, Disgaea still feels exceptional because no one else seems to be able to make a strategy RPG as absorbing as Nippon Ichi have managed to do. It’s full of love and love that needs to be bought. It might be a little off-putting at first for people who have never touched a game like this before, but sticking with it will surely pay off as you find yourself pulled into a game full of laughter, wackiness and characters you’ll come to adore. You’ll be wondering where the hours have gone when your PSP battery is flashing for a recharge. As for people who played the hell out of the first one, this is the perfect version and is still worth your time, just for the new Etna mode and new bosses featured. Plus I’m sure that you wouldn’t mind playing through the game again because you know how good it is already.
The best strategy RPG on the PSP, no contest. Buy it!