Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/RPG
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Release Date: October 30, 2007
What's better than an hour of darkness, you might ask? Why, an entire afternoon of darkness! Ever since Nippon Ichi announced that it was going to be making a Disgaea game for the PSP, it's been the driving force for many, many strategy RPG fans (myself included) to purchase Sony's handheld. However, shots of the Japanese version — as well as the English subtitle, Afternoon of Darkness — hint at what this game truly is. While fan speculation was originally that the PSP Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness would be a prequel to the original game, it is instead a remake of the now monumentally rare PS2 original.
For those who've never heard of the game (though very few Japanese RPG fans haven't), Disgaea is a turn-based grid RPG in the vein of other titles such as Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics. However, it bucks many of the standards of the genre. It has added strategic options — you can pick up and throw your allies to cross large distances, and you can throw your enemies to get them out of the way or capture them for your own team — but its claim to fame is the nearly limitless Item World, a randomized dungeon that exists in every item in the game.
Traversing the levels of the Item World is not only a good way to build experience and gain more powerful equipment, but it also powers up the items themselves. In addition, Disgaea has the Geo Panel system, where special crystals (Geo Crystals, natch) will add special enchantments to certain spots of terrain on the map. Some are harmful, some are helpful, but all should be taken into consideration, especially since chaining together the explosion of several crystals can clear the map and net the player prizes aplenty.
Surprisingly, though, the gameplay is not the selling point of Disgaea. Instead, the game's claim to fame is its humorous translation. The story follows the exploits of Prince Laharl, the son of the late King Krichevskoy, the previous Overlord of the Netherworld. Two years ago, Krichevskoy died from choking on a black pretzel (perhaps some subtle 2003 political commentary?), leaving the throne of the Overlord open for the taking. Now, after a two-year nap, Laharl is on the rampage, looking to defeat any demons gunning for the title in order to seize the title of Overlord all for himself.
Along the way, he'll fight many a unique character including some quite amusing, if incompetent, Power Ranger knockoffs and a demon who almost immediately is given the name "Mid-Boss," which sticks with him (even in battle) until the end of the game. All that isn't even taking into account the Prinnies, which are essentially the souls of humans that have sinned, reincarnated in the form of exploding penguins used as servants by demon-kind. Truly, the writing and characterization of Disgaea is by far its biggest draw.
Very little has been altered from the original game in the preview build. There's a one-on-one competition and item-trading feature (which, naturally, I cannot test without another person who has a copy of a game that isn't out yet), but most of the game is unchanged from the original PS2. In addition, included in the preview notes was a code to instantly unlock Etna Mode, a special alternate play mode designed for people on their second or third run-through of the game.
Naturally, Etna Mode changes the focus from Prince Laharl to his second-in-command, the demoness Etna. The changes start right out of the gate, when, instead of waking up Laharl from his two-year siesta with a rain of heavy gunfire, Etna accidentally kills him. Again, this new mode assumes you've at least beaten the game once, as you get a flood of information that could potentially spoil the main game for you. In addition, the battles in Etna Mode are considerably less forgiving and bear a steeper difficulty curve, adding a little bit of extra challenge to gamers who perhaps found the main story mode too simple.
The game looks and sounds pristine compared to the console original. The switch to a higher-definition widescreen hasn't harmed the sprite-based graphics in the slightest, and the audio is still crisp and clear. In addition, the option to choose between English and Japanese voice tracks is present, and, at least in the preview build we were given, it was actually improved over the PS2 version. Instead of only the story scenes being voiced in Japanese, the in-battle voices are switched as well!
There are a few more minor additions, too. The first one to stand out was the addition of a music store in Laharl's castle that allows players to buy tracks that they've already heard through the course of the game to listen to any time they want (for a hefty price tag, so expect it to be more of a post-game thing, when you have in-game currency to spare). You can also set any of these songs to replace the current Item World theme, so if you want to change the randomized dungeon's music to the kickin' tune used in the last stages, it's just a purchase away.
The Item World, where many players spent most of their time in the original Disgaea, and where even more time was spent in the 2005 sequel, seems to be unchanged from its origins, though it might have been tweaked a little bit for the PSP release. Certainly, none of the game-halting glitches with terrain have showed up yet, so perhaps they've been fixed completely.
Regardless, there's enough in Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness to justify folks taking a look, even if they own and love the original PS2 iteration. Etna Mode alone should be enough to draw many original fans into the fray. If you missed Disgaea the first time around, however, it's certainly doubly worth keeping your eyes open for it this Halloween.
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