Review: Disgaea: Hour of Darkness

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, received its North American release in August 2003 and helped cement Nippon Ichi Software (NIS) as a fan-favourite publisher and developer. This was only the third game NIS released in North America, pre-dating NIS America (NISA), and was published by Atlus.

It's Disgaea, dood!
This inaugural chapter in the Disgaea series chronicles the misadventures of Laharl, the demon prince and would-be Overlord of the Netherworld. The game opens with Laharl waking from a two year nap to find one of his vassals, Etna, standing over him surrounded rather conspicuously with weapons. She informs him that his father, King Krichevskoy has died, and the Netherworld is in chaos with no recognized ruler. The player journeys with Laharl and his assorted vassals as he strives to claim and then maintain his birthright. Along the way he is joined by Flonne, an Angel Trainee from Celestia as well as Jennifer and Captain Gordon, Defender of Earth. Words simply cannot express the bizarre and hilarious nature of the group’s missions and interpersonal relationships.

Character design and development is truly where this game shines. Every character is brilliantly faceted, memorable, and generally hilarious. Captain Gordon is the typical cheesy 1930s comic hero, right down to his campy, bravado-riddled voice. Etna and Laharl are so unabashedly evil, and serve as wonderful foils for the love-obsessed, sweeter-than-sugar Flonne. Meanwhile, the denizens of the Netherworld are surrounded by Prinnies: essentially peg-legged penguins who scream “dood!” and explode at the slightest provocation.

Another selling point of the game is its battle system. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is a turn-based tactical RPG. Characters move or throw each other across a map and attack enemies using an assortment of physical, magical, and otherwise ‘special’ attacks. A key element to the battle system, this game’s je ne c’est quoi is the Geo Panel system. The map may contain Geo Symbols, items that add certain extra effects to map panels that are the same colour as the panel the Geo Symbol is on. There are a wide variety of positive and negative effects available, and generally affect both friendly and unfriendly units. Some examples of possible effects are immunity, silence, and increased damage. Strategic players can move or destroy Geo Symbols to give themselves an advantage.

There is so much to this game. There is truly an overabundance of job classes to choose from for players, as well as playable monster races to choose from. Disgaea is also rich with side content, though as one NPC reassuringly tells the player, the game actually can be completed with minimal knowledge and exploration. It is simply more interesting to explore things like the Item World, and the Dark Assembly.

Worst. Assassin. Ever.
Although the game is more than a few years old, being an early release on the Playstation 2, it has aged quite gracefully. The quality of the dialogue and voice acting still ranks very high. The graphics are of the slightly exaggerated anime style as opposed to a more realistic style, and this style has not changed considerably as we have moved into the current generation of consoles.

If anyone has not taken the time to explore this series, kindly remove thyself from beneath yonder rock, and give it a chance. As any gamer familiar with this or other NISA work can attest, a short review can really only scratch at the surface of what these games offer.


  1. Yea, i have been playing this on my PSP and i LOVE it the only thing i dont like, and this might just be because im early in the game but, i dont like how created characters start at level 1 i think there should be a way to level them up while creating said characters.

  2. That’s true. I pretty much created everyone as early as possible. I only really have 8 characters I use. I pull out a healer or Flonne if I need to, but my 8 offensive people are usually more than enough.

    If you Transmigrate regularly it makes it easier, since your existing characters will have to re-level, though it’s not quite the same. Still best to create your core people early on because you’re right, you disadvantage yourself by waiting and creating people later.

  3. Disgaea always intimidated me. I’m a completist, which sucks,I’m working on it, and only listening about the side content that will have you grinding for hundreds of hours makes me avoid it like the plague.

  4. As an entry into the Disgaea series, would you advise buying this? I need more games for my neglected PS2 and I want to play a Disgaea game :)

  5. @Blitz: Yeah. It was a cheap n’ easy way to overpower some of my gear.

    @kenjujuu: Yep! It’s really not hard, has nice replay value, and it was the first game so it’s really the best place to start.

  6. Its a really awesome game, I’d recommend the PSP version over the PS2 one from what I’ve heard though. I put over 100 hours into one playthrough on the PSP version and still go back to it every so often. Plus you get a few extras, like the hilarious Etna Mode on Afternoon of Darkness.

    I can see why completionists would be scared of it though. There is maybe too much to do… Lv.9999 anyone? =0

  7. Yes. I am a completionist and I fricking love SRPGs but I am incredibly torn with NISA games. I really want to like them but they feel bloated to me. Like artificially stretched out due to the reincarnation and 8 billion levels or whatever. Plus endless item world.

    I enjoy the art style, characters, battle systems, sense of fun, but I haven’t beaten any of them yet. I get to maybe 50-60 hours in and give up right before the end, did this with (in this order) Makai Kingdom, Disgaea 2, Disgaea PS2, Soul Nomad, and Disgaea DS. So I’ve given them more than a chance. If they’d make a tight, balanced, say, 40 hour deal (with some side stuff) I’d love it. Is La Pucelle more polished/smaller? I hear there’s a PSP remake coming.

    But Prinny was perfect. They nailed that shiz.

  8. I’ve never played any NIS titles…I’m tempted as I finally picked up SMT PS2 games this year and haven’t been disappointed. My interest in grinding to make everyone level 99 with super charged Jesus armor is nonexistant anymore though, so I’m not sure how much I’ll like the Disgaea series.

  9. @EvilPaul: I think one nice part about the Disgaea series is that players have the option to grind to level 9999 with Jesus equipment, but it’s far from a necessity. I was able to beat Afternoon of Darkness last year with my characters only at about level 150+, I think, and I don’t seem to remember that taking too long, especially with all the side content to help out with the grind. That being said, I definitely prefer Persona 3/4, but D:AoD was certainly entertaining and much more light-hearted in nature.

  10. Yeah, its definitely not necessary. I beat the game the first time round with my characters ranging from lv.40s up to around 70 or 80. However I did only just scrape through the end boss battle. I think I could’ve used a couple extra levels here and there, but I managed to somehow exploit the map and the base panel to keep my healer safe.

    I love the lightheartedness of the game, and the grindy bits don’t put me off too much, its just quite a fun game with so much to do.

  11. @Blitz: Hard to answer. My average level was about 55 but so much depends on how many times you Transmigrate. My L55 Laharl and your L55 Laharl may have entirely different base stats. >.<

    I was about level 50 for people who transmigrated maybe 5-6 times, and L60-70 for ones who only did it 3-5 times.

    I was extremely overpowered, though. Extremely.