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Platform: PlayStation 2 Publisher: Atlus USA Inc.
Genre: Strategy RPG Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Format: DVD-ROM Expected Release: September 2003

Preview First-Look
Timothy Duong
Timothy Duong

Atlus is famous for an almost uncanny ability to bring great strategy role-playing games (SRPGs) to North American consoles. With masterpieces such as Ogre Battle, the incredibly whimsical Rhapsody and the sleeper-hit Brigandine, they undeniably know the makings of a good SRPG. This year, gamers can look forward to another SRPG title from Atlus, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness for the PlayStation 2.

This comical adventure takes place in the Netherworld years after the death of their ruler, King Krichevskoy. In this time, demons have taken control of the realm while Prince Laharl lay resting in a deep slumber, oblivious of his father’s passing. Disgaea opens as the prince awakens from his sleep to find his kingdom ransacked. Together with the help of his servant Etna and her minions, Prince Laharl begins the fight to reclaim his birthright. Plot twists and turns are sure to be abundant as in any game of this genre.

When released, Disgaea will feature over 150 character classes and monster races to choose from. The game will also boasts over 100 spells and special attacks with a combo system that allows up to four characters to combine their strengths to unleash incredible amounts of damage and screens filled with graphic eye-candy. Players will even be able to swap out party members during battle at will. The action in Disgaea will take place on fully polygonal maps with 2D animated character sprites a la Final Fantasy Tactics. Disgaea will also make use of numerous anime-style cinemas to further Prince Laharl’s quest for power. To increase the allure, Atlus touts over 40 hours of gameplay as well as several unique endings throughout Hour of Darkness.

Since most of Rhapsody’s development team was involved in the making of Disgaea, players can expect much of the same off-the-wall humor as well as the same slick character design. In fact, gamers can also expect a cameo from one of the characters from Rhapsody. Atlus will also be using the song "Invasion from Within” for the game courtesy of the northern California punk band Tsunami Bomb.

Combat in Disgaea will feature an isometric grid area map that should be familiar to any veteran of the genre. Each map will have a victory condition to be met in order to progress further into the plot. The combo system will serve as the backbone behind the game’s strategic battle element. Correct placement of the right characters is essential to executing these moves. Aside from classic SRPG gameplay with a unique combo system, Disgaea has a few innovations to keep things interesting, namely the Black Congress and the Item Worlds.

The Black Congress is used to influence the Netherworld through the ratification of political bills. Like the real world, these bills require a majority of the congressional member votes before they are passed. These bills can affect everything from how parties are formed to what items are available in the town shops. Requesting a bill from the Black Congress requires a certain amount of mana, which is obtained by defeating enemies. Like any political power, there is much corruption in this particular congress. Some members will go out of their way to stop a bill from being pushed forward and this is where the concept becomes interesting. Players can opt to bribe certain high ranking congress members to have them temporarily forget their personal vendettas against your bill. Gamers who chose to hold onto their pennies can play hardball and defeat the opposing politicians in battle. If victorious, the bill is passed, but the defeated will not be forgetting anytime soon, and their resolve is hardened against the player for the next bill.

Item Worlds are an entirely new concept to the genre. In Disgaea, mini-worlds exist in every item in the game. From weapons to armor, players will find fairy-like creatures living their lives in their respective Item World. Yet another stroke of genius is how these fairies actually affect the item. Each villager in an Item World holds a job, which affects a certain aspect of the item in question. Some may be reluctant to battle or training and will take additional effort to coax them into increasing the item’s attributes. Therefore, an object’s inhabitants determine the strengths and weaknesses of that particular item. Performing tasks in an Item World to influence these statistics will consume IP gained through battle.

With a September release date, PS2 strategy RPG fans will have another promising title to play in the aftermath of Arc the Lad: Twilight of the Spirits. Here’s hoping we see another cult classic from Atlus.


© 2003 Atlus USA Inc., All rights reserved.
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