Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness PSP
Published by: Koei
Developed by: Nippon Ichi
Release Date: Out Now
One of the finest PlayStation 2 games I've ever played is a strategy RPG called Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. The game pretty much had everything you could wish for. It had a superb sense of humour, a great storyline, amusing characters, tons of depth and pretty much endless replay value. As a strategy RPG there were some aspects that could have been better, which Nippon Ichi developed with the improvements they made to Disgaea 2, but the overall experience was amazing and it fully deserved to be our game of 2004. Now Disgaea: Hour of Darkness has come to the PSP, under the guise of Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness and it brings with it a few substantial extra features.
The game is mainly set in the Netherworld, a dark and evil place filled with demons. The story begins two years after the death of King Krichevskoy, the ruler of the Netherworld. Whilst the King passed away, his son and heir to the throne, Prince Laharl, was asleep and only now, two years after the King's death has he awoken thanks to the efforts of his vassal, Etna. As you can imagine with there being no one to immediately succeed the King, because of Laharl's exceedingly long snooze, many have had designs on the throne and Laharl awakens to find the kingdom in disarray and filled with enemies who have designs on the throne. With only his trusty sidekick, Etna, and a few other poorly skilled allies, Laharl must bring order to the Netherworld and claim the throne that is rightfully his.
Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness will be quite unlike anything else you've ever played, unless you've played Disgaea: Hour of Darkness or any of the Nippon Ichi titles that followed it of course. At its heart it's a brilliant turn-based tactical strategy game but whilst these games are usually dry, occasionally dull affairs, Disgaea has so much charm and humour that it will appeal to those who are usually put off by games in this genre. It makes every attempt to brighten up the gameplay. When purchasing weapons for instance, you get a brief description of that weapon. For the Common Bow the description says that it's been 'made during an arts & crafts class' and for the Iron Lance it says that it's 'an average spear, popular among housewives.' These aren't really the kind of comments you'd expect to find in such an in depth game. It's also rather humorous the way you can throw your own characters at your enemies (and use them as bombs in some cases) and you can even pick up and throw your enemies at your enemies. Some of the conversations are also rather comical. The humour is such that those who are normally disinterested with strategy RPGs will find themselves warming to the game.
The game begins in Laharl's castle and between battles, you'll return to the castle to heal up at the Netherworld Hospital and purchase weapons and other items from the Rosen Queen Company store. There are also many other things to do (which we'll talk about in a moment) but as any strategy RPG gamer knows the main focus of these games is the battles. If you enjoyed Final Fantasy Tactics you'll be completely bowled over with the battles in Disgaea and they take turn based battles to a whole new level. You can perform combo attacks (where different characters attack the same enemy on the same turn) and you can even perform team attacks. Team attacks are where an attack character has allies close to them (and in a certain position) and as a result benefits from their assistance in battle. It's possible for up to 3 allies to assist a character in an attack. Only the character who initialises the attack will actually use up their turn. As we've already mentioned, you can instruct one of your characters to pick up another character. As well as employing certain characters as human missiles this has the benefit of throwing the lifted character to a location they wouldn't be able to reach on that move. In fact it's even possible to have several characters piled high on top of each other and cover vast distances in one move. The combat itself is excellent and most of the special attacks are visually spectacular.
In battle you'll also have to make use of what's called Geo Tactics. Essentially in any given level you'll have different coloured Geo Panels that will subtly flash. When you place a Geo Symbol, which is a pyramid shaped object that offers a certain effect, onto these panels all units standing on those coloured panels will be affected by the effects of the Geo Symbol that's influencing the Geo Panels. However it gets even better because if you destroy the Geo Symbol in question, all of the Geo Panels it's influencing will be destroyed and any units who were standing on the panels will suffer damage as a result. There is actually much more to Geo Tactics and what I've described here is the basics. Essentially though Geo Tactics can be a good and a bad thing and making clever use of them can swing a battle that you probably shouldn't be able to win in your favour. They are a good addition to the battles adding variety and an extra level of strategy to the game.
Outside of the battles you'll have the ability to save the game, heal your characters, level up your items and address The Dark Assembly. Addressing The Dark Assembly allows you to create your own customised units, take rank promotion exams and present proposals to the Assembly. These proposals could be, for instance, triple experience on your next enemy kill. You're going to need a lot of influence with the Assemblies senators to succeed with certain proposals though and you can't propose anything in the early stages of the game. The character creation is rather impressive and you'll need to use a character's mana in order to pay for a character to be created. The character whose mana you use to create the new character will become the master of the new character. Mana is given when a character finishes off an enemy so you have to be choosy who you pick to finish off an enemy if you need to amass your mana points. Nothing in Disgaea is mundane and even the item levelling is done in an unusual way. To level up an item you'll have to battle your way through that item's world (yes even the items have worlds in Disgaea) which, to cut a long story short, means that you'll have fight your way through 10 consecutive battles without no means of saving the game as you can't return to the castle. Bearing this in mind you'll want a strong bunch of units to attempt levelling up an item.
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was actually a pretty simplistic looking game. Sure it had bucket loads of charm and some great special effects but the game definitely did not tax the PlayStation 2. It shouldn't be much of a surprise then than Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is graphically identical to the PlayStation 2 game. In some ways it even looks a little crisper being on a smaller screen (widescreen of course). The game is played from the classic isometric viewpoint. The camera can be rotated in 90 degree increments. The only complaint I would make, and it is a small complaint, is that it can be awkward moving the cursor around on levels where there is a lot of height variation. This was a problem with Hour of Darkness too, and it's a shame it's not been put right. The special magic attack effects are very good. Some of the magnificent combo attacks are also a sight to behold. What I really appreciated though was the pace of these special and combo attacks. Unlike some games where you're sitting there for several minutes while the animations are carried out, Disgaea keeps everything fairly short and snappy and never fails to hold your interest. There aren't any conventional cutscenes in the game as such and you'll have some great anime still images with the text displayed below them instead, which works really well.
Just like Hour of Darkness, Afternoon of Darkness is deaf gamer friendly. Virtually all of the dialogue in the game appears in text with the only exception being the comments that your characters will occasionally make during a battle. The conversations that take place outside of a battle are all fully subtitled and you have to press the X button to move the conversations on. What is impressive with Disgaea though is how it makes every attempt to explain how to do things. Everything in the game has tutorial sections that can be accessed whenever you need them and these are all in text.
Of course Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness isn't just a PSP port of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. As we mentioned earlier, there are some substantial extras here. Perhaps the biggest addition is the Etna mode that becomes available once you've completed the game. In Etna mode the game begins in a similar fashion except it appears as though Etna kills Laharl instead of simply waking him up. Of course with Laharl out of the way, Etna becomes the lead character. There are still those who have designs on the dead King’s throne however, but Etna will have to deal with them. Etna mode plays out over four chapters and does appear to be slightly more difficult than Disgaea. The game also offers the chance to play against a friend over an ad hoc wireless connection. You’ll be able to fight each other and trade items. We weren’t able to test the mode out due to us only having one copy of the game. To access the multiplayer mode you’ll have to visit a prinny in the room where the game begins (the room where Etna is trying to wake Laharl up with all those weapons of mass destruction). Another additional feature is one that deaf gamers won’t really be able to make any use of. In the castle there is a prinny who will allow you to purchase songs from the game that you’ve already listened to. As we’ve just mentioned it’s a feature deaf gamers won’t be interested in but it’s mentioned here for the sake of completeness.
Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was our game of the year for 2004 and Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is by far the best PSP game we’ve seen this year. The Etna mode by itself gives those who own a PSP and already have the PlayStation 2 game enough reason to purchase the game. Anyone who is looking for a humorous, over the top and absolutely brilliant strategy RPG for their PSP should make purchasing Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness a top priority. My only disappointment with the game is that the healers don’t gain experience when healing (as in Disgaea 2). I was hoping that this was one tweak that would be made to the original Disgaea formula. Still one little disappointment amidst a ton of excellence is nothing to complain about. Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is quite simply the finest PSP title to date.