[Disgaea Hour of Darkness logo]

[Disgaea 1 artwork]

System: PS2
Publisher Atlus
Designer Nippon Ichi Software
Release Date: August 2003
Genre: Strategy RPG
Players: 1
Save Feature? Yes

Strategy RPG aficionados and anime fans alike...this one's for you! Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is one special gaming experience with its memorable characters, unique aesthetics, and simple-yet-cerebral gameplay. Disgaea feels like a goofy, random anime production and yet the story is surprisingly deep and touching. It is truly one-of-a-kind!

Overview: Once upon a time, before the burdens of adulthood and life took over, my younger sister Cari was every bit the video game fan that I was. She loved to play all sorts of games ranging from the popular Sims series to Final Fantasy IX and Chrono Cross. My sister was even the first of us siblings to get her very own PlayStation 2 console! And, being the generous sister she was, she even let her older brother use it occasionally until said older brother finally got his own PS2. Thanks sis! ;)

In any case, my sister loved her PS2 and especially some of the legendary RPGs such as Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy X, and Shadow Hearts: Covenant among others. In addition to popular, well-known titles, my sis loved to search for hidden gems as well! She would browse the internet searching for anything that sounded promising but was somewhat under-the-radar. Heck, she was even the one who pushed me into buying the Xenosaga trilogy which is only one of the greatest series of games ever created. I valued her advice and for good reason!

Anyway, I still remember my sis asking me to get her some "Disgaea" game for one of her birthdays. The game sounded odd to be sure but one lesson I had learned was that you just didn't question the one who recommended Xenosaga. So I searched around on the internet, snagged a copy of Disgaea for my sis, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Without a doubt, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was yet another wise choice by my sister because the game absolutely rocks! We had all played Final Fantasy Tactics to death and beyond and Disgaea simply took that winning formula and tweaked it a little. Disgaea somehow feels more polished in regards to the controls and gameplay making it more accessible to the average gamer than most strategy RPGs.

In regards to the gameplay, Disgaea plays almost exactly like FFT in several respects. The various battles that take place are set up in a grid-like manner that is somewhat reminiscent of the classic Q*Bert arcade game. Imagine a chess board with squares present except that there are random terrain elements such as mountains, rivers, and grasslands as well. Your characters can only move so far and your attack range varies depending on the weapon/class. It is also important to understand that there is a distinct advantage to owning the high ground in Disgaea. By maneuvering your characters wisely and attacking from above, you can inflict greater damage and take less in turn. Also worth noting here is that Disgaea is the first S-RPG I played which incorporated team attacks. If one of your characters attacks a foe and you have any teammates standing on adjacent squares, they can join in on the attack! This was quite intuitive as it gave you a real incentive to keep groups of characters together on the battlefield. It adds a nice meaty layer of strategy to the gameplay too!

Disgaea is also unique in that you can actually lift/throw fellow party members or even enemies! This is especially amusing anytime Prinnies (the iconic penguin-like creatures who love to say Dood! incessantly) are involved as they literally blow up and cause damage in the "blast radius" should you throw them...you sadistic jerk you! ;) While lifting/tossing characters can be advantageous depending on the terrain or the strength of an enemy, this feature can be a lot of fun too! If you are feeling adventurous, you can literally create a tower of characters on one square. This can enable you to reach very high areas and perhaps give you a chuckle or two as well. It is quite the sight for sure. One thing I can say about Disgaea is that it doesn't shy away from anything!

Yet another intuitive aspect of the gameplay involves the many Geo Panels you will come across during your travels. Geo Panels, in a nutshell, are colored panels that give specific stat boosts to anyone standing on them. For example, your attack might increase if you stand on a red panel while your ability to move an extra space could occur if you venture onto a blue panel. While you can simply use this basic knowledge of Geo Panels to your advantage, the real kicker comes when you discover that you can actually destroy these panels by taking out the keystones (colored triangles that you have probably seen in battle) and causing damage to anyone (or anything) unfortunate enough to be standing on said panels. By carefully placing the keystones and destroying them in tandem, you can create some pretty epic chains! Just be careful because yours truly has accidentally obliterated his fellow party members this way. Sigh...poor Prinnies...

Like any great S-RPG, Disgaea features an immense job/class system as well. If you include every potential class of character, there are more than 130 classes to be found in this game. And while you have your main characters such as Laharl, Etna, and Flonne, you can create/recruit generic characters as long as you have enough mana stocked up. Mana can be obtained by defeating enemies and some of the more difficult bosses give out tons of mana so, as you can see, grinding is smiled upon in Disgaea. By gaining experience in battle, you can unlock additional classes and even stronger classes within each job. Perhaps this was inspired by Final Fantasy Tactics' brilliant system where you could unlock advanced jobs like Ninja and Samurai by reaching certain levels in other jobs. The system in Disgaea is very similar and it makes for a truly addictive experience since no two jobs are alike and there are just so many of them to unlock!

I would be remiss if I neglected to touch on the Dark Assembly as well. The Dark Assembly consists of a counsel of demons that vote on certain bills such as whether to allow you to recruit a powerful character or give you access to a secret area. What makes this intriguing is that you can toggle through the counsel members to view their likely vote (Yay or Nay) before the vote is cast. By bribing counsel members with some of your items, you can potentially sway their votes in your favor which is both sad and hilarious. And I wouldn't recommend it early in the game but you do have the option to simply fight should the counsel veto a highly desired bill. Ah...there is nothing more glorious than obliterating a bunch of crooked politicians.

Lastly, Disgaea is also known for its unique Item World. Yes sir...the mysterious, unpredictable, darn near infinite Item World! You can strengthen nearly every item in the game by literally delving inside of said item and descending into it as much as possible. Some items consist of only 10 levels while some of the rarest items in the game contain as many as 100 stages!You can battle various residents or simply race for the exit in each stage. There are some particularly nasty bosses that you will come across every 10/20/30 stages as well. Just make sure that you defeat any neutral residents because they are especially important in powering up an item. And naturally, the enemies and bosses that you encounter become stronger the further in you go so use a Mr. Gency's Exit if necessary! While the Item World is completely optional save for one quest early in the game, it is immensely helpful in addition to being quite original. I have never seen a feature quite like this in another S-RPG.

[Team attack!]
[Pretzel thief!]
[Prism ranger!]

Graphics: Like pretty much everything else in the game, the visuals throughout Disgaea are wacky and whimsical in a good way. The main in-game graphics are very good and yet they feel decidedly old-school to me in terms of their atmosphere and feel. Perhaps it is the whole "grid-like" nature of the visuals...being that it is a strategy RPG and all.

Whatever the reason, I have no real complaints here. There is a lot of variety in terms of color schemes and background graphics and the character/enemy sprites look fantastic. Like in FFT, Disgaea features a wealth of gorgeous hand-drawn character visuals that appear mostly between battles. These close-ups are a real shining point aesthetically as they really enhance the whole experience and help to create Disgaea's unique atmosphere.

Music: Without question, the music in Disgaea is another one of the game's strong points. The style is completely original and the soundtrack is quite diverse as well! No two tracks are exactly alike and the emotions that they convey are all over the place.

I love the title theme ("Hell's Whisper") with its quiet, haunting melody. This is simply one of those songs that will stick inside of your head forever once you have heard it. Conversely, "Etna's Boogie" is a catchy, almost jazzy track that captures Etna's mischievous nature perfectly. Another personal favorite has to be the heroic "The Anthem of Braves" track which encapsulates the cartoons of the 80's in truly grand fashion.

The battle music in Disgaea is exceptional as well. Some tracks are intense ("Running Fire"), others epic ("Galaxy Wars" is a gem!), and still more classical and even "waltzy" if waltzy is a word (it's not). I truly appreciate the eclectic nature of the battle music in this game especially since you will be listening to these themes a lot. Honorable mention also goes to the boss theme that plays in the Item World. This music really gets you pumped up!

And despite the laid-back nature of this game, there are some real touching melodies as well. I always think of the tune that plays when Laharl encounters his mother. It is such a sad moment in the game and you honestly feel for Laharl despite his devilish nature. Even the "bad" ending song ("Flower of Happiness") is gushingly sweet with its soft melody and gentle voices which seems to go completely against the nature of Laharl (and this game in general). What can I say? I like being surprised like this!

Lastly, the voice acting in Disgaea is simply wonderful! Laharl sounds spoiled and arrogant which is fitting since he is an overlord, Etna is calculating and cunning, and Flonne is as ditsy as anyone (angel or demon) can be! Some of the side characters such as Mid-Boss and the Prinnies sound great as well!

Play Control: If my thirteen year old sister (at the time) could fire up Disgaea and play this game like a pro within mere minutes, then you know that the controls were executed well. Despite the love I feel for FFT, I couldn't help but notice how simple and user-friendly the controls were in Disgaea. This is impressive when you consider that strategy RPGs are typically some of the most difficult games to approach in terms of the learning curve. Disgaea is remarkably easy to pick up and play with little to no experience in the S-RPG realm which is saying something! Maneuvering characters around, executing commands, and experimenting with some of the nuances such as lifting/throwing characters couldn't be easier.

[Zombie massacre!]
[The Item World]

Challenge: If you are content to complete the main story and move on to the next game, the challenge level is probably in the moderate range. However, if you are one of those annoyingly OCD/completionist gamers (sigh...my hand is raised) who has to try and finish everything in the game, you have your work cut out for you my friend. Some of the game's optional areas like The Cave of Ordeals and some of the hardcore Item World stages will eat you alive at some point...guaranteed.

Disgaea is somewhat of an oddity in that both casual and hardcore gamers can fully appreciate the game. It never really falls into the "easy" category although the ability to revive characters between battles takes some of the intensity away when compared to, say, Fire Emblem where you can literally lose main characters forever. Still, Disgaea will really tax your brain at times as some of the later battles in particular can really mess with you.

As far as replay value is concerned, let's just give Disgaea a gold trophy and be done with it! Seriously, this game is nearly limitless in terms of its content thanks to the Item World and you could easily tack on hundreds of additional hours beyond the main story if you aren't careful. Granted, every game has a limit of some sort but for completionists in particular, Disgaea is simply heavenly.

Storyline: It's wacky and it's zany beyond belief and yet...that is what I love about Disgaea's story. Playing this game is like watching an episode of Family Guy because you never know what in the bloody heck is going to happen next. Granted, Disgaea isn't quite up there with the Gintama anime in the random department (What is?!), but the random element is alive and well here...that's for sure. I mean, what other game can you think of where you fight someone who wants to be world-renowned yet is merely called "Mid-Boss", come across creatures yelling "Dood" all the time, have to fight well-endowed female demons (which makes the females on your team insanely jealous), and have the sweetest girl you have ever met refer to herself as an assassin? And that is all just the tip of the iceberg my friend...merely the tip!

The characters truly stand out in Disgaea. The main character is the demon overlord Laharl who wants nothing more than to become the supreme overlord of the underworld. Pretty simple, right? Laharl's sidekick of sorts is the demon Etna who wakes Laharl from his deep vampire-style slumber at the beginning of the game. Etna seems loyal to Laharl but you start to see that perhaps she is a crazed demon after all?

Where things really start to get interesting is when the angel Flonne shows up. Flonne is the ultimate "cutesy" character with her over the top sweetness and incessant talk of "love." Laharl, as you might imagine, is the antithesis of this and he finds the concept of love to be most appalling. The dynamic between Laharl and Flonne is simply hilarious and it makes for some truly gut-busting conversations!

Speaking of which, this game, from a dialogue standpoint, is excruciatingly funny! The encounters with the foe that Laharl calls "Mid-Boss" are simply priceless and anything involving Prinnies, Prism Rangers, and Captain Gordon is special. You just can't go wrong with Disgaea when it comes to laughter.

However, I do want to mention that, despite all of this randomness and hilarity, there are some surprisingly deep, touching moments in Disgaea. You start to recognize small changes and even some emotional growth in some of the game's main characters which is pleasantly surprising and there are even a few plot twists that you may or may not have seen coming. So in that sense, the game's story is very solid because, while it is humorous beyond belief, it is also quite touching. It is quite unusual to find both elements in the same game.

[Giga Ice!]
[Let's do this Dood!]

Funfactor: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is one immensely fun, addictive, captivating video game! There are potentially 100+ hours of quality entertainment to be had should you explore everything the game has to offer. The battles are engrossing beyond compare and the unique personality of the characters/enemies really pushes this game over the top in terms of its originality. There is a perfect balance between the actual gameplay and the riveting cut-scenes and this is one game that you likely play over and over again. It is without a doubt an all-time classic!

Negatives: This is going to sound really nitpicky but you could make a case that excessive grinding is required if you seriously hope to complete all of the optional levels. I don't mind having to occasionally grind a bit but with Disgaea, I almost felt like I was playing Dragon Quest 1 or 2 again! Let's just say that casual gamers will probably not make it very far on the optional levels and move on.

And while Disgaea does have a charming visual style that I personally love, it didn't really push the envelope for a PS2 game. Is this a bad thing? You be the judge.


Ratings: Graphics: 4.0 Music: 4.7 Play Control: 4.5 Challenge: 4.8 Storyline: 4.5 Funfactor: 4.7 Overall Score: 27.2 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Golden Classic!!

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Last Updated: October 4, 2016
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