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Disgaea: Hour of Darkness


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I couldn't seem to find any guidelines, so here goes... I put this review on an American Forum and thought it may be of use here.

Just bought this a couple of weeks ago on a pre-owned import which arrived last week. From Video Games Plus Online of course. I just happened to notice that they had a pre-owned one in stock and jumped at the opportunity. It cost half the price of the UK release and had the advantage of being on a nice shiny DVD (unlike the UK release which comes on a CD). The reason behind this is the inclusion of an option to have a Japanese speech track rather than American on the DVD version. In the UK we just have the English option and a blue disk.

If you don't like games such as Advance Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance and Onimusha Tactics you had might as well stop here. It is that sort of game...

I have come nowhere near to finishing the game yet. From what I have seen so far, the rest of the game will follow a similar pattern. There are the inevitable bosses that occur at the end of each chapter. The first of these, a demon by the name of Vyer's looked a little put out to say the least when he was re-christened "mid-boss" by your lead character. More bosses to come of course...Something to look forward to, I suppose...

The graphics are tidy and are up to the job. You have your characters and they are pretty much recognisable though there are a limited number of looks for each character class (Warrior, Brawler, Mage etc) and then types within each class. Each subsequent type within the class has improved attributes from the previous one, though in the case of the offensive magic types (Mages etc) the differences are only in the element of their magic (Fire, Ice etc). These types within the classes are differentiated by colour scheme. You can name each character so you stand a chance of keeping track of things if for some reason you want more than one of the same look is present. On the maps though the only way to find the name is to click the character using the X button. Seeing as the limit on the map is 10 characters there should be no real need for more than one of each look/class combination.

The characters that appear in the introductory scenes are drawn in an anime style and do come up with some interesting facial expressions. Scenery is fairly basic on the map where the fighting occurs and can be indoors or outdoors, or a combination of the two. The map is effectively divided into squares. There are variations in elevation, which does tend to highlight the square based format.

You start of with two characters, Leharl a Demon Prince and his sidekick (a Vassal) Etna a girl. As well as the two main characters, Etna has three Vassals of her own. These are basically your "pawns" to use a Chess analogy. Each character has its own set of attributes. These consist of such things as Experience, HP (Hit Points), SP (Special Points), Attack, Defence etc. You also gain Mana Points in combat (of which more later). As the character gains experience he will level up at certain points which will improve his attributes.

Another way to improve the character’s attributes are with items. These can be bought from the shop or gained when you beat a map. In the shop you can see the attributes of the items that are available to buy and “try them on” your character to see the effect on attributes. The stock changes on every visit so if you see something you want and don’t buy it immediately you may not see it again for a while.

There is a tutorial to get you started. There are also “Help” facilities available on screen if you want to refresh your memory on something. The Tutorial covers the basics of combat and you have some simple battles to fight. This proves to be a very useful introduction to the tactics of the game.

In a fight against a single enemy, characters in adjacent squares can be brought into the fight. This is useful in that it gives multiple attacks and is crucial to defeating some of the stronger enemy characters.

Each square on the map is allocated a colour. The “Select” button can be use to toggle between showing the colour of the squares and not showing them. On the map are special items (called Geo Symbols) placed on some of the squares and these give bonuses on all squares of the same colour. These Geo Symbols affect combat and can give such things as multiple attacks or improved defence or even invincibility. The effects of these Geo symbols are cumulative though only one may be on a single square. These Geo symbols can be moved around the map to so that the bonuses can be set to your advantage. Geo symbols can be thrown which is useful to remove any advantage the enemy may have. You can also attack and destroy these Geo symbols which will start a Chain Reaction of explosions on all squares of the same colour inflicting hits on anything on those squares (other Geo symbols, your characters or the enemy). If another Geo symbol in the process, the Chain reaction will go through all the squares of the colour again, inflicting more hits. This will occur for as long as each Chain Reaction destroys a further Geo symbol. These will also affect a Bonus Gauge that is on screen during the combat. The gauge increases slightly as enemies are killed and also increases for the Chain Reaction. The number on the gauge will be the number of bonus items that can be obtained on clearing a map.

You can also throw your characters provided the “thrower” is humanoid. Throwing characters is useful to reach squares that you cannot reach in a single turn. It is also the only way to get to higher places, that you can't reach by normal movement. Throwing the "Pawns" has an advantage in that they explode on contact with the ground or an enemy and will do damage to the surrounding squares if there is anyone in them. The trouble is they are then out for the duration of the current map. They are not the smartest choice for trying to reach higher ground… You can also throw the enemy onto each other so as to gain a stack of enemies that a single character can attack. On killing then the character can get a bigger experience gain quickly.

All your characters enter the board from a single square. Each character has a movement allowance that enables them to move a number of squares across the map.

You have a number of options other than movement for each turn. You can Attack. You can use a Special attack such as magic (offensive or curative). You can just Defend. You can use an Item such as a Health or Special Points restorer. You can Lift something in preparation for throwing it. You can only use one of these options in conjunction with a movement (the movement can occur before or after the other option). You can also use the “Bonus” option, which will show the item(s) currently available on completion of the map. When lifting you have to make sure nothing is being carried at the end of your turn.

The way movement and combat works is useful, as I found out. You set the main characters for combat and use extra characters to place adjacent to it so they can be brought into the combat. Press Execute to carry out the attack. Then click the circle (cancel) for the adjacent characters to move back to where they started from on that move and then move them elsewhere adjacent to another character for some more combat. This can be done as many times as other characters allow in a turn. The character can finally be moved to a position where it can have its own combat, utilising any adjacent characters already there. You can move it to a position where other characters can have access to it. I used this to enable a Cleric to heal a character.

The Special (Magic) attacks can be used one or more squares away from the enemy. The same applying to any of the ranged weapons (Bows and guns). As magic is use then the area that you can cover increases. There are some rather nice effects with magic…

Leaving the game on the title screen (where you can Continue the game) will bring up some examples of combat. One of which shows a stack of eight characters being created so that the far side of the map can be reached.

When the map is cleared you have the option of returning to base.

There is a Hospital at base, which you can visit to restore your characters to full health (including the ones that died). This costs money. The amount of healing results, at certain points, in you winning Items as prizes.

There is a shop back at base where you can buy healing items, protective items or weapons such as swords etc (which even includes guns!). As you buy stuff your standing with the shop improves and this allows more items to be available.

There is "Item World". No, it is not a Theme Park! Here you are able to level up items by entering them! You have to fight through at least 10 levels on the item. You are given the option to return to base after 10 levels or you can fight through another 10 levels etc. There is an “escape hatch” on each level in the form of a whirlpool. This allows direct access to the next level. You just move a character onto it, though you don’t get a monetary gain for any combat on the current level. Some of the "enemies" in the item are actually "specialists". These are the ones who add bonuses to your item. If you beat them, the item will level up after you leave it and will get improved attribute modifiers. You have the option to move specialists between items or combine them, though there is a limit to the number that can occupy an item. You have to make sure you can survive the 10 levels using only any restorative items you are carrying or with the clerics you have. There is however, an item you can find which allows an instant return to base. This can only be used once. If you go back to the item in the future you have to continue from the level from which you left.

There is an option to Summon the Assembly (your government). The five characters you start out with soon become inadequate. You can use one of the characters to Summon this Assembly. Amongst other things this enables you to create new characters, get better items in the shop, increase spending on your army or even make the enemies stronger. All except the character options have to go before the Assembly for a vote. The Assembly is not very favourable towards your character. You can try bribing them or if all else fails kill those that oppose you. The disadvantage of the latter option is that they will be back the next time you go before the assembly and will hate the character even more. You can improve a character’s standing with the Assembly by taking exams. These involve the character taking on a number of enemies single handed. Die and it is Game Over.

New Characters… There are a number of character classes available initially. For a cost in Mana Points you can buy new characters. These new characters become pupils of the character used to summon the Assembly. As you kill off enemy monster, these also become available, with the cost for creating them reducing as you kill off more of the type. The amount you want to spend on the character determines the number of bonus points that can be used to improve the new character’s attributes. Initially, when only a basic character is available, there are a few “bonus” points that have to be subtracted from the attributes of your choice.

Character classes include Brawlers, Warriors, Mages (Offensive Magic users - they have elemental magic which is initially Fire, Wind or Ice), Clerics (Curative Magic users) etc. New classes become available as existing classes in your party level up in combat. All Magic users can use staffs to fight. This is their preferred weapon, though my preference is to equip them with bows. There are also the non-human classes that you can add to your party.

You can put forward one of your existing characters for retraining (called "Transmigration"), which will give a stronger character of the new class you select, but at Level 1 again.

According to GameFAQs there are 13 chapters to play through plus some sidequests. Taking into account the need to level up characters and the option to improve items at the Item World there is plenty of scope for long hours of gaming. I did hear that someone spent over 400 hours on the game.

Laugh did I? The opening scenes I found very funny. So, this game has humour. This is a definite plus in my mind. You have to make sure you don't skip any of the narrative parts or you'll miss it. Some of the character representations in the introductory scenes have some wonderful facial expressions. I especially like the introduction to Chapter 2 where we are introduced to a new character called Flonne. Most amusing… Wonderful stuff!

If you like strategy games, and have a PS2 then this is one to look out for.

In Summary then:

Graphics - B+ - Good, but nothing new.

Gameplay - A+ - Easy to use menus with plenty of options.

Longevity - A+ - There is plenty of scope to spend an obscene amount of time on the game.

Overall - A+ - A game that plays well, has depth and does it all with a sense of humour.

If you prefer the score as a number then I give the game 9 out of 10.

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it's not a bad review by any stretch of the imagination, but I do take issue with the format and layout some people use in their reviews.

Categorising graphics, sound, gameplay, longevity is, in my opinion, lazy writing. Obviously these aspects of the game need to be covered, but being able to implement a segue between two paragraphs makes for a far more interesting read.

Some of your grammar and sentence structure leaves a little to be desired. It reads like you're desperate to finish the article, that you aren't enthused enough and that the game doesn't really merit the final score you gave it. Also, it just lacks flair, and isn't an engaging read. You might want to consider refraining from writing in the first person as well, as "I" is a word that crops up in this article far too often.

But hey, it's informative and does the job. I'm actually not sure whether you posted this for the purpose of being constructively criticised, but it's a reply - something my review has yet to garner, despite pleading for feedback :D

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  • 2 weeks later...

your review was helpful in terms of gameplay description, but what about the game's personality and character, the experience of playing the game, or the game's seamlessness? many games of this genre (even fft, which i love) seem disjointed with their plotscene->battle->plotscene->battle sequencing, and when i read about a game i want to know whether or not there is separation in its modes. i need to know whether a game like this successfully blends all of its aspects or if it forces the player to change modes back and forth.

what i am trying to say basically comes down to: your review was very objective. in some ways, this is praiseworthy; but to me, it isn't very helpful or exciting. i would have preferred to read what it was like for you to play.

so, especially now that you've had more time with the game, could you please comment a little on these qualities in disgaea?

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Interesting, as some want a purely third-person review though I suppose the general flow of the game could be covered under such conditions.

What about something on the lines of:

There is surprisingly no intro before the Options come up when the game has loaded. Due to the games CD origins in Japan no doubt. The main part of the game consists of Laharl's fight to become the Overlord and to make sure his position is secure. This is pretty much the game, and it is a pretty standard format stuff. The game is split up into Episodes and each of these episodes consist of a number of maps to conquer. There are "cut scenes" at the start of each episode and occasionally ones that tie in with a specific map within the episode. There is an "epilogue" at the end of each episode before it concludes after which the game gives you the option to save. The humour that is present draw you into the story and wait to enjoy the next of these sequences. Cut scene isn't really the best description of them though as it is just 2D representations of the main characters plus occasionally characters that are relevant to the episode/map. The voice acting for these scenes works well..

The other options are accessed from various points in the area where the main part of the game is played. Basically you visit the occupants of the room for various options. There are 8 people in this area...

The Gatekeeper - the way in to the maps for each area

The Item World Person - here you can manipulate the items you already have and enter items to improve their stats

The Hospital Person - go here for healing and get prizes at certain points for number of Hit points healed etc.

The Assembly Person - You can summon the Assembly from here to creat characters, get bills passed, take exams etc.

The Shop person #1 - Items for Offense

The Shop person #2 - Items for Defense/Cure

The Helpful persion - Allows access to some help functions.

The eighth person is a Zombie who stands between Item World and the Hospital. He is definitely worth a visit at the start of the game. Other times it is worth talking to anyone you meet in the castle as you start each episode in Laharl's room and have to make your way into the "centre of operations!"

All the help options are accessible at any time you are in the castle which is useful in the early stages of the game.

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  • 1 month later...
Categorising graphics, sound, gameplay, longevity is, in my opinion, lazy writing. Obviously these aspects of the game need to be covered, but being able to implement a segue between two paragraphs makes for a far more interesting read.

It's an American trait. Lazy American readers tend to need something to break it up into readable chunks. Though I agree with your points 100%.

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