reviews\ Oct 3, 2007 at 8:00 pm

Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness - PSP - Review

Don’t you just hate it when the overlord-wannabe sent to wake up your sleeping/comatose body accidentally kills you in the process? It’s almost death times two – first you’re asleep in a coffin, then alive, and then officially dead. Kind of like that new TV series, Pushing Daisies, but with sillier characters and crazier plotlines.

My first experience with the Disgaea series occurred last year when I reviewed its sequel for PlayStation 2. This was both a blessing and a curse. I loved the game, every part of it. The hilarious, over-the-top storyline; the outrageous cast of characters; the unbeatable gameplay mechanics, etc., were strategy/RPG Heaven.


Little did I know that, while the sequel was everything I could want from an RPG, the original was not yet ready for prime time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great game. But as someone who has experienced the series in reverse, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed.

Having said that, the PSP version of Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is a very good game. Join me as I take you through the hilarity, calamity, and insanity of NIS America’s most treasured franchise.

Flonne’s obsession with love and kindness really frustrates Laharl.

A Few Weeks of Darkness

Laharl is an evil overlord and demon prince with aspirations of world domination. Etna is a crazy vassal who waits for her victims to fall asleep before stabbing them in the back. Flonne is an angel – the quintessential anime lady. She’s obsessed with goodness and tries hard to spread her purity to everyone around her. Gordon is a space idiot trapped in Disgaea’s world by mistake. He came with two friends: Jennifer, his anime babe sidekick, and Thursday, a talking robot.

These are some of the kooky and quirky characters you’ll encounter in Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness. Laharl and Etna are the leading cast members, with many others appearing in supporting roles. You’ll get to play as most of them, as well as a couple of adversaries. (You’ll have to defeat before they’ll come over to your side).

The story is most satisfying when it uses sophisticated humor and when it pokes fun at the genre’s most ludicrous story elements. Laharl is extremely cocky. Most players would hate him if his words were serious. But his eagerness to rule the world shows that he’s too confident for his own good, a fact many of his party members take advantage of. The results are humorous. Laharl can be a pushover at times, and is secretly afraid of something harmless… (Hint: anime babes.)

Few moments can compare to the times when new characters are introduced. Vyers, one of many overlord-wannabes, is just as cocky as Laharl but with less skill to back up that cockiness. Laharl instantly dismisses him as a threat, saying, “Who gives a d*** about you? Your new name is ‘Mid-Boss.’”

Other amusing lines: "Always listen to a hot babe. That is the law."

"If anyone touches my snacks, they're dead!"

There are several comedic story sequences throughout the game. Unfortunately, there are also several that aren’t funny at all. The new Etna mode, where Laharl is accidentally killed in the beginning, is cool but not as laugh-out-loud hilarious as I had hoped.


Role Battling

Disgaea's battle system is relentlessly addictive. It runs on the same principles as other turn-based strategy/RPGs and uses various additions and enhancements that topple the competition.

Let's start by briefly covering the common elements. Battles are fought on a grid environment. Move and attack reach are limited by the type of unit (Mage, Archer, Knight, Zombie, Gargoyle, etc.) and each unit's level. Units fall into a category of human or monster. Humans specialize in swords, spears, bows, guns, axes, or staffs; monsters use exclusive weapons that don't make much sense – names include Porcu-Spine and Electric Eel – but increase their attack ability just the same.

It's everything that surrounds these basic features that push Disgaea to heights no other strategy/RPG can reach. To put it simply, the battles are a blast to play through. Every element is comprised of entertaining gameplay, and the mechanics work very well, so there aren't any technical flaws to take away from the entertainment value.

One of the enhancing features is a group of elemental properties that are given to specific portions of certain battlefields. When you see one or more colored squares on the grid, that means an element (called a Geo) can be used to affect that area. They can work to aid your party or cause a serious headache. The "No Throwing" Geo means you can't pick up a character, friend or foe, and throw him across the elemental border. Another Geo prevents you from crossing the border altogether.

The triangular objects are Geos.

This presents a unique challenge for the player, as you'll have to find a way around that area. It could be as simple as finding a spot not blocked by the element. Or it could be very complex. If the elemental border cuts the level in half (as it does in one battlefield), you'll have to lure the enemies up to the border and use Mages and other long-range attackers to win. There may be no other solution. The game doesn't make the solution clear, which is part of the challenge. I can see where this would frustrate some players, but the hardcore crowd will revel in these puzzling stages.

In addition to the main and supporting characters, players can purchase new battle units using a special form of currency: Mana. It is not used to cast spells as in most RPGs – SP handles that task. Mana is gained like EXP on a per-character basis. If Laharl is your lead attacker, his level won't be the only thing that tops his allies. He'll also have the most Mana.

Since Mana is gained by dealing the final blow, you can disperse this currency by having your strong characters tear down your opponents' HP. When their health is low, have the characters whose Mana you wish to increase go in for the kill.

Units are purchased through the Dark Assembly, a hilarious group of monster politicians (sort of ironic, don't you think?). Many functions are performed with a Mana exchange. But if you wish to make enemies stronger, create a high-level unit, or expand the quality of weapons offered at the weapons shop, you'll have to go before the Assembly. They'll vote on your cause, and you'll need at least 51% of those votes to win.

Many of the monsters come to the Assembly with preconceived notions. They may be completely in favor of or completely against you and/or your cause. To turn them around, pass the monster an item or two. Be sure to verify their interest in the items first – the gift is useless otherwise. A rating of "Does Not Want," "Not Very Interested," "Slightly Interested," "Interested," and "Must Have!" is applied to each item. The ratings differ per politician.

Some of the Dark Assembly votes are immensely challenging but also exciting. The battle challenges pale in comparison. That might sound like a detriment to the game, but no part of Disgaea is a cakewalk. However, it is much harder to sway a politician than it is to take on a difficult monster in battle. (Unless you choose to fight the Assembly – not recommended!) Getting a "Completely in favor of" rating does not guarantee that they will actually vote your way. They may be drunk or asleep (again, talk about ironic!) and be unaware of what they're voting on, or not vote at all.

To increase your chances of a successful vote, grab a notepad and jot down every item that each politician wants. It's a time-consuming task that's worth the effort. Some of the Dark Assembly ballots can lead to additional battles, extra EXP, and improved movement (travel further each turn).


Several Afternoons of Pleasure

Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is nearly on par with its sequel. It’s a game to get lost in and a game to cherish. The mind-bending Geo puzzles, imaginative character creation system, and compulsively addictive battles will lead to more than an afternoon of enjoyment. You’ll be with this one for the next several weeks.

Review Scoring Details for Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness

Gameplay: 8.5
Born from the original’s innovation and ported to PSP for strategy/RPG jubilation, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is an aggressive, highly entertaining game. The combat is pure joy – a must for any gamer’s strategy/RPG collection.

Graphics: 7.0
Disgaea doesn’t use the PSP’s power to blow us away. But the sprite-based characters, 3D backgrounds, and a consistent frame rate keep the gameplay experience running strong at all times. The load times are also greatly improved over other strategy/RPGs released for PSP.

Sound: 7.8
Superb voice acting from the main character – Etna is as devious as ever and Laharl makes a great demon prince. The overemphasized softness in Flonne voice is very amusing. She’s the perfect parody of anime pacifist.

On the down side, there are a few story sequences that do not contain voice-overs. And while the main cast is excellent, there are a couple of side characters that fall into the category where most sub-characters end up: annoying.

Difficulty: Medium
First-time players are likely to disagree with this difficulty rating. They are going to think of the game as “hard,” while series veterans will think this PSP port is rather easy. Both would be correct. If you’re experienced, this game doesn’t put up much of a fight. But if you’re a newbie, you’re in for a rough take on strategic role-playing.

Concept: 7.8
Afternoon of Darkness’s story is very well written, but it’s not without flaws. You’ll laugh or at the very least be amused through most of it. But there are also moments where the dialogue isn’t funny at all. Having played Disgaea 2 first, that was disappointing.

Multiplayer: 7.0
Two players (with two PSPs and two UMDs) can battle to test their abilities as an Overlord.

Overall: 8.3
Though not as hilarious as its PS2 sequel, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is the best, most expansive and most addictive strategy/RPG available for PSP.


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