Oct 30, 2007
Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions hitting the PSP was sweet enough, but Disgaea too? That's just insane. Both are 100-hour epics that require tons of down time to play and pages of rules to memorize, yet manage to be two of the most addicting, rewarding experiences on the system. But what sets Disgaea apart from the inescapable shadow of Final Fantasy? One word: charm.
Unlike the heavy-handed plot and melodramatic storyline of Tactics, Disgaea is all about having a good time - fun dialogue, quirky characters and over-the-top attacks greet players instead of a thick tale of this army and that castle and these people rising up against their oppressors. Here, you're a demon lord in training, with an eye on ruling over all the denizens in hell by any means necessary. Doesn't that sound a lot more interesting?
Your army is custom-built; in between each skirmish you can approach the Dark Assembly (a sort of Congress run by demons) and ask for more troops. There are all kinds of classes to pick from (monsters, archers, mages, warriors, fighters etc), but it's their level of competency that interests the Dark Assembly. If you recruit a unit that's potentially too powerful, they'll veto the soldier and leave you with nothing. Now, you could just accept this decision, but you're a demon lord who's used to getting his way. So, you can bribe, booze and bomb your way through the corrupted congress until they listen to your requests. See, democracy does work.
With your tailor-made forces behind you, it's time for level after level of enemy-murdering mayhem. Missions are played out on a grid, with your side moving first. Each of your soldiers gains experience and learns new moves as the battles wear on, but this game's a little tougher than most, so you'll have to replay the same missions over and over. Depending on your love of strategy RPGs, that's either boring repetition or "hours and hours of replay value." We found hitting the maps over and over fun at first, finding new ways to tear through the enemies with minimal effort, but several hours later it became quite tiresome. We just wanted to press on and see what happened with the story, not hit up the same levels repeatedly.
The battles are more than just pointing one guy at another and clicking "attack," though. You can move each unit into place, tell them to attack or cast a spell, but they won't actually do it until you hit "Execute." This lets you move your troops into highly strategic locations before they actually attack. To further sweeten the deal, units standing next to or behind the attacking unit can team up to deal tons of extra damage. For example, if your demon penguin monster attacks and is standing next to your axe-wielding unit, they'll both attack the enemy unit with a special two-in-one assault.
And it gets better. The one who teamed up still gets to have a turn, as a dual attack doesn't count as its own move. In other words, he gets another turn. Smart usage of the combo feature lets you move units all over the place to team up with multiple attacks and still get their own turns. It's extremely thoughtful and well planned, and one of our favorite battle systems in any SRPG.
The layers keep coming - in addition to all the various units and special abilities you have to keep track of, there are color-coordinated Geo panels lying all over the map. Each one has a unique affect on parts of the battle area, be it healing any unit within range, increasing evasion skills or awarding maxed-out strength. These panels can be picked up and moved to a more advantageous location or simply destroyed. At first they seem arbitrary and a little extraneous, but in more difficult missions they can save your entire army.
Perhaps the most bizarre feature of Disgaea is the Item World, a virtual realm that lives inside each and every weapon or item in the game. So you have a sword. It's alright, but it could stand being a little stronger. Well, dive into its Item World and you'll be able to slowly power it up by fighting through its own set of battle maps. If the main game ever, ever seems too easy or short, just spend some time in the Item World. It's an unbelievably lengthy way to stretch the game out, but again, this can be seen in two ways: artificial gameplay or impossibly cool extra feature. Seeing as you don't really have to bother with it at all to make it far, the Item World is reserved more for the hardcore - who are probably the only ones playing anyway.
Yes, this is a port of a four-year-old PS2 game. But it's a perfect port with an entirely new side-story (an all-Etna mode) and a one-on-one versus mode. The original was a highly sought-after gem, and this re-issue is everything it was and more (our only PSP-specific critique is the incessant whirring of the UMD). If you're into tactical RPGs at all, or want to see the genre done in a more playful manner than Final Fantasy or Fire Emblem, then this is without a doubt one of the deepest, craziest, most time consuming games you could ever play.