Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is the first game in a famous long-running JRPG series, developed by Nippon Ichi and originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2003. It is a tactile role-playing game with an eccentric fantasy plot.
The game follows a prince called Laharl, who is awoken from a two year sleep to the news that his father, King Krichevskoy has perished and the world is in the midst of a war for the throne. Laharl is an entertaining protagonist who is incredibly narcissistic and decides that he will not give up his birthright to become king and begins his tirade on his opposition.
Characters are presented in a high detail pixel art style set against three dimensional backgrounds. While it looks fine, sometimes the sprites can appear a little low in resolution with some blurry detail compared to the polished backdrops. Cutscenes and story beats are told through more anime style visuals, which serves to flesh out the quirky and often hilarious cast of characters.
Battle is played from an isometric point of view, with a tiled map and turn-based combat. Before diving into battles like the sporty demons they are, you should spend time in training your troops, purchasing items and assembling your party. The more you purchase, train and engage with these systems the more they will benefit you in the long run. For example, the more you buy from merchants, the better the equipment will get that they have on offer. These systems make everything feel important in Disgaea and it certainly made us engage in systems we may have chosen to ignore otherwise!
With a unique party mechanic known as the dark assembly system, you can customise your fighters with over 120 types of hero that range from standard humanoid soldiers to monstrous creatures. Each of these character types have strengths and weaknesses and we found ourselves spending just as much time carefully planning our armies as we did actually battling them.
After you have completed the set up phase, you will enter combat which is relatively simple to grasp but much like the planning phase, can get incredibly deep. You will act first before your opponent, moving your characters, and then, proceed with the attack phase, carrying out attacks across the focused maps. Note that once you initiate the attack phase, there’s no backtracking, and all characters will carry out their attacks before the turn passes over to the enemy.
There are many special moves that can be employed to gain the edge, including power ups to grant your party members invulnerability, enhanced strength and bolstered health.
Despite the enjoyable combat, we were often also battling with the game’s camera, which would be unresponsive at times and make it difficult to align to our liking.
The sound design is a surprising treat, with a suitable track for both combat encounters and story beats. Fitting with its quirky story and bizarre characters, the score often mashes jazz style sounds with upbeat pop track and everything in between. The characters are voice-acted incredibly well and the fairly straightforward plot never takes itself too seriously.
There are 13 missions here and you will probably roll credits on Disgaea after nearly 50 hours, meaning that there is plenty of value in this experience. Hour of Darkness also offers plenty of replayability through multiple endings and almost endless combinations of heroes, abilities and items. There is also a new game plus mode which will let you retain your progress for another go around.
Disagaea: Hour of Darkness is an isometric JRPG that doesn’t necessarily break the mould with its planning and combat systems, but it does add an incredible amount of depth to them. The visuals may not have blown us away but the key thing is that this game is a whole lot of fun despite the intimidating amount of menus, settings and decision making.
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