Even on the PSP, this devilish turned-based strategy game is still awesome

User Rating: 8 | Makai Senki Disgaea Portable PSP
+ Deep, strategic combat is a lot of challenge and fun
+ Looks considerably better on the PSP rather than on TV
+ Interesting setting, story and characters
+ Still holds the record for the most insane amount of replay value

- Camera is still awful, occasionally giving poor view of the battlefield
- Daunting difficulty in the beginning

There is a good chance you might have missed 2003's Disgaea back on the PS2; an incredibly difficult, hilarious, charming and the deepest strategic turn-based strategy you could get your hands on. Now that same game has come to the PSP, with graphics that adapt better to the PSP than before, the same deep gameplay with an unbelievable amount of replay value, all the humor that comes with the series, but it's still somewhat absurdly inaccessible to beginners and unreasonably difficult in the initial parts, and you've got to coop with an awfully uncooperative camera that is too lazy to keep up. But that is what makes a Disgaea game, and this port is as awesome as it was back on the PS2.

The Disgaea universe is set in the Netherworld, and the first installment opens with Laharl awakening from a two year slumber by one of his vessels, Etna. In the meantime, his father, King Krichevskoy, passed away causing a battle for the throne or something, and being a spoiled brat, Laharl will fight to reclaim his throne. The story is bizarre, yet quite charming, with interesting personality such as Laharl's spoiled brat attitude, the untrustworthy Etna and the angel trainee, love-freak Flonne contrast well. Dialogue cutscenes accompany minor movements on the screen before a battle, giving the story the position of setting the stage or random nonsense. The story is divided into multiple chapters, with each chapter having four stages that must be completed to advance to the next

If you've never played a Disgaea game, Disgaea is a hardcore turn-based strategy that boasts some of the highest replay value in any game. Pretty much like the original Disgaea and Disgaea 2, Hour of Darkness pits you and your party on a map divided by square grid, allowing you to move on these square grids and attack your foe until there are none left. A character can occupy one square grid, and depending on their weapon can attack the grids surrounding them or further. The game gives you standard characters but allows you to create as much characters as you want, only to be restricted by a limited number on the map. Characters can perform melee attacks, special attacks depending on the class, defend, item usage and even lifting characters to throw. Each character present takes a turn and when finished, press the triangle button and choose to attack, and then the End Turn option to move to the opponent's turn. Geo symbols affect the map by giving boosts and disadvantages on whoever stands on the colored grid that gives a refreshing turn to battles and a chance for the wise to possibly do a swift job of the enemy.

These concepts are found in all previous Disgaea installments so it's nothing new. While all these mechanism are a bit complex to grasp immediately, the game is fiendishly difficult. This is a truly challenging turn-based strategy that someone makes it almost too difficult against the brutal AI to progress any further in the story, forcing you to dig in a gold mine of grinding possibilities, starting from completed levels to the Item World. The Item World offers a ton of dungeons against opponents of any level, making it ultimately the perfect place to gear up and train. All this almost forced grinding brings a ton of repetition to the gameplay formula that is showing its age. The enemy variety is a bit lacking because of all this time playing; the same enemy even appears cloned multiple times, doing the same exact some movement as the next clone which is a bit too much in some stages.

The combat is heavily strategic and absorbing, but there is one major issue that remains; that accursed camera. I guess if a Disgaea game doesn't have a bothersome camera, it ain't a Disgaea game. The camera can be turned left and right with the L and R buttons, to allow a 'better' view of the area. There is no zooming this time around. The use of environment objects such as pillars sometimes may hide opponents you are not aware of, and end up forgetting them. Even worse are gaps in maps which are mostly found in the randomly generated maps of the Item World. An enemy in the gap is almost impossible to stop or even attack sometimes. Enemies hidden on isolated plains force you to use ranged weapons or throw an ally there. There are also the chances of enemies hiding behind large objects. The position of the camera sometimes gives the illusion of an opponent being in front of you, but is in fact an another plain. This 'mirage' occurs in the Item World, but rarely. A major problem is that the camera doesn't bother to automatically turn to give you the best view of the attacks happening, sometimes completely blocked by large objects.

Visually, Disgaea was never the looker and fortunately the small screen of the PSP has made a decent-looking game to a good looking game. Excluding the main menu, the character in battles look pretty good and the environments shine. Shame many environments and character designs are repeated so often that you'd want to bang your head against a wall. The music repeats a lot but it's of good quality, and the English voice acting is pretty good and doesn't fall victim to localization, with some funny moments are played quite well.

It's the same exciting Disgaea yet not quite. I found myself digging over 50 hours easily in Disgaea 2 on the PS2 and completed the game with high level characters. It wasn't the same with this game. Mainly the Item World was not as immersive as it was in the second game which is kind of disappointing. Other than that, this demonic and twisted turn-based strategy is back with its uncooperative camera and high level of difficulty, complete with a humorous story and polished combat system you'd expect from this series.

OVERALL = 82 / 100
Even on the PSP, this devilish turned-based strategy game is still awesome