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.
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.
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.