Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness Preview
When NIS and Atlus released Disgaea: Hour of Darkness for the PS2 back in August of 2003, it generated a horde of impressed critics and suddenly enamored fans. The strategy/RPG was back in full force, and of course, the game's success meant we could expect many more installments in the surprisingly popular franchise. The latest is Disgaea: Hour of Darkness for the PSP, which is a little different than what we expected...originally, we had thought this was to be a brand new sequel; a whole new title in the series. But upon closer inspection, it appears to be a remake of Hour of Darkness, only with some expansion and enhancement. Yep, we like how this remake-on-steroids is shaping up, and we're confident you'll like it, too. Well, provided you're a fan of the genre, anyway.
If you're not familiar, we'll run down the original title real quick: you play as the cocky and attitude-laden Prince of Darkness, Laharl, son of the Demon Overlord and fighting to claim his rightful spot in the underworld. The game itself was outrageously deep, primarily because there wasn't any level cap. Feasibly, you could level up almost forever (to Lv. 9,999, actually), and with the Transmigration system and Item World, things only got more and more complicated. You could spend 50 hours gathering more power in the Item World without ever touching the main quests, which translated to one hell of a time-consuming game. Obviously, you can expect the same thing from Afternoon of Darkness, but with...well, more stuff. We'll get a 1-on-1 multiplayer mode (which sounds like an absolute blast), both English and Japanese voices, and another gameplay addition we'll talk about in just a bit. But you'll still remember good ol' Disgaea, no doubt about it.
The game starts off the same way as the old PS2 title and follows the same storyline and general structure. This world consists of some genuinely humorous character cut-scenes, traditional turn-based grid combat, and more abilities, techniques, and skills than you can shake a stick at. Some strat/RPGs aren't purely turn-based; they utilize Speed as a factor in battle, but there's no such thing in the Disgaea titles. You select your combatants, place them, move them, and execute an action all before the enemy moves. In other words, you get one full turn to do everything you wish to do with all available units, and then the computer gets the same. This sounds relatively simple on the surface, but as you can string together combination attacks and plan far enough ahead to prepare for your opponent's move, the depth is pretty insane (not to mention as many as 30 units on the battlefield at once). And hey, how about adding even more depth by leveling up your weapons and items in addition to your characters?! The items can max out at 10, but even so, the amount of time you can waste finding and leveling up new weapons and armor is...amazing.
And while the adventure in Afternoon of Darkness is basically the same as it was in Hour of Darkness, there's a rumored feature that will allow you to play as Etna. Laharl's red-haired sidekick apparently has her own story this time around, although we can't be sure if it's confirmed for the game; IGN unlocked it while playing an early build of the game. If it is included - and we can't imagine why it wouldn't be - the player will immediately start off down a different storyline path. Etna accidentally kills Laharl when trying to wake him up in the beginning, and from there, the story progresses as seen through Etna's eyes. And of course, no Laharl. We imagine this might be a bit of a drawback, not having both of the most powerful characters in the game, but at the same time, you can always develop other powerful characters at any given time. You don't get any tutorials with Etna Mode, though, and there are a ton of spoilers if you haven't yet played the original story with Laharl. This may or may not bother you, because again, it really is all about the gameplay with these games.
We wouldn't mind having more information about that 1-on-1 multiplayer option, though. There's a similar feature in the recently released Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions, and that's another remake where the developers decided to add some nice bonuses. Multiplayer isn't something you normally expect from a strat/RPG, but if you really think about it, that option could become a major attraction: link up with a friend, and toss your best parties at each other! With the sheer amount of depth, customization and freedom allowed in creating a party, no two battles would ever be the same, and with less predictable human interaction, the multiplayer could be a blast. We'd also like to confirm the Etna Mode, and whether or not it actually needs to be unlocked. Veterans who have already played Hour of Darkness would likely want the opportunity to play a brand new mode right off the bat.
Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is scheduled to arrive on October 30, which means it's only a few short weeks way. Fans of the genre probably can't miss it, especially if they're looking to add to their PSP library and really loved Hour of Darkness. Granted, we'd recommend The War of the Lions first - just Ďcuz Final Fantasy Tactics is the best strat/RPG of all time - but if you've already got that, we'd strongly suggest you give this one a shot. Remakes are getting a little tiresome, but with this much depth...who cares?
10/8/2007 Ben Dutka