A few years ago, Nippon Ichi Software released Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, a strategy RPG on the PS2. Its special brand of humor and over-the-top action won it praise among both gamers and critics. A sequel followed and NIS continued by creating other "spiritual successors." This October, they're bringing the original to the PSP, but not just as it was. Instead they've seen fit to increase the craziness by adding even more gameplay modes.
I recently had the chance to spend some quality time with the PSP version, titled Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness. For the sake of those who haven't played this series, it follows the story of Prince Laharl. As the game begins, he is awakened from a nap that's kept him asleep for two years following the death of his father, King Krichevskoy, the Overlord of the Netherworld.
Where Disgaea differs from most RPGs is that it follows Laharl's quest not to save the world, but to succeed his father as lord of the demons. In addition, it tends to honor tradition in an unconventional way: by mocking it. For instance, at the end of the first chapter, you confront a demon who brags about his strength until Laharl changes his name to "Mid-Boss."
Disgaea's main gameplay is unchanged in its new incarnation. You can improve any item in the game (yes, any item, even health potions) by battling in the Item World, which earns you characters just like any other battle. If you want to, you can keep leveling up, leveling up, and leveling some more - all the way to level 9999. In battle, Geo Panels provide you with both weapons and added hazards. Step on certain squares, and you'll get hurt. Step on others, and you'll be invincible! Thanks to the ability to throw friends and enemies alike across the map, mobility between those panels isn't going to be a problem. If you need extra power for your attacks, it's extremely easy to get your characters to join up for combos. Above all, it's just plain fun, as it was before.
Many games leave you with cutscenes that consist of static images and scrolling text. Disgaea, on the other hand, gives you voice acting, and while the cutscenes aren't fully animated, the characters change poses often to match what's happening in the scene. If the scene happens as part of a battle, the characters in the battle even match their poses. It may be a small touch, but small touches are often what great games are made of. Speaking of sound, the music is nice, and if there's a tune you're particularly fond of, you can buy it in the game and listen to it whenever you want.
Completists, this game will steal your life. Every object you can have in the game is catalogued and every item is essentially unique. Even two copies of the same item have different stats, and being able to level them up means that if you get one you love, you can keep it useful. After beating monsters, you can add them to your team, and more and more human classes become available as you progress through the game. Some are added as you level up existing classes, but some require more specific tasks if you want to unlock them.
Don't worry if you're not a completist, though - there's no requirement that you do any of these things. Disgaea basically allows you to put in as much or as little extra effort as you feel like. If nothing else, however, you will probably want to play through the new gameplay modes. There's now ad-hoc multiplayer to enjoy and, once you've beaten the game, there's a whole new mode featuring a different main character.
Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness hits shelves at the end of October 2007. It is shaping up to be a title that any strategy fan should keep an eye on; so if you don't have a PSP, you might want to start saving up for one. Watch RPGFan for further coverage, including a full review, as the release date approaches.