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Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
Review By: J. Michael Neal
Developer:  Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher:  Atlus
# Of Players:  1
Genre:  Strategy/RPG
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  8-26-03

Gamers crying towards the heavens for another “Strategy RPG” along the lines of Vandal Hearts, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Kartia, you’re prayers have been answered. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness sidles up right next to those classics, I’m glad to say, and will please just about everyone waiting for another masterpiece to land. It has gameplay that manages to be both complex and approachable, visuals that will delight old-school gamers, and a story so unusual it could have only come from Japan. But, although strategy role-playing fans will consider this a must have, the general buying public will probably go un-wooed as this game offers nothing substantially appealing for the broader market. However, since when was Atlus concerned with the “broader market”? This is obviously a game by the dedicated for the dedicated, no apologies given.

That’s not to say that new recruits need not apply; newbies can definitely ease right into this game. Sure, it may seem intimidating at first, but Disgaea goes through great pains to get gamers accustomed to its complex logic. The nuances of gameplay are explained in full thanks to detailed in-game instructions and a tutorial map is available at all times for your practicing pleasure. It can be a lot to take in at times, but you never feel overwhelmed. Of course veterans of the Lions War will have a much easier time picking up the play mechanics, as the core of the game functions remarkably similar to Final Fantasy Tactics.

At it’s foundation, Disgaea plays much in the same way as FFT – players move 2D sprite-based characters of various classes across checker-board like 3D isometric battlefields in turn-based combat that marries console role-playing and chess. Upon this foundation is built a game that, in many ways, is much deeper and complex than FFT ever was, but in order to understand Disgaea you have to understand the story.

In Disgaea you play Laharl, an under-aged demon prince awaken from a rather long slumber by the plucky and manipulative Etna to assume the role of Overlord of the Netherworld after your father, King Krichevskoy, chokes to death on a pretzel. This is easier said then done, however, as every hotshot demon in all of Hell began motioning towards the throne the moment he died. It’ll be up to you and your armies to make them respect your authoritah as you reclaim the crown with the resources of an entire kingdom behind you, as well as the hellish powers of the underworld at your disposal.

Unlike FFT, where you simply buy new recruits, non-story related characters must be made in Disgaea. The creator, or “Mentor”, can make a new character, or “Pupil”, in the Summon Assembly from one of over a hundred and fifty different classes by spending “Mana” accrued in battle. Once created, they can be outfitted with equipment, level up, and eventually go on and mentor their own pupils in your ever-expanding legion. Mentor and pupil also share a special bond that can be utilized in combat, namely an increased chance of a Formation Attack, or group combos triggered when one to three allies are in adjacent panels during a standard attack, and the mentor’s ability to learn their pupil’s class-specific “special skills”. And with over 100 special skills and spells, you’ll have a lot to learn. If you really want a single character to learn a wide-variety of skills, though, you’ll want to “Transmigrate” them to another class, but to accomplish that you’ll have to grapple with the most feared and loathsome force the Netherworld can muster – bureaucracy.

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