Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness Review
If you saw my Disgaea 2 review a year and a half ago, there'd be no doubt I am a major fan of the series. It is fast-paced, the story is pretty funny and the characters are really interesting. I loved Disgaea 2, and couldn't wait for a new game to hit the shelves. Well, I had my prayers answered...at least, sort of.
Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness hit the PSP recently. AoD is a remake of the original PS2 game, with some added features, namely the new Etna mode. The original story is intact, you'll still have all your favorite characters and all that fun stuff. The whole Etna mode thing is just an addition to the game. There's also the ability to have local wireless battles and to trade items with other players. I'll be honest, I was skeptical at first. I was hoping that the game wasn't too bad, and figured any form of portable Disgaea would be better than none at all.
I'll give a really quick rundown of the story for those that have no experience whatsoever with this series. You, the player, are put in the shoes of Prince Laharl, a demon in the Netherworld. The King died a couple of years ago, and you've been sleeping the whole time. You wake up, though, and that's where the adventure begins. As you go through the game, you'll meet Etna, a vassal that has aspirations of also being Overlord. You'll meet Flonne, an Angel Trainee. These two characters are just a couple of the many you'll meet in your journey, and they all have funny personalities in one way or another. Flonne, for example, seems to be incredibly naive when you first meet her. This is one of the few games where the story is pretty original, hilarious all the way through, and worth picking up the game for if you haven't already played through it. And heck, it is worth it for this element alone if you just want to relive the story.
To progress through this story, you'll have to fight your way through multiple acts, with multiple maps in each one. The battles start off fairly simple, with you just beating up the enemies. The game VERY quickly (like, in the first act) tosses one of the more unique aspects of a strategy RPG at you, known as geo panels. See, each map has a ton of colored squares on it. If you move the cursor over any of them, you'll notice that they may have some sort of effect listed, be it +attack or -defense. These effects are generated by geo prisms. These prisms are nothing more than little pyramids that sit on a square. If you have a prism sitting on a red square, for example, all red squares will have that effect.
Now, it sounds simple enough at this point. There'll just be some squares you need to avoid and others you want to park your characters on, right? Wrong. See, you can use these effects that the prisms provide to your advantage. Each character has the ability to lift and toss prisms to other squares. Say, for example, that you see a prism that does 20% damage to anyone standing on the square at the end of their turn. You look at the map and notice all of the enemies are standing on red squares, but the prism is currently on a blue one. If you feel like it, you can take the prism and toss it onto a red square, transferring the effect over to all the enemies, and weakening them before you fight them.
And, my friends, it gets even deeper than that. When you went to lift that prism, you may have noticed that it has hit points, resistances and such just like any character. That's because they are all destructible! What happens if you destroy one of them, you may ask? Well, dear reader, let me tell you! The colors of the squares it is on will change. If you have a purple prism on a blue square, all blue squares will turn purple. Again, a simple enough mechanic, but what happens if you have a red prism on those blue squares that you just turned purple? Well, that red prism will be destroyed and you'll create a geo chain, causing all the purple prisms on the map to turn purple. These chains can continue on for awhile,with the possibility of destroying all the squares on the map with a "null" prism. Any enemies standing on the squares will be damaged as they change color, too, so this can be a really quick way to clear maps.
But enough on that, there's much more to combat than just these Geo Panels. Each character has a variety of weapon ranks. Take Laharl, for example. He's really good with swords, but not so good with staves. Etna, on the other hand, is good with spears but not as good with other weapon types. A character's weapon rank will determine how fast they gain weapon experience, which translates into abilities. If you are an S rank, you'll get better with that sword a lot faster than if you are E rank. You aren't forbidden from using the sword, though. Each weapon also tends to focus on certain types of attacks when you get new specials. First specials, for example, have a tendency to move enemies around (great for dislodging an unliftable, invincible geo prism) while spear specials often have the character moving around. The system gets to be really deep after awhile.
And it continues to evolve from there. You can constantly improve those weapons by venturing into the item world. The Item World is a set of randomly generated dungeons linked to any item you may have in your inventory. They are sometimes easy and sometimes tough. And sometimes, you can't even finish them. These levels also often have geo puzzles for you to complete, with some really nice bonuses on the gauge should you finish them. Each finished level will power up the item you are inside, and subduing a specialist while you're in the item will power up a specific stat even more. It is a neat little touch.
You're going to really need to power up those items, too, because this game goes on for awhile after the story is over. See, most games stop after you finish the story, but not Disgaea. At points, the story almost feels like a tutorial with all the extra stuff there is to do afterwards. You'll face really high level enemies with absolutely ridiculous stats...until you start grinding levels of your own. With the level cap sitting at 9,999, the game almost encourages you to find ways to break the system and level faster. Super powered weapons and armor are one way to pull this off, cheesy tactics in levels are another. And the game supports all kinds of crazy tactics. Take the ability to move your character then cancel the move. You can move to a square to get healed or take part in a team attack, then cancel that move. Your character that attacked or healed still used his or her turn, but the character who cancelled their move gets to take a turn now. There are so many ways to break the mechanics of the game, and finding them out is half of the fun.
As for the actual move of the game from the PS2 to PSP, I'd have to say that the PSP version is actually better than the original. The graphics are very smooth and adapt well to the widescreen of the PSP. There is no slowdown here, unlike other recent Strategy RPG releases on the system. Voices weren't cut out of the game, and a wealth of content was added for veterans of the series. Really, this feels just like a re-release of a game should.
Overall, I was very, very pleased with Afternoon of Darkness. I didn't get my hopes up too high so that I wouldn't be disappointed. Instead, I was treated to a great port of the original game that not only kept everything intact, but added in fun new stuff too. If you missed Disgaea the first time around (and a lot of people did thanks to a short print run), you should really go and pick this up.
Welcome back to the front of the Strategy RPG pack, Disgaea. We missed you.