Review: Disagea (PS2)

Genre: Strategy RPG
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: Teen (Comic Mischief, Mild Language, Mild Violence)
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: 8/27/03
Official Home Page: Disgaea @ Atlus.com

Offbeat. Crazy. Unique. All of these descriptions can be used in either a good or bad manner, and all have been used when describing games that have been published by Atlus. Though they haven’t produced many titles for the Playstation 2, they have produced many offbeat and unique titles for the original Playstation, including Thousand Arms, Rhapsody, Kartia, Tail Concerto, and of course, Persona. These are games that are all extremely good in their own right, but are usually overlooked by gamers who haven’t heard much. Having only recently becoming a fan of Atlus the company (though I’ve been a fan of their games for a while), I can attest that if they release a game, chances are it’s good. They’re kind of like Working Designs, except they don’t take as long to make games.

So needless to say, whenever Atlus makes a game now, I take a look at it. And this game is no different. Not only is it published by Atlus, but it is developed by the same guys who made Rhapsody, one of the weirdest RPGs out there. And that was before I found out what the title was about. The premise alone sold me. So, without further ado, let us explore the wonders that are DISGAEA. Check it out, dood!

Story
Welcome to the Netherworld. It is a deep, dark place were demons dwell and monsters reign supreme. But the paradise is shattered when the King Krichevskoy, the Overlord of the Netherworld, dies. Even though I’m sure his followers loved him, there was great chaos as they all fought to become the new Overlord.

Two years later, Prince Laharl, son of the dead king, awakes from a nap, and only then finds out about his father’s death. Though he too is saddened by the loss, he becomes obsessed with becoming the next Overlord himself, and does everything in his power to take out his competitors and become the ruler of the Netherworld.

All seriousness aside, the story is actually really very silly. Consider this, you awakened by your subordinate Etna, who uses all manner of devices to wake you up, and as such, your room is on fire when you wake up. Also consider that your initial forces consist of yourself, Etna, and her squad of Prinnys, which resemble large penguins. Several other small details are hilarious as well, like when you go through the tutorial on throwing and the Prinnys find out that they explode when thrown. This has got to be one of the silliest games I have ever played, and one of the most well written as well. It’s just crazy, dood!

Gameplay
As with most strategy RPGs, there are several core concepts that are evident here. First of all, there is no world map and there is not much exploration. You begin the game in the Castle of the Overlord and all exploration is done there. You can buy weapons and armor, save the game, or go to any of the other places available in the game, which is to say that when you leave the castle, you’re gonna have to fight somebody.

Battles seem fairly standard for this style game. You control a party of characters on a grid-based map. Each character can move a certain distance, and if they are in range of an enemy, they can attack or use a special move. Standard weapons have various different ranges, which is common. With swords, you have to be right next to the enemy, but with spears you can attack two spaces away and with guns and bows, you can be even further away. One thing to note is that the way your character is facing in this game doesn’t appear to matter as much as in other strategy RPG titles.

Other than standard attacks, you also have special attacks, which use up SP to execute, and the more you use them, the more powerful they will get. In addition, allied characters in adjacent squares have a chance of pulling off combo attacks. If one unit attacks an enemy, you have a certain percent chance that the adjacent ally will help you in that attack. The nice thing is that the character that helps can still move and do his turn as well.

Turns are handled differently than I have seen before. Rather than a move then attack pattern (or vice versa) you can queue up people to attack, and then execute the attack. Also, rather than basing it on speed, the way it works is that the enemies have a turn, and then you have a turn to move all your characters, so there’s no real time feel. It’s all completely turn based here.

There are several unique features about the game that I will touch on here. First of all is the Geo Panels. Every map you go to typically has different colored squares on the ground that each has different effects. Some will boost the enemy’s power, and some will improve your stats when you stand on them. The trick is to use the squares to your benefit without letting the enemy get the same chance. But if you don’t like any of the benefits that are given by the Geo Panels, you can always destroy the corresponding Geo Symbol, which then nullifies that effect. There are incredibly complex patterns that you can use to nullify the bonuses and the panels themselves, and you can make combos which will give you bonuses. It’s almost like a puzzle game within an RPG.

Another different thing (for me anyway) is the fact that your characters can lift and throw other characters, friend or foe. Take for example the aforementioned prinnys, which will explode when thrown (no way, dood!) and other enemies, which will combine when you throw them into one another. In fact, there is a good level up spot where all the squares except for one make everybody invincible, and the trick is to throw all the enemies together and then throw that one big, high level enemy into the un-invincible slot and wail away. Keep in mind though that since they are a lot higher level than you are, it could take a lot longer (or may be impossible) to kill, because most of your guys would just do 0 damage.

Next is the Dark Assembly. This is the Netherworld’s version of the Senate, with a few major differences. One of the primary purposes of the Assembly is to create new party members, or pupils. Depending on your rank, you can make better and better pupils. You improve your rank by going through a promotion test, which pits you against some of the members of the Assembly. Each consecutive test gets harder and harder, so you will probably have to spend plenty of time between tests leveling up and such. You train pupils by using mana, which is gained in battle by killing enemies. The other thing that you can use the Assembly for is to give yourself bonuses, like improving the items in the shops or letting your character have a higher counterattack rate. This can be difficult, because when you start out, you’re just a lowly prince and no one takes you seriously, but as you increase your rank and level through regular battles, your influence increases. Still, it can be very hard to get the Assembly vote to go your way, so you have a few options. The best option is to bribe, errr, give gifts to the members in hopes of their vote going your way. If you give them stuff they don’t like though, it will piss them off! And if they still won’t vote for your proposal, you can just kill them. Yes, that’s right, you can KILL them. And then their vote is nullified. Be careful though, because if you choose to battle with the Assembly, you will battle with all the senators who voted against you, and if you hit the ones that voted for you, then they’ll change their mind, and due to the difficulty of winning that type of battle, it’s not recommended.

The last thing I want to talk about here is Item Worlds. See, each item you possess in this game has a little micro-world inside of it with it’s own residents. You can enter the item and defeat the enemies that live within the item and progress through levels of increasing difficulty to improve the item. Each floor you progress will level the item up one level, but you can only leave after every 10th floor. Most of the creatures in the world are hostile, but some are specialists, and if you can defeat them, they will improve other stats as well. It’s a very unique and interesting concept, but it is very difficult to level an item up, even a simple one, so it’s best to tackle it after some leveling up.

As you can see, the game is pretty complex, and is more complex than even most strategy RPGs. Despite that, you can make it as simple as you want to be. You don’t have to use the Geo Panels or the Item Worlds, but it makes it that much more fun and exciting. And the fact that you can level up not only your characters, but also your special abilities, your weapons and your assembly rank makes it that much cooler. Rock on, dood!

Graphics
There is some contention with the graphics of this title, but I don’t really see why. The game is designed with heavily cartoony/anime influences, and both the character portraits and the actual game graphics reflect that. The characters are all interesting and well designed, and color is used very well with everybody. I believe that all the graphics are sprite based (it doesn’t LOOK like cel shading anyway), which is a nice change of pace, and the fact that it’s pretty hard for me to tell says a lot about how good the graphics are.

The complaint that some have about the game is the scan lines. If you look really closely while playing this game, you will notice horizontal lines that go across the screen. They don’t vibrate or anything, but it just looks like a gap in the graphics. Personally, they don’t bother me, and probably would be unnoticable unless you have a large TV.

Game levels aren’t huge, but all are designed very well with the setting in mind. When you’re in a castle or a cave, it’s obvious that that is where you are. Nothing really sticks out like a sore thumb as with most games. So overall, from characters to environment, the graphics are great. It’s beautiful, dood!

Sound
While the music, for the most part is so-so, it doesn’t really stand out. Everything fits well, mind you, but it’s not special in any way. So I’d have to say that they did an average job on the music, about what you’d expect from a game and nothing more.

The voice acting however is simply spectacular. Clearly, Atlus chose some anime voice actors for the task since many of the voices are very familiar to me. I’m almost positive that Laharl is played by Mona Marshall, who also played Kite in .hack//INFECTION. There is also the angel Flonne who is almost surely played by Sandy Fox, who played the adorable Sumomo in Chobits. Etna is more of a mystery to me, but I know I’ve heard her voice before. It was speculated that she was played by Amanda Winn Lee, who is best known for playing Rei in Evangelion. Either way, all of the voice acting is top notch. Since there is no lip syncing to be done, there is no choppy speech and everything sounds so natural. I have to admit, I’m getting more and more pleased with games and their use of anime voice actors, not only because I love the actors anyway, but they’re f*cking good at what they do, unlike SOME of the actors from a CERTAIN Squaresoft game with a couple of F’s and an X in the title. Because really, if the voice acting sucks, then it ruins everything. The definitely get it right in this game though. Dood? Dood!

Fun Factor
I guess what this boils down to is what makes the game fun? Well, kicking ass does for one thing, and you can do that. Leveling up is fun for some, and you certainly can do that. With the leveling up of your characters, your skills, your weapons, your assembly rank, everything, you’re never gonna be out of stuff to do in the game. Especially since you can get VERY high levels. Level 99? Fuck that. Level 999? If you want. Level 9999? That could be the limit, but I don’t know if anyone could reach it and stay sane.

But the most fun thing about the game is the story. Oh, man, the story is easily one of the most unique and interesting, yet funny, stories I’ve seen in a game. And the way it’s presented is classic. The end of each episode features a little anime-style goofy next episode treatment by one of the main characters that is really very silly. And there are obvious parodies of other shows and games, and even a little homage to our own Alex Lucard that you may never see. So everything in the game is fantastic, and both Nippon Ichi in development and Atlus in localization deserve a big thanks, because it doesn’t get much better than this. Aye aye, dood!

Ratings
Gameplay: 9
Graphics: 8
Sound: 8
Fun Factor: 9

Short Attention Span Summary
If you are a fan of strategy RPGs of any sort, then do yourself a favor and buy this game. It may be hard to find though, because not only is it pretty popular, but it also looks like there weren’t a whole lot of them released. This game will not be enjoyed by non-RPG fans though. I mean, if you’ve played RPGs and just don’t “get it”, then you’ll hate this game. You may like the story, but all those battles will be too boring for you, so just avoid the game. To RPG fans, BUY THE GAME, dood!