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Disgaea is the name of a Strategic RPG franchise for the Sony Playstation consoles. The first game, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, was released on the Playstation 2 in 2003 and was subsequently remade for the handheld, Sony PSP with the new title, Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness in 2007, allowing players to carry the world of Disgaea in their hands.
The reason I picked up this game was due to the release of Disgaea 3 on the PS Vita, which had a distinctive anime style, also present in this earlier title, which appealed to me. However, I wasn't too keen on jumping into the franchise on the third installment, so I investigated the earlier two games and was pleased to find they were both available as downloads on Playstation Store and playable on my PS Vita. I picked up the full game at the reasonable price of £9.99 and was instantly immersed in the ultra-cute manga animations.
Disgaea follows the misadventures of demon prince, Laharl, who is awoken from his slumber by his (seemingly) loyal servant, Etna, and told that his father has died and he is the rightful heir to the title of Overlord of the Nether-Realm. The downside is that every other demon worth his salt is also clamouring for the title (including Etna) and prince Laharl is tasked with defeating all of the upstarts in order to claim his birthright as Overlord.
The gameplay of a SRPG or Strategic Role-Playing Game is that the player has to create an army and play them on a grid-based battle arena and fight a similar-sized army for dominance. This varies from traditional RPGs, which require more freedom and travelling across areas with frequent skirmishes. The strategic element of Disgaea is increased with the inclusion of Geo-Spheres which are small, coloured triangles which when placed on certain tiles on the arena grant anyone standing on similar tiles bonuses, either positive or negative ones. Once this element is introduced, you soon find yourself manoeuvring your players to stand on tiles to grant the best bonuses and avoiding getting caught on a DEF-50 tile and having your character beaten into oblivion.
I've played other SRPGs before, such as Final Fantasy Tactics, and this is one of the easier ones to get to grips with, although there is much scope for customisation and increased tactical elements, making the difficulty level rise. The actual genre of SRPGs aren't as stimulating as RPGs because a lot of the action takes place on the battlefield, as opposed to exploring towns and villages with a small party of characters.
The storyline is very amusing and pokes fun at some of the traditional tropes from anime, such as having the mischievous Etna narrate the end of each chapter with her own biased opinions of events, naturally showcasing her as the hero of the piece. I also enjoyed the voice-over work which seemed to be professionally done, as opposed to some anime, where the emphasis on certain words can sound a little off, or the voices over-acted.
The graphics are really well animated with bright and vibrant colours, especially purples (as used on the box artwork). It was the graphics which drew me to the title as it looked more like an actual anime TV show than any other computer game I have seen. Surprisingly, there wasn't a TV show based on this universe until the second game was released.
There is a large amount of gameplay here, with thousands of randomly generated levels available in 'Item World mode' not to mention a lengthy story quest, which upon completion opens up 'Etna Mode' which allows you to play through the game again, but this time with Etna as your main character instead, which acts as an amusing slant on the original story mode.
This game might not be to everyone's tastes, due to the repetitive nature of the battles and not much exploration in-between. The only variation from the battles is to explore your castle for bonus characters, items and storylines - but this is fairly brief in comparsion to the amount of time you'll spend inside the battle system. I find it ideal for the daily commute on the train as I can usually get one level done within half hour, allowing me to progress through the game without getting bored of doing similar tasks again and again.
Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is available as a download on Playstation Store for £9.99 - which is playable on Sony PSP and Sony PS Vita. It is also available as a UMD, only for Sony PSP, and prices may vary on the second-hand market.
Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is the Disgaea series' debut on the PSP. Although, in effect it is just a port of the PS2's Disgaea: Hour Of Darkness that doesn't mean that it's such a bad thing - in fact, it's near perfect for the portable gamer. The significant differences between Afternoon and Hour are nominal (the only real notable addition is a 16:9 aspect ratio), but if you're on a train for at least two hours every working day, like myself, then it is ideal, mainly for one reason - absolute addictiveness.
If you're unfamiliar with the SRPG genre (Strategy RPG), then let me try to explain. You are in control of however many characters that you decide to use (only 10 can be used at one time though), some are given to you and some you make yourself. With these characters, you must make turn-based moves along squared terrains killing all enemies that lie in wait. The actual premise is simple, but Disgaea takes a basic formula and turns it into a complete monster, with a story mode that will most probably take 30+ hours to complete and an almost unlimited normal game after that.
Many fans of the home console Disgaea games will question Afternoon's portable validity, but to those in doubt, worry no more. The main reason for Afternoon's impressive portability is the PSPs sleep mode. Coupled with the Disgaea series' turn-based approach, it's easy to just pick up and play.
I'd be more worried about trying to put it down.