Still Fantastic, But Getting Old…
Disgaea is one of my favorite recent video game series, and it’s been on a roll lately with the solid PS3 iteration, Absence of Justice, and now the DS installment. It’s a remake of the original Disgaea, first subtitled Hour of Darkness. While Disgaea DS doesn’t take the series anywhere new, it’s still a solid strategy title that’s a worthy inclusion for your DS collection.
Disgaea DS follows the story of Laharl, a demon prince who has woken up from a fairy-tale-esque slumber only to find out that, while he’s been asleep, his father has been overthrown as king of the netherworld and various other demons are now in a power struggle. In typical RPG fashion, Laharl’s quest quickly grows in scope and the story has a real presence throughout the game.
The writing is fantastic, and Disgaea is definitely one of the funnier games you’ll encounter on the video game market. Additionally, the character development is really great; while the story starts out in typical fashion, you’ll find that in addition to breaking many plot conventions, Disgaea DS does a great job of really sucking the player in. Characters are quite engaging, and it’s not just Laharl; you’ll find yourself growing attached to a variety of different characters as you come into contact with them throughout the game.
The story serves as motivation to get you playing, but once you really delve into Disgaea DS, I think you’ll find that a plot isn’t even necessary to keep your attention. Disgaea is widely regarded as one of the deepest and most complex strategy games ever, right up there with such titles as Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre. Take that as you will, but it means that once you get over the considerable learning curve, you’ll find a wealth of content and variety that makes Disgaea interesting and fun no matter how much you play it.
The basic progression of the game is fairly simple: you move from the hub to some plot conversation and then to a battle. The hub is far more than a character selection screen or simply a place to purchase items; it’s also home to the incredibly creative Dark Assembly, where you’ll “petition” its members for a variety of benefits. The benefits you’ll receive for interacting with the Assembly can be significant and range from benefits on the battlefield to cheaper items or specific character benefits. Engaging the members of the Assembly can manifest itself anywhere from bribes to outright battle. What’s so cool about this system is the amount of depth there is in a game mechanic that, frankly, you could completely ignore for an entire play through. It’s just one of many examples of how you really can spend as much time with Disgaea as you want.
In terms of the actual battles, Disgaea DS doesn’t let up on depth. In many ways, it’s a fairly standard strategy RPG. Your army and the enemy army take turns ordering about the soldiers, and on your turn you issue commands to each of your units. One implementation I still find curious is the fact that you issue commands and then choose to execute them. You can issue commands to your entire army and then have them all go at it at once, but you could end up having characters with useless commands because the enemy they were ordered to attack has already been killed. As a result, it’s generally a good idea to move one character at a time. But having to execute the attack after each move is clunky and takes more effort than it should; such interface issues are uncommon, but they can be annoying.
It’s impossible to describe Disgaea DS in-depth, because, honestly, the game has so much to it that such an exercise could take quite some time. The reason Disgaea stands out as a strategy title is because the player is given so much freedom to tackle maps as they so choose. Creative actions, such as throwing players (or foes) around the map or pairing up with other units for combo attacks, make it easy to adapt your strategy to the given situation. There is a wealth of gameplay opportunities, and the game is lengthy enough that you’ve ample time to explore them to your heart’s content.
Another really interesting aspect to Disgaea DS is the geo panel system; a geo panel is a glowing symbol on the map, and a geo symbol is an item on the map that can be used to give stat bonuses to like-colored geo panels. It’s a confusing and complex system (with mechanics like these, it’s easy to see why SRPG newcomers are turned off by Disgaea), but it allows for some really interesting puzzle-like battles. I’ve tried completing battles taking advantage only of geo panels and it’s too slow-paced for my liking. It’s a better idea to use these to your advantage when the opportunity presents itself; when faced this way, the geo panels are yet another way that Disgaea remains unpredictable and consistently interesting.
Although it was originally made for the PS2, I find that Disgaea is a nice fit for the DS. The upper-screen is — surprise! — used for a map during battles, but with such a complex, intricate game as Disgaea, it makes a lot of sense, and the map is detailed enough to be really useful. Disgaea has never been a particularly great-looking game, and while it does get a bit cramped at times, Disgaea DS looks nice for the most part. Stylus control, on the other hand, doesn’t work as well as it could have. That said, the d-pad and button method works perfectly fine, and I saw no reason to bother trying to get touch control to work as well.
Disgaea DS is an SPRG-fan’s dream; it’s got incredible customization options, the potential for hundreds of hours of gameplay, and a unique and varied job system. If you like strategy games, Disgaea is a wonderful series. That said, Disgaea DS is the third release of a single game, and it’s becoming difficult to reconcile the game’s awesomeness with that fact. This title doesn’t offer enough to make it worth it to those who’ve already played the first Disgaea game on the PS2 or PSP, but if you’ve not yet played this game, than picking up Disgaea DS is a must.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
Disgaea DS looks great; sprites are beautiful and some battle animations are really impressive. Graphics-wise, it stacks up well with its PS2 and PSP precedents. 3.8 Control
Touch control doesn’t work particularly well, but traditional d-pad and face buttons get the job done. 3.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is still pretty good, but sadly the game lost a lot of the voice acting. 4.5
It’s a game that can last you hundreds of hours, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that it’s been released twice already.
4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.