I recently decided that I should rethink my stance on the JRPG genre based on some recent releases. Their reasonable approach to character behaviours and emotions really countered a lot of the prejudices I held for games of that style. So when given the opportunity to review Disgaea PC, a PC port of the PSP game Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, itslef a port of the original Disgaea on the PS2, I didn’t even hesitate and jumped right in. Unfortunately I realised quite quickly that I was going to be paying for my haste…
Almost the entirety of the narrative setup for Disgaea PC is conveyed in a brief cutscene at the start of the game. You play as Laharl, a demon and son of the deceased King Krichevskoy, lord of the Netherworld. Awoken from a two year slumber by the demon vassal Etna, Laharl sets out to reclaim his self-proclaimed rightful throne to the Netherworld. It’s clear that the writers intended for the game to be openly humorous throughout, with irreverent comedy and one-liners galore in the dialogue. Unfortunately, I found the majority of it more embarrassing than amusing, this prevented me actually growing attached to, or even liking any of the characters. The story ramps up fairly quickly as you are introduced to new followers fairly consistently throughout the game; these companions represent different character tropes, with a few wild cards thrown in for good measure. The plot really takes some interesting turns, and if you truly find the dialogue funny, then I’m sure you’ll be sucked right in.
Disgaea PC uses a turn-based system in battle, placed on a grid system where you set actions for all of your party members and can choose to either execute them immediately, or stack them all and have them performed in order at the end of the turn. I can see how this would allow for some seriously complicated strategies, especially combined with a couple of standout features of the game. The first, called the Geo Panels system, places objects on the battle grids which give bonus effects of some kind to every unit standing on a same-coloured panel. These generally directly buff or debuff allies and enemies standing on the appropriately coloured tile, which is in itself not so amazing, but combined with the other mechanic, the ability to pick up and throw units and items, it can set up some ridiculous startegies. The Geo Panels can be manipulated by throwing or even destroying Geo Symbols to level the playing field against the usually overwhelming enemy numbers.
Fans of min-maxing their parties will rejoice at the mind bending amount of items and character options available, and with every character being able to be levelled to 9999 (!!!) and then reset to be levelled all over again will provide a ridiculous amount of play time, provided you can put up with particularly repetitive core gameplay. You can also create your own party members, though creating more effective and useful units requires interaction with something called the Dark Assembly. This system also limits the progression of the game, requiring you to submit proposals to a group of Senators, who must be swayed to your side using bribes or physical force. You must also have enough mana (acquired by more grinding) to push through a proposal.
The environments have been given a big boost in fidelity
The core gameplay clearly has a lot of potential if you’re really into planning out the perfect approach to turn based combat, and given the harsh difficulty curve of the game you’ll need to be! Unfortunately at the time of writing, there were several bugs present that caused me massive frustration, preventing me from selecting units or executing actions 50% of the time and at times even performing the wrong actions to the ones I initially selected. This made an already time consuming game extra frustrating for me.
Since the original version of the game, and its PSP port, the environments have been given a big boost in fidelity, which as you’ll be spending a lot of time looking at them is fantastic, the art for the characters in dialogue is very well done, even if the art style isn’t to my taste. The character sprites are another matter though, still looking dated, even with the PC exclusive graphical setting enabled. There are some seriously over the top animations for powerful attacks, as you’d expect from a game of this genre, though I grew quite tired of them after the first few times, and you’ll be seeing each one A LOT if you intend to level up your party much. Not too shabby looking, but still looks like a mobile game.
Disgaea PC was a little impenetrable for me, and didn’t feel like a title that suited the platform. A faithfully updated port with tonnes of content, unfortunately a lot of said content is quite bland, though I’m sure fans of the franchise will be pleased. On it’s own merits however, the dialogue and repetitive play kept me from enjoying it.