Star Review: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (PS2)
Square-Enix: be afraid. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness takes the tried and tested tactical RPG formula, and gives it a well-needed shake up.
Taking on the role of Larharl, who awakes from a slumber to discover not only has his father, Lord of the Underworld, died by choking to death on a pretzel, but a demonic civil war is underway for the throne.
So joined by his vassal Etna and a small group of penguin like creatures called the 'Prinnys' (who have an annoying tendency to constantly say 'dood') you start on your quest to claim what's rightfully yours.
Each mission starts with a stylish anime introduction, where the characters come to life with some genuinely funny results (and sometimes bordering on Hentai), you're then handed over control to plot a path to victory across a rather average 3D isometric map. Thankfully, you can rotate and zoom to your heart's content, so you'll always get a good view of the action unlike in similar 2D titles.
Combat is far too complicated to explain in detail, but anybody who's ever played Final Fantasy Tactics will feel at home. The main two original features are that you can chain up attacks into 'combos' in order to raise a bonus meter and earn yourself prizes at the end of the battle, and GeoPanels which add an affect to any unit which is stood on them.
Yet despite the complexity of some missions, it's fair to say that most of your time will be spent exploring Larharl's Castle which acts as a central hub. You get the expected shop and mission select, but more uniquely you get access to the "Item World" and the "Dark Assembly."
If you're planning on getting the best possible weapons for your team, you will need to dedicate hours to the Item World. By entering 100 randomly generated levels which represents the 'inside' of that item you can search out and subdue the various Specialists found inside, which in-turn rise the stats of that item. It borders on tedious but as an extra, it isn't essential if you just want to complete the game.
The Dark Assembly allows you to propose changes to the game world, such as more expensive items for the shop, accessing hidden worlds and the ability to create new characters with extra base stats. If however the judiciary votes against the change, you can always sway the result by killing them off, something Tony Blair might have contemplated recently.
Well, I've gone on far longer than I intended to, so let's wrap this up. Disgaea is every statistician's wet dream. No matter how much time you put into this game, you'll always find a vast array of stuff left to do, the sheer amount of time required to create a lvl.9999 character is bewildering.
If you felt let down by Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, then don't give up on the genre until you've tried Disgaea - King of the Tactical RPG.
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