There's a good reason why Disgaea is now being ported to the Nintendo DS from the PlayStation Portable version that was released last year. Ever since Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was released for the PlayStation 2, it seems that people just can't get enough of the wacky exploding penguins and crazy demon children. Disgaea DS will now allow players who don't own a PSP to experience this adventure on a handheld. It's not just the host of memorable characters that draw strategy role-playing game fans to this series, but it's also the plethora of gameplay elements that are unique and fun. After spending some time with Disgaea DS, we can safely say that the gameplay works wonderfully on the DS and will keep people entertained wherever they go.
You play as Laharl, the son of King Krichevskoy, who wakes up from a two-year nap to discover that his father has died and that he missed his chance at becoming the ruler of the Netherworld. Clearly, demons don't follow the rules, so while he slept, his title and his palace were robbed. Etna, one of the few vassals that still bothered to stick around--although her intentions are questionable--is the one that wakes him, and together they venture off to take back what rightfully belongs to him. Etna is also in charge of the Prinny Squad, a group of deadly penguins that perform pretty ballerina pirouettes when they think no one is looking and explode when tossed. This is one ragtag bunch of misfits.
The game doesn't feel that complicated after you dive in and experiment a little. The palace functions as a central hub where you return after each battle. You have to talk to the dimensional gatekeeper to get to your battles, and you always come back to heal or purchase items if necessary. There isn't much in terms of exploring, and the story progresses one episode at a time. There will be dialogue in between locations and battles, but the game is primarily made up of the fighting. As the story progresses, you will have characters join your roster, and because you can have up to 10 people in a battlefield, you can create your own custom characters as well. This is where the dark assembly comes into play. You need mana to submit a proposal to the assembly, and depending on what kind of character you want, you will need its approval. You can find out which senator will most likely disagree with you so that you may bribe it and hope to change its mind. If that doesn't work, aggressive negotiation is also an option where you can persuade by force.
What probably prevents the not-so-hardcore fan base from approaching this game is the fact that there is so much to do and there are a lot of strategic elements to consider in battle. Disgaea DS plays similarly to other strategic role-playing games where you plot out where you want to plant your characters, give them commands, and, in this case, you have to execute the commands before your characters will do anything. However, Disgaea introduces geo panels on the battlefield where the terrain can be covered with different colored squares that have special effects. These effects are caused by a geo symbol, a pyramid-like object sitting somewhere on the field that grants effects like +50 defense or +3 enemy attack. Scanning the field and looking for these objects is crucial because you don't want to go in attacking when there's a geo symbol giving enemies in the red zone invincibility. The geo symbol can be destroyed, or you can throw it so that it doesn't affect a specific geo panel. If you happen to destroy a geo symbol that is blue but on a red geo panel, all the red panels on the battlefield will turn blue, and it will deal some damage to whoever is standing on the red panels. Another feature that adds to Disgaea's charm is the fact that you can lift and throw allies or enemies. Only humanoids can throw, but if you happen to pick up and throw a prinny, it'll explode and damage neighboring enemies and even allies if you're too close. This move will help you get around obstacles, or if you want to give your partner that extra push, you can toss him or her a few squares down.
The item world can be a separate game in and of itself. You can level your items by completing 10 consecutive levels in the item world. You have to make sure you're prepared before you go in, though, because you can't just walk in and out. The levels are completely plastered with an assortment of geo panels and the terrain is sprinkled with enemies to fight. There is also the option of just locating the gate to descend into the next level and bypassing the killing part.
Because there are hundreds of gameplay hours possible, Disgaea DS can be daunting for a newcomer to the series. However, going through the tutorial will give you a basic rundown of what needs to be done, and it is very easy to follow. The touch screen is optional if you would rather use buttons. You can also use the stylus to control Laharl and select all the menu commands if you wish. The top screen provides a grid with the location of your enemies and your troops in case you're having a hard time pinpointing them on the battlefield.
Everything seems to have migrated very well over to the DS. Check back for our full review when Disgaea DS hits stores on September 23.