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Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Atlus USA Inc.
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Genre: Strategy RPG
Format: DVD-ROM
Released: US 08/25/03

Graphics: 85%
Sound: 89%
Gameplay: 90%
Control: 88%
Story: 94%
Overall: 89%
Reviews Grading Scale
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Pint-sized with an attitude.
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"Where are my servants!?"
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A triple combo or threesome?
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A truly infernal spanking.
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Disgaea: Hour of Darkness

With each new generation of consoles, developers have tried to push the limits of the gaming experience to new heights. Graphical masterpieces such as Final Fantasy X and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time are testaments to this struggle. Companies like Square-Enix and Capcom are at the forefront of this revolution. Then there's Nippon Ichi, a team responsible for developing (mostly) 2D SRPGs that feature none of the flashy cinemas or high-end production values littering today's gaming scene. A brave move by Atlus is what brings us the first in a string of marvelous games.

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness opens with Laharl being 'awoken' from his two year sleep by Etna, a fellow demon, through the use of various 'alarms.' Immediately Laharl learns that his father, the king of the Netherworld, has passed on and the title of Overlord is up for grabs. From here you, as Laharl, begin your quest to take that title. Within minutes you should notice the big difference between Disgaea and most other games; the humor. Even in the most serious of situations there's always some comedic twist. Seldom have games done this let alone done this so well. This is the charm behind Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. Something notable about the story is how amazingly well written the script is. The spoken dialogue is delivered better than most games could hope to and the text is just as good. Each character has such an immense amount of personality you could swear they were real. Simply put, Disgaea sports one of the most memorable casts to come along in years.

On the surface you'll find the standard gameplay for a SRPG: square battlefields, grids and a class system. However, if you scratch beyond this you'll find a system that offers sleek, in depth and more importantly, diverse gameplay. In any battle you can field up to ten characters, none of whom have to be Laharl or any of the main cast. It's also possible to switch characters by moving them into your portal and moving new ones out. The approach to this mechanic is different from any that I've ever seen. Then comes the class system. Each character that has significance in the story has a set class that can never be changed; characters that you create, however, can. This is done by going to the dark assembly and spending mana, which you accumulate by killing enemies. Depending on the competency level you wish them to have, the cost will be higher or lower. Not only can you create a male or female version for most classes, you can create monsters too- though the cost for doing so is much higher. If you wish to change classes you must transmigrate the character. By doing so your character reverts back to level 1 of your desired class. It's not mandatory to change the class either. You could choose the same one and go through the progression all over again. The benefit of doing so is higher/faster stat growth. Considering you can level up to 9999 this is a useful function for leveling without having to break the 1000 mark, though if you did your character would be a tank. While this deviates from the norm and does require a bit of work, it's one of the reinforcing factors in making this a must-have title.

Like most games in the SRPG genre, Disgaea features the standard 2D graphics and square environments. Unlike most games however, it chooses to go with a very bright color scheme. For taking place in the Netherworld it is relatively free from the gothic settings that one would expect to find. The overall graphics haven't evolved much past what you'll in Final Fantasy Tactics save for smoother character designs, backgrounds and half-screen character portraits. Spells can be quite impressive too but if it's graphics you're concerned with you should look elsewhere. There are no CG or anime movies here.

The music in Disgaea is truly inspiring and never fails to fit the situation and enhance the drama. One track I particularly liked was Tsunami Bomb's "The Invasion From Within," which only appears on one specific field. Tsunami Bomb is one of my favorite bands and that song was how I first heard of the game. The only drawback regarding the music is how repetitive some of the battle themes can get, though it should be expected considering you spend roughly 99% of the game in battle.

If there is one flashy high-end production among the parts of Disgaea, then it is most certainly the voice acting. Nippon Ichi really did a marvelous job in this department. It's been increasingly frequent to find games using voice acting, yet few have used it to good effect. Disgaea raises the bar with the best voice acting I've experienced to date. None of it is forced or out of character, which is indeed rare. If the English voices aren't your thing you can turn on the original Japanese, which do the job just as well.

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is proof that a game can make it without any of the eye candy or flashy cinemas that people have come to expect in games today. Those who can't get past that stuff will truly miss out on one of the best games to grace the Playstation 2 library. With a fun battle system, great voice acting and an amazing, if off-the-wall, story there is little to not love about this title. If you don't own it by now you may have missed your chance, but if you get the opportunity to own this gem don't pass it up.


© 2003 Atlus USA Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

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