Wednesday, 09 February 2005
It’s quite an astonishing thought when you realise that the PS2 still lacks a real definitive RPG title. I mean, the PS1 was swimming in a sea of quality titles, including the likes of the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, and Vagrant Story. I mean, it’s widely recognised that had it not been for the pure gaming joys of Final Fantasy VII, Sony may never have taken such a lead in the last generation console war, and could have even lost out to the under-rated Saturn and N64 systems. So here comes Disgaea: Hour of Darkness from Koei, hoping to plant itself at the top of the tree where PS2 RPG’s are concerned. But can it pull it off?
Despite this analogy I introduced the review with, Disgaea isn’t an RPG in the traditional sense. It has all the characteristics of a hall mark RPG of course. The intriguing and shallow plot and the levelling up of characters. But Disgaea has more in relation to the wide range of “Tactics” games (very much in vogue at this current time) than say a series such as Final Fantasy.
The game is set out like this. The main hub of the game is in the Overlords Castle. Here you can get healed up at the hospital (the more times you visit and make use of the healing services, the bigger and better a “prize for getting hurt” you receive), visit the two item/weapons shops to purchase items and equipment for your forthcoming battles. However, that’s not even remotely half of the depth of play that Disgaea has to offer. You can go summon up the Dark Assembly. Here you can submit proposals to the council, for a huge and varied number of reasons, and try anything in your power to get the yays outnumbering the nays. Be it by explicit kindness, or in heated battle. In order to summon the assembly however, you must gain manner by killing your enemies in battle. But, its only the character that hits the final blow that drains the last of your enemies life away from their beaten bodies that accumulates mana, leading to more and more strategy. Plus, here you can take promotion exams in order to increase your characters rank. These battles are singular, as your character takes on a number of pre-determined enemies with specific levels. Pass the exam, and your rank increases, giving you access to new proposals to submit the to Dark Assembly. Fail however, and it’s game over for you my friend. Plus, there’ entering the “item world” and all the intricacies that that involves. But that dear reader, I’ll leave for you to discover for yourselves.
Bu shock horror, there is still a fairly basic storyline driving the main section of the game along. Thanks to the game’s slightly obtuse, and most importantly, funny humour, the story sections manage to claw there way up to the dizzy heights of an enjoyable romp. The interaction between the characters is quite immense at times, from the moody nature of the main protagonist, the demon Laharl, to the suspicious Etna, and the “Prinny doods”. And that’s discounting some of the humoures characters that pop up as you progress through the main story.
It’s incredibly easy to create new characters here, and even this simple practice opens up new strategic measures. Since you use mana to create a character, the character who’s mana you use to create this new character becomes his or her teacher. This opens up all new strategy’s on the battle field. You see, place a student and teacher together and the chances they’ll team up and take out an enemy increases greatly. Plus, a teacher can use a students special abilities, and even use these to level one, and you’ll learn the ability forthright. So, you can get every person on your team to have the capabilities to heal your forces mid battle, or distribute pain with devastating magic attacks. And trust me, that’s not even the half of it.
It cant be said that Disgaea is an aesthetically pleasing game, more reminiscent of something you’d have expected to see towards the end of the PS1’s life. I guess the case here is more for function rather than graphical splendour. The places in which your battle in particular are incredibly basic, and lack and real depth or texture. However, considering the incredibly huge number of areas Disgaea holds, and also the huge number of different characters available to you, I suppose that high graphical performance is something that’s a bit of a pipe dream on the current consoles. The fact that your characters levels don’t stop even into the high thousands shows just how big Disgaea can be.
So you’ve no doubt gathered that I don’t really see Disgaea as the PS2’s definitive RPG title. It just lacks that certain something to really place it in that upper echelon. Perhaps if it had the graphical accompaniment, and the in depth storyline that it deserves, we could be looking at a game that will be remembered as fondly as Final Fantasy VII. Instead, what we have is an incredibly enjoyable, hugely in depth, and most importantly of all, fun title. And it’s one I have no qualms in recommending to all but the most incessant RPG hater. There’s just so much to do here, that you’ll uncover a tonne of stuff I’ve haven’t had the opportunity to go into in this review. But hey, we all like pleasant surprises don’t we.