Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (PS2) - Part 2

This is the second part of my Disgaea article. If you're looking for the first part it's over here: Part one.

It feels wrong to leave all this space under the picture empty, so I'll throw in some I'll throw in some pointless Disgaea trivia for you as a bonus: the game's so small that in Europe and Japan it comes on a dark blue CD instead of the typical PS2 DVD. The US version on the other hand comes on a regular boring DVD and uses the extra space to include both the English and Japanese voices.


Just because Laharl's trying to claim a title that's kind of rightfully his, doesn't mean he can't be a dick while he's doing it. On the next few stages we're going to break into someone's castle, kill all their guards, kill them, and leave with everything the Prinnies can carry. We don't even know who the guy is!

Makes me wonder how Etna's getting on in the alternative Etna Mode timeline without the Prince around to drag her into his obsessive quest for power.

Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness (PSP)
Wow, it did not take her long to go off the deep end.

There's a decent amount of story in Disgaea, mostly playing out in these short visual novel sequences before and after certain levels, but there's no dialogue choices to make and no way for me influence anything plot-related besides the ending I eventually get. You won't find a hint of role playing in this tactical RPG.


Come on, step down from your tower and take the Prinny bait you spiky-haired bastard! Also look, Etna’s wounded right now and easy prey for you. Pay no attention to the fact that those Geo Symbols are currently giving everyone on yellow tiles 50% extra defence and an extra attack per round.

It's often better to lure enemies out to me rather than face them on their own terms, especially if they're in a group. I can check an enemy's special attacks and movement range at any time, so I know exactly where to put my people as bait without putting them at risk of getting harmed. Though these are just Prinnies I'm using now so I don't much care if they get hit. My characters will soon have enough mana to fill out my squad with more humanoid units like my Mage who can actually throw things and equip weapons.


I am an artistocrat with both strength and beauty... The call moi the "Dark Adonis".
A few stages later and I've finally ran into the castle's owner. He's a reasonably friendly demon with a faux French accent and disturbing abs called Vyers, but he prefers to be called the "Dark Adonis".

Your new name is "Mid-Boss".
Laharl sees it as it is though.

So now the Prince and his team of newbies is up against their first proper boss. I managed to beat this guy the first time I played the game, but not on my first try, and I was being more... proactive with my levelling back then. Let's see how well I do without any grinding.

Okay, Mid-Boss has got five level 3 worm ghost things, with two over in the corner guarding his Geo Symbol stash. Those Geo Symbols are giving an archer and wind mage a 6x boost to their level 4 stats and an extra attack per turn, letting them cover all paths in overlapping circles of two-fold instant death. Plus he has two level 4 warriors with swords standing behind them as his personal guard, and Mid-Boss himself is a level 6 mid-boss with over 200 HP.

I have a level 5 Laharl, a level 4 ice mage, a level 3 Etna, and a bunch of cannon fodder. I am entirely fucked.

BUT, only two of his enemies are ranged and it might be possible to throw Laharl past them over to the Geo Symbols on the bottom left with minimal casualties. I can pick up stacks of people you see, for extra throwing distance! Shame I can’t just throw enemies off the sides of the map.


Can you tell what I did wrong here?

I used Laharl to pick up the closest of the three Geo Symbols and throw it away, weakening the Mid-Boss's Mage and Archer slightly, and ended my turn. Then on the enemy turn one of the ghosts next to Laharl came over and sat on the now-empty red square, receiving the Geo Symbol stat boost and becoming an unstoppable god. I think… I just lost.

UNLESS I send Laharl four squares over to the last pyramid, pick it up, and then throw it behind him to block the path! That'll buy him enough time to eat one of the three pathetic 40 HP health items in the team’s shared inventory, while my other characters duck back into the safety of the Base Panel.


I've killed the closest ghosts with some team attacks, and it seems that most enemies are happy to stay put until I get into their range. The Geo Symbols are all gone now so I could theoretically kill that pesky archer, but my Blue Mage can only aim magic within the tiles highlighted red and she's a square away!

Fortunately I can just choose a two square diagonal area of effect, aim the first square within the red area and then rotate it so the second is over her head! The designers definitely understood the appeal of feeling like you're outsmarting the game systems and doing things you're not supposed to.

Mages unlock new patterns as they go, with bigger areas of effect costing more SP. Using a two square spell on a one square enemy will burn through my magic twice as fast, but I'm sure I've got enough left in the tank to kill one of them. And if not I can always throw a Prinny over to finish the job.

Oh balls. I didn't know he had a ranged skill!

Mid-Boss just went and killed my level 5 Mage in a single (Adonic) shot! On the plus side he’s got limited SP too so he can’t keep doing that. He'll have to switch to one-shot punching my team to death instead.

Okay new plan, everyone back in the Base Panel! He won’t move unless he has a target, which means I might have a chance to sneak around the back of the stage with Laharl and kill his warriors while he's over here.

Nope, Mid-Boss is definitely out for blood now, he’s going straight for Laharl with every turn.


Okay. All the enemies but Mid-Boss are now dead. I’ve been luring the Dark Adonis back and forth across the level with a Prinny while Laharl crept around and killed his men one at a time with Hurricane Slashes and straight up violence.
Now I just have to figure out how to kill a guy with 213 HP when my best character has 65.

Kinda wish the game had mid-level saves right now.


I am so lucky I figured this trick out before I ran out of characters.

Mid-Boss is an incredibly tough character at this point in the game, but he does have two weakness I can exploit:
  1. He has to move so he's standing right next to a character before he can hit them, 
  2. He can't do a damn thing to stop me from picking him up and throwing him over this gap. Over and over again.
He'll instantly counter punch me right back during my own turn if I hit with a standard attack, but I can use special moves just fine until my SP runs out. I just wait for him to walk around the chasm, step next to him and Hurricane Slash him with Laharl, and then throw him away again with my Brawler.



Well it's my first try on this playthrough anyway, I've beaten him before. But the point is, that I'm not all that great at these games and I'm still making good progress without putting in any extra work to replay stages and build up my team. The Disgaea games have a reputation for being grindy, and it's well deserved, but that's more for the insane post game content, where the enemy levels reach the thousands. The last boss in the story on the other hand is only level 90!

I'm not saying that the game won't get eventually get too tough for me, but it's plausible that you can finish this with brains rather than patience.

Anyway that's Episode 1 finished with.

Meanwhile while the Prinnies are working hard carrying off all the loot, Etna sneaks off to meet with a mysterious character... where she reveals that she’s secretly conspiring to betray Laharl and help them take the throne instead! Turns out that Laharl overslept because she poisoned him, and he's still far weaker and more vulnerable than he used to be as a result.

Also back at the Mid-Boss's castle, a mysterious pink Prinny tells the others that they only have to keep working for the Prince until the next red moon. Ominous.

And up in sunny Celestia, the angels are scheming to assassinate Laharl’s dead father. Uh… what?

The plot’s gotten all kinds of thicker all of a sudden, which is fitting because Angel Trainee Flonne here is a thick as they come. Well she's not actually dumb, she actually has a very high intelligence stat, it's just that she's spent her entire life with her head literally above the clouds.


Huh, I've found one of the only locked gates in the Netherworld, and the key is to be holding a level 10 item. This means... that I've finally gotten my invitation to visit the Item World, the fun alternative to grinding the same stage over and over again!

Here I get to bring my characters through a procedurally generated multi-level side dungeon that just happens to be inside an item… somehow. I'm still not sure how that works.
If I manage to survive long enough make it down to the 10th floor, the crappy Common Sword I've chosen to explore will advance to level 10 and become a little bit more powerful! I could’ve levelled up something more impressive, but I don’t want to push my luck on my first time through. Better items means tougher enemies and it'll cost me my only Mr Gency's Exit item to escape if I get in trouble.

The Item World often goes crazy with the Geo Panels, which is good when some of them have Invincibility on them. I can throw some monsters together to level them up, beat them up with Laharl and Etna, then let my new characters get the finishing blow and all the experience for a quick level up or two.

Or on the other hand, if there's an EXP reward or two in the Bonus Gauge I can detonate the Geo Symbols to change the colour of the tiles they're on and hurt all the enemies standing there. If I can destroy another Geo Symbol in the process that'll change the colour again, and so on for a massive bonus.

Though I only get my prizes from the Bonus Gauge if I kill all enemies, and sometimes the procedural level generation puts the little bastards off on their own floating islands beyond my throw or special attack range. Fortunately if a stage is unwinnable through combat there'll always be a yellow level exit portal handy, often reachable in one turn through a cunning series of throws.

Or in this case by killing the Red Skull Mage guarding it, then taking two steps to the left.

I mentioned earlier that items have little people inside to boost their stats, and here's one now, marked by his yellow health bar. These poor specialists are hated by every enemy on the stage, so it's my job to beat them up before someone else does it. This lets me collect them, move them between items and combine them with others of the same type.

Now this crappy sword is slightly better than my expensive Swordbreaker! I can level up all my items like this one at time, and collect better items in the process which I can also level up! I could be trapped here for hours playing through random stages if I’m not careful and end up massively overpowered for the story maps. A plan with no drawbacks!

The game actually does have a way to compensate for this, involving... the Dark Assembly.

This Dark Assembly screen is where I created my new characters earlier, but it's got other uses too, which unlock as I pass promotion exams by winning solo fights. I intended to get a screenshot of the 'Stronger Enemies' proposal which would make the game harder to balance out excessive training in the Item World, but it turns out I have to be rank 5 to unlock that. I can get 'More Expensive Stuff' in shops though, that's pretty good!

There's also a Transmigrate option which wipes out a character's levels and mana and restarts them at level 1. Sounds pointless, but this is the key to ultimate power as they start with improved base stats (and non-story characters can reincarnate as a better class).

Creating new characters and transmigration doesn't even ping on the senators' radar, but if I propose one of these other bills they're going to want to get the Assembly together and call a vote.

There's two ways to win a vote: bribery or violence.

Bribery involves going around the benches, finding the higher level senators, and giving away items out of my item bag to win their support. Certain items have more of an effect than others, but the actual value doesn’t seem to be important, so I've dropped any valuable items into my warehouse and loaded up on cheap health items to give out instead.

Bribery in action!

The violent approach would've involved me going out there and killing all who opposed me (or throwing them all into my highest level supporter). Doubt that would've worked out for me though, and you definitely don't make friends in high places by climbing up there and stabbing them. I'm trying to make it easier to pass these bloody bills not harder!

To be honest this definitely isn't my favourite part of the game and I try to avoid it as much as possible. Gotta have those better shop items though.


I likely won't have to grind during the story, but man the game likes to tempt me sometimes. Four easy to kill smoking pumpkinheads conveniently arranged on a square of EXP + 100% tiles isn't exactly subtle.

Oh FINE, I'll grind for a few levels. I've gotten up to episode 4 just fine without it but I'd like to get a couple of my weaker characters up to level 10 to unlock some new classes. I've got a real shortage of Ninjas and Samurai in my crew. Repeating the same level 3 times over is still more fun than the Dark Assembly.


Oh right, this is a Japanese game isn’t it?

It's very well localised though, to the point where even some of the item descriptions made me crack up. The humour's definitely not going to click with everyone, but even if you can't stand the dialogue or characters it's usually easy enough to bypass them and skip to the bit where little sprite people beat each other up.

I'm going to quit showing Disgaea screenshots now, I promise, but first I want to talk about how story stages can be set up like puzzles. Because that's a thing the game likes to do sometimes.

Also I forgot to show a shot of all my characters stacked up in a tower, so I'm getting that done now.

The trick on this stage is that it's covered in Invincibility tiles, so the enemies can't be killed and neither can my guys (unless I do something stupid like ending the turn while they're still stacked up, I bet that'll kill someone).

There's actually ONE tile free, right next to the Invincibility Geo Symbol, so the solution is kind of obvious. But I'm not going to turn the Invincibility off, I'm going to throw all of the enemies over into that square until they form one single ultra-tough enemy and then I'm going to whoop its ass from a position of absolute safety. Because cheating the system is exactly how Disgaea is supposed to be played. In the Netherworld playing dirty isn't just permitted, it's encouraged.


If I'd gone one stage further I'd have ended up on the map which has a Tsunami Bomb track playing, so I'll leave the song here to make my conclusions seem even more exciting (for 2 minutes 25 seconds): YouTube Link.

Like I said before, I'm not generally the biggest fan of tactical games, so it came as a bit of a surprise to me when I found out that Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is actually my kind of thing. It rivals games like Terraria, Transport Tycoon and Civilization in the way that it steals hours away from me without me noticing or caring. In fact it's actually a good thing that Disgaea doesn't have a PC version, because then I'd have to uninstall it before I could ever get anything else done.

Speaking of ports, the PS2 version looks and sounds the best, the DS version has the most features, and the PSP version is somewhere in the middle. The handheld versions let you skip battle animations though which is a pretty welcome option as watching Winged Slayer over and over has lost its appeal.

The gameplay on its own is solid and the story's strangely interesting, but I think it's the team development that makes it so addictive. There's always something to do to make your characters better or unlock new classes, and it likely involves diving back into the game for another few stages. There's no tension in this side of the game, no way to ever permanently screw your team up and make the story unbeatable, so if you're into Ironman runs and permadeath you might be disappointed. Plus I can see how people could be put off by the way you can grind all the story mode's challenge away, but no one's forcing you to do it and you can raise the enemy levels to match. On the other hand the enemies escalate to insane stats if you play the post game battles, to the point where finding a technique to gain hundreds of levels in a sensible amount of time becomes the real challenge. I've only ever gotten my team up to the low thousands before I got entirely sick of that though.

Speaking of the team, it's weird how likeable the cast is, considering that they're set up to be annoying quirky cartoon characters and that the humour can be hit and miss. I mean I was on Laharl and Etna's side from the first cutscene, they're tough proactive protagonists who've got better things to do than save the world or collect crystals, but as the game got more serious and began to examine why they are who they are... I found I was cool with that too. And by 'cool' I mean I still get a single manly tear in my eye whenever this song plays: YouTube link.

One big problem I should mention though, is that it's possible to shift from the good ending to the normal ending with just ONE accidental ally kill, and you're not necessarily going to notice that you've done it. The bad endings on the other hand require some real effort to get (mostly involving killing allies). It's not a perfect game.

But I've completed Disgaea enough times now that I'd really have to give it a shiny golden trophy even if it wasn't one of my all-time favourites. Which it is.


Well I've learned something today: don't ever write about Disgaea, it takes too many words. In fact I should stop writing about RPGs in general... not that this is even an RPG.

But if you have anything you want to write about Disgaea, the utterly misleading tactical RPG genre, my article, my site in general etc. feel free to make use of the comment box below.


  1. 2 days before the Hell Yeah!: Wrath of the Dead Rabbit adventure got posted on your site I started to play Disgaea 4 to clear it off of my back logs. Still need to beat D2 and then wait till October for Disgaea 5 and hope to god they make the gun weapons better then Disgaea 4, They Nerfed the crap out of them.

    1. I'll like to add, that I think Disgaea: Hour of Darkness had one of the more appealing stories if you compare it with the Disgaea Series so far (Still working on the last chapter of Disgaea 4) Unless Disgaea 4 drops me a few curve balls on the story. I would put Disgaea: Hour of Darkness on first for the best story, Disgaea 4 on second, then Disgaea 2 and Disgaea 3 last.

      D2 (what I played of it, 5 chapters before my hard-drive failed in my PS3) it has some good ideas but mostly skip able if you came for the story. The best Idea to come from D2 was the cheat shop makes grinding a whole lot easier

  2. That shop music is less Circus and more Generic Arabian Nights, oompahpah aside, if you ask me, which you didn't, so er...

    I really want to like the Disgaea series. I like the art style, I like the setting, I like the sense of humour, but I can't get my head around playing the games. it's weird because I play all srts of tabletop rpgs with silly, complicated rules, but when I've got a console doing the maths for me, I can't figure it out and I get lost.

    Still, I'll give it another try one day. I have Disgaea 4 right here, unplayed.

    1. I wish I had Disgaea 4 (and a PS3 to play it on).

      Yeah, I was thinking that track seemed a bit Arabian Nightsy too, same with Laharl's outfit, but after spending a minute trying to figure out a good way to phrase that observation that didn't betray my total ignorance of Middle Eastern music and fashion I got bored and wrote 'circus' instead. The game definitely likes to take aspects of different cultures and throw them all together at once in a way that just feels natural.

      My advice if you play Disgaea 4 is to have GameFAQs or the wiki handy and check it whenever the game's being vague about something or you've forgotten whether Archers need high Hit or Atk. Also if it's anything like Disgaea 1 then things like item specialists and reincarnation can be ignored entirely if you're not trying to beat the post game; a lot of the complexity is optional.

    2. Thanks for the advice! I got the battles worked out, more or less -- although the magic floor panels still confuse me -- but there's this weird sub-game that's sort of like the parliament in the first one and they explain it in about ten words then leave you to it with no further help. Argh.

      Anyway, I'll give it another go once I've finished the stack of started-but-not-finished games I have here.

      Next game: no idea, but it looks like it's from the Amiga or Mega Drive.

    3. You've got a good eye for game graphics, it's from the Amiga AND Mega Drive.

    4. Oh, it's Skeleton Krew, isn't it?


Semi-Random Game Box