Strategy-RPGs have gotten a huge bump thanks to games such as Final Fantasy Tactics. Final Fantasy Tactics brought SRPGs to more people and it allowed games like Disgaea: Hour of Darkness to be released. Disgaea brings new advancements in the SRPG gameplay while bringing us a lot of humor and over-the-top special abilities. Does this leave something to be desired? Or is it fit to sit on the throne?
The story in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness takes place in the Netherworld and is about the evil Overlord Laharl. He woke up from a nap one day to find that he has been sleeping for two years and his father, the previous Overlord, has been killed. Laharl is completely ecstatic about this fact and claims the throne for himself. He learns that others are out for the throne now that his father is dead and he sets out to stop them all to show who the real ruler is. He is joined by some truly wacky characters; such as his vassal Etna. All these characters are great and found myself enjoying them so much that these characters are some of the best I've seen in a Japanese RPG, especially Etna. It's a goofy story with some great serious moments, but it's clearly Japanese and anime styled so if you aren't into that, be aware.
The gameplay is really similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, just that it's a lot more flexible and improved in most ways. You put up to ten units out on the battlefield at once and kill all the enemies to progress. When a unit is killed, they can be revived at the Healer in the hub world. The Hub world is Laharl's castle that's outfitted with shops, a healer, NPCs that help by giving you info and, most importantly, The Dark Assembly. The Dark Assembly lets you get things that'll help you, such as making new characters. It's a neat system as is the ability to make new characters. Each character is a specific class and you unlock more as you level up certain classes and you can also create monsters by defeating them in a battle.
You can pick up your allies and enemies and you can toss them around the environment. This allows to be more strategic and can allow you to level up monsters. Each class gains specific skills and their masters, the ones who ordered the Assembly to create them, can eventually learn their abilities. There are also team attacks that happen when an a character attacks when they are beside an ally. These attacks make your attacks stronger and also up the strategy. The only issue with the gameplay is that it's hard to level up your healers. They are weak and don't gain experience for healing. Other than that, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is the next step in SRPG evolution.
The music in the game is extremely catchy and the voice work is great, both in English and Japanese. The sound effects are good, but the battle voices always seem to be in English, even if you have it set to Japanese. The funny writing works well with the voice work and makes some unforgettable scenes.
The visuals are not all that good to be honest. The sprites look great, but the fact that they are on poor 3D environments is a little jarring. They look alright, but not that great. The over-the-top attacks look awesome and make combat look exciting. The story scenes are either just the sprites on the 3D environments or 2D art on backdrops. The 2D art scenes look way better as there aren't many different sprites to make the sprite scenes look good. Still, it looks good, just not that great.
- Great combat
- Funny dialogue
- Neat story
- Catchy music and great voice work
- Sprites look great
- Advances in the SRPG genre
- Likable characters
- Visuals are very underwhelming
- Healers are hard to train
- Humor and characters will only appeal to certain audience
Overall, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is the next step in the SRPG formula. It doesn't look very good, but it plays extremely well and it's a very funny, well written and well acted story. The characters are likeable and amusing and the combat is flashy. It's a worthwhile Strategy-RPG and, while it may not appeal to everyone, it's totally worth experiencing.