Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness review

PSP owners should consider themselves lucky. No matter how much DS sales 'kills' it, developers are still making games for it. Three Strategy RPG games has recently been released for it - all from major developers and publishers. Sure two are ports, but who cares? Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea: Hour of Darkness are both so rare that re-releasing them makes so much sense (the other is Level-5's original IP Jeanne D'Arc). The fact that Disgaea in particular, fits in the portable mould so perfectly proves just how much justification this port of Nippon Ichi's flagship title is.

Did I say perfect port? Yes I did. There is absolutely zero slow downs, even during complex combos and special effects scenes. Load times are very minimal (1-2 seconds at most). It is more than just a port though. For one, as a bonus to PAL gamers, the previously deleted PS2 Japanese voice acting with English subtitles is now selectable. The English voice acting has also been re-recorded with Etna played by the voice actress who portrayed her in Disgaea 2. Afternoon of Darkness also features 16:9 aspect ratio giving a wide view over the battle field (no stretching fortunately). The port also contains a local multiplayer Ad-hoc mode, but I have not tested this. Bonus PSP exclusive characters such as Adell and Rozalin of Disgaea 2 are also included as bonus bosses in extra stages. The soundtrack is the more or less same (bar a few Atlus exclusive tracks) as the PS2 version with added clarity (probably due to me playing with headphones)

The game retains the same irreverent plot with excellent funny dialogues that made the PS2 game a cult favourite. Rather than adopting a similar serious storyline that the then-genre leaders Final Fantasy Tactics, part of the appeal to Disgaea was its childish concept within both storyline and gameplay. The story begins with Etna attempting to wake demon prince Laharl up through various weapons. Laharl rusing from his coffin learns that he has been sleeping for two years and that his father King Krichevskoy of the Netherworld has died. Because he was asleep, Laharl missed his chance to be heir to his father's throne. Recruiting his vassal Etna and defeating the demon Vyers whom Laharl disparaged as 'Mid-Boss', the dark prince vow to reclaim his father's throne for himself. The game follows Laharl and his companions which includes Angel-trainee Flonne, who was originally sent to assassinate King Krichevskoy, through 14 chapters.

Battle is grid-based with enemies strewed across the environment similar to any strategy RPG titles and turn based strategy titles like Advance Wars. Characters gain experience points through defeating enemies. New characters can be created but they start out at Level-1. This here is why Afternoon of Darkness is the definitive version.In the PS2 version I found the level difference to be a chore as I try to level-up newly created characters to reach the main party's average level. There is only so much time you can find to commit yourself to stare at the telly, but here as portable version I am able to put in 2 hours of grinding everyday on the Tube. So don't complain that commuting is an unproductive waste of time. Battles are short giving any seasoned RPG fan a chance to quickly play a few rounds while waiting for the girlfriend in a Selfridges's changing room.

Like the PS2 version, Afternoon of Darkness is a washed with tactical options that grows as the game progress. Winning battles are easy, but the tactical approach is highly important to beating the game proper. Tactics such as creating a chain by lifting characters after characters and throwing them across the screen one after another that can save the player crucial time isn't apparent at first until the player start taking understanding the gameplay rules and bending the mechanics to suit their needs. Casual gamers can easily enjoy the game while ignoring the vast gameplay opportunity available while hardcores will find the in-depth customisation an additional layer of addictiveness. Skills can be gained through creating new specific job characters and having them fight with your existing main characters.

The only issue I found with the game is the same issue that was in Hour of Darkness (and almost every other grid/isometric-based game) is the camera. Because the camera is at a fixed angle with four viewing points (rotatable through the shoulder buttons), at times players will be presented with a rude low-visibility of their characters. This is a problem in environments with varying vertical levels as well as those which contains plenty of walls and columns. Rotating tends to present the player with a better view but there is that small chance when it would be impossible to view your hidden character. Cut scenes are presented with cut out sprites with minimal animation. I was slightly disappointed by the lack of cutscenes from Makai Senki Disgaea but it isn't a huge loss.

Perhaps more significantly and as an added incentive to Disgaea: Hour of Darkness owners, is the inclusion of the bonus Etna mode. Etna mode is a hypothetical what-if mode where Etna murders Laharl. Here we follow Etna's quest to become the Beauty Queen Ultimate Overlord Etna of the Netherworld. As thus coupled with multiple endings, bonus features, stages and bosses replayability is far higher with this definitive version. RPG fans who missed out on the initial release of Hour of Darkness should take note of Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness and play it. I invested around 80 hours in the original game and there is no doubt that I would surpass that in the months to come with this, especially with the new features and Etna mode.

Rarely does a port of a not so old game deserves a rousing thumbs-up, but Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness certainly earned it.


Buy Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness from Play-Asia or Amazon UK.


Anonymous said...

I may have to get a PSP now.

Anonymous said...

I have found that some of the camera issues become less annoying when you zoom out. Use square + left shoulder.