19. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness
Nippon Ichi | Atlus | 2003
A quirky, anime-infused strategy RPG that has you appealing to the Demon Congress for competent demon-penguins
What made it so great?
Were do we even start? It's hard to get excited about every 100-hour grid-fest that comes our way, but both Disgaea games pack so much character into their colorful little sprites that it's impossible to look away. Beneath the addictive character designs and off-the-wall humor lies an immensely deep strategy title that plays like no other. You can pick up your units and toss them into better positions. As a demon lord, you can appeal to a demonic congress and ask for better troops - if the senators don't want to help, you're able to "persuade" them into action by offering bombs, bribes or booze. Successful lobbying will also net you access to hidden levels or secret characters. This seemingly simple aspect of gaming ended up sucking away many hours by itself.
But more important than the nuts and bolts of the game is the effect it had on the PS2. After Disgaea became a cult hit, it opened up the entire system to classic, old-school style games that never appeared on other platforms. The system became a safe haven for those who liked their RPGs cute and quirky instead of overwrought and melodramatic. Thanks to Disgaea, we've been able to enjoy titles like Atelier Iris, Ar tonelico and Phantom Brave - each is reason enough to prove that old-style games are far from dead.
Get ready to play
...for hundreds of hours. The grid-and-turn-based gameplay already offers tons of stuff to do, but try to imagine what it's like when every item in the game, from potions to pole arms, has a world inside of it. If you want to level-up a sword, you can dive into its Item World and clear floor after floor of monsters living within. The deeper you go, the stronger the weapon becomes. When you consider this, the idea of doing everything in 100 hours seems far-fetched. Add in multiple endings and you've got a game that could conceivably last you an entire console generation.
Been there, done that?
If your vision of hell isn't quite so adorable, you need to take a look at Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. The game begins with the apocalypse and ends with the rebirth of the universe, and in between it packs in some of the deepest and most engrossing hardcore RPG gameplay on the system - wrapped in a whacked-out story and fantastically creative visuals. A sleeper hit that shouldn't be missed.