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Jeremy Jastrzab
16 Feb, 2008

Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness Review

PSP Review | Devilishly enjoyable.
During the early stages of the PSP life cycle, racing games seemed to be all the rage. It was hard to name a day that didn’t have another PSP racing game announcement. In the second half of last year though, it seemed that another genre was looking to take over this mantle. Although a lot were remakes, a number of strategy RPG titles found their way to the PSP, and a lot of them were quite good. Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is a remake of the 2003 PlayStation 2 title, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and it just so happens to be not only one of the finest titles in the genre, but one of the better titles for the PSP.

As far as strategy RPGs go, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness holds a special place among the fans in this niche category. And it wasn’t just because your characters could reach levels up to the thousands (take that World of Warcraft). The game contained an excellent story, a humorous set of characters, endearing style, deep gameplay and of course, penguins. Keeping all of this faithfully intact, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness for the PSP now includes a new mode, multiplayer options and a spruced up presentation.

Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness takes place in a fictional representation of the Netherworld. You play Laharl, the son of King Krechevskoy, who is the King of the Netherworld. One day, Laharl decides to take a nap, only to wake up two years later. Upon waking up, he finds that the King has passed on and that the throne that was meant to be his has a huge number of demons lining up to take it instead. With a seemingly treacherous servant, Etna, a rather airheaded angel assassin, Flonne, a spaceman and his robot and a bunch of disgruntled demonic penguins known as Prinnies in tow, Laharl sets off to take back his throne, through whatever means necessary.

These peeps are here to take over the Netherworld. Scary...

These peeps are here to take over the Netherworld. Scary...
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This light-hearted, sarcastic and entertaining story is backed up by a charming anime style, many lines of sharp and humorous dialogue and a cast that have more character than just about any combination of other PSP games. Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness shows exactly what an RPG has to do to keep a player’s interest over the sixteen ‘episodes’ and numerous other game modes. Thankfully, the game is not all about show, and there is some damn good, deep gameplay, even if it's somewhat complicated, to back it up.

In the main story, you play through a set of episodes, with an opening sequence and generally a closing one at the end of it. In between the story sequences, you have a set of field battles, and this is where you’ll be spending most of your time. Each episode has a number of battles that you’ll go through until you reach the boss. Each of these battles can be replayed later, if you want to experiment with tactics or build character levels (and believe us, you’ll need to do this). You can return to your citadel after each battle, to heal, buy items and recruit more members.

Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is a turn-based strategy RPG. As you enter each grid-laden isometric combat arena, you get to first turn to position your characters from your base panel and have them carry out whatever commands you wish to give them. The enemies' turn will follow, and then you’ll go again and so forth. Along with the usual options such as attack and special attack, you’ve got tactic options such as ‘throwing’ your team mates and opponents. The grid will sometimes contain a ‘geo panel’, which will endow a bonus or give a penalty for anyone standing on it.

To further add to the tactics, these panels can be changed colour or disabled whenever a geo stone is destroyed. For example, if you destroy a yellow stone on a blue panel, all blue panels will be turned yellow. Furthermore, anyone standing on that panel will be damaged. Another advantage of changing a panel with enemies on it is that you’ll have the chance to initiate some great bonuses. In a move that seems to be keeping with the game’s theme, only one character will get experience at a time, which can necessitate the repeating of levels. However, when the strategy is so deep and enjoyable, it can lead to character development becoming addictive.

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions...
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Outside of battle, you’re able to trade the mana that you earn in battle at the Dark Assembly, for a chance to make yourself a new team mate. By committing to this process, you have the chance to create a multitude of characters, or one awesome (or freaky) character. The process of creation though, is at the mercy of the demonic senators of the assembly, whom you need to convince to let a creation go through. However, you can do more than just create characters. If a few senators don’t want to be convinced, you’ve got options such as bribery or the ‘black hand’ at your disposal to get your notion through. This is the Netherworld after all, but be weary of the possible consequences that will follow some actions.

Finishing the game is no mean feat, at a standard S-RPG length of anywhere from 30 to 50 hours, with a bucket load of endings along the way. However, you then have a number of optional stories, bosses and endings that can be pursued with your spruced up characters, long after you’ve seen the final screen. There is also the Item World, where you explore randomised representations of the physical items that you hold. They get harder and harder as you play, but they make for a good challenge. As a PSP bonus, players will now get access to the new Etna story. This is a shorter alternative story mode that will show players just what happened if Etna managed to kill Laharl right at the beginning of the game.

Another PSP addition is that of ad-hoc multiplayer, where players can either trade items or go against each other in highly customizable multiplayer battles. Virtually every minor condition within battle can be changed and fixed to your liking. However, if you’re up against someone who is either a lot stronger or a lot weaker, each player will have ‘geo cubes’ at their disposal. These items, like the geo stones, will alter game conditions, though their effect in the multiplayer arena will be much more drastic.

If there is anything that really detracts from Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, is that it’s a fairly identical port of the original game. The additions to the game are definitely welcome and changing what was already an excellent game wouldn’t have been a good idea. The camera, which can only be moved 90 degrees at a time, can be obstructive at times. A change here would have been welcome but there have been worse on the PSP. Also, if you’ve put in the hundreds of hours that were on offer on the PS2 game, it’s difficult to justify going again to anyone other then the most dedicated genre aficionados. Speaking of aficionados, the series' complexity almost demands prior knowledge of strategy RPGs, as some things are only ever realised through experience in the genre. It's not entirely inaccessible, but it's not something that is likely to catch the gaze of anyone who wasn't already interested in the genre.

Who dropped the chess board?

Who dropped the chess board?
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One aspect of the game that has been improved over the PS2 game is the visual presentation. The game has been superbly adapted to the widescreen with a much smoother framerate, though at times the in-game writing can be a little small. Disgaea always had a wonderful anime-inspired style and it managed to hold firm, with a number of little details that make the game spring to life. The aural presentation makes for a stunning game highlight. Not only is the dialogue incredibly sharp (and well-translated) but the voicing is excellent enough to back it up. While the music track is borderline on acquired taste, the variety and composure is excellent. Not to mention, it’s perfectly inline with the tempo of the game.

For fans of turn-based strategy RPG titles, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness represents some of the finest in the genre, even with the recent influx on the PSP. But it’s not just the gameplay that allows the title to shine, it’s the unique and wonderfully entertaining personality that the game conveys. Unfortunately, it’s some of the aspects that make Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness so wonderful, are those that limit its overall appeal. Still, that’s no fault of the game and any PSP owners looking to take advantage of the strategy loving are unlikely to find a much better strategy RPG.
The Score
Superbly structured strategy gameplay and a wonderfully colourful, humorous and entertaining setting make Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness one of the best strategy RPGs around.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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5 Comments
6 years ago
Interesting never played one of these titles before, the art style always put me off. Though I suppose if it's got good gameplay I'll give it a go.
6 years ago
I loved Disgaea: Hour of Darkness and have been considering picking up Afternoon of Darkness also. Like you said in the review, I don't know if I can justify buying essentially the same game purely for the extra Etna Story Mode.

Hrmm... extra Etna. I might have just talked myself into buying it. Heh.

Then again, the money would nicely go towards Disgaea 3... if it hurries up on getting released outside Japan.

Bah to decisions. Why can't I just have them all.
6 years ago
I've never played one of these games before so I will probably pick up this up when I get a PSP. I have so much fun with SRPGs. ^_^
6 years ago
Great game and trust me SRPGs are made for handhelds. Steering away from Etna mode and the game has made several improvements. It keeps track of records and allows the players to turn off the cinematics which can get very annoying after awhile.

Charly, if you've already finished Hour of Darkness I recommend you save your money for something else. As you've already mentioned apart from Etna mode there's really nothing new here.

I just hope they release Disgaea 2 on PSP.
6 years ago
Yeah, you're probably right Pete, Etna mode is the only new content, so it's not entirely worth it. However, if you're a big Disgaea fan like me, you won't be able to resist! icon_lol.gif And it is pretty awesome to be able to play Disgaea on the go. Good to tide you over until the eventual release of Disgaea 3 here (or the U.S), which will still be some time I expect.

*crosses fingers for Disgaea 2 port*
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  20/12/2007 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  THQ
Genre:
  Strategy
Year Made:
  2007

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