Disgaea: Hour of Darkness – PlayStation 2
Platform: PlayStation 2
Developer: Nippon Ichi Software
Release Date: Aug. 27, 2003
Nerd Rating: 8.0 / 10
Reviewed by Rhutsczar
Alright you Baconeers, who is ready for another trip to the Netherworld? This time we are going to see the Overlord himself, instead of hanging around with those idiotic, good for nothing Prinnies (Dood not cool). Don’t worry though..his bark is just as bad as his bite. On this adventure into the Netherworld we will explore how the reign of Overlord Laharl began in Disgaea: Hour of Darkness.
Beginning two years prior to the events of the game, the Netherworld is pure chaos with many different demons trying to gain the current title of Overlord of the Netherworld. Laharl’s father and current overlord, King Krichevskoy, dies after choking on a Netherworld delicacy (a black pretzel) while Laharl is poisoned and falls deep into a coma until the game’s prologue. Upon awaking from aforementioned coma, Laharl is found by Celestian angel trainee turned assassin Flonne and Laharl’s not so loyal vassal “Beauty Queen Etna.” Our unlikely trio band together to assist Laharl in becoming Overlord and Flonne returning to Celestia, resulting in pure hilarity and madness. Damn, what a hellish way to start!
Before I get too much further, let me explain a few ideologies and tropes Hour of Darkness touches on. While Hour of Darkness starts with the rather common angels vs demons premise, except in this case as Celestia (Heaven) vs Netherworld (Hell), the game plays with the concept quite a bit. Hour of Darkness begins strong by showing instability and civil war among the different demon races and just kind of soft balls in the intervention of Celestia. While Celestia works behind the scenes for the majority of the game, their inclusion still shows us the over-arcing struggle between the kingdoms. On a side note, Hour of Darkness tweaks the formula even more by having two leaders, Celestia’s Sir Lamington and Netherworld’s King Krichevskoy, believe that love is key between both races. Most of the warfare is caused by their subordinates who do not understand or believe in the same ideals of their leaders.
As far as actual game play goes, Hour of Darkness shares many elements, such as an isometric battle grid and turn-based combat, with other tactical RPGs such as Tactics Ogre and the Fire Emblem series. In any separate encounter, you are able to have up to ten units under your command. Pretty standard right? Well in order to tweak your experience in battle just a bit, you are able to issue commands to each unit and select what order to execute said orders instead of just attacking when you tell them to. This is actually rather useful when trying to pull off movement-based combos with your primary fighters.
Another interesting tidbit? Have you ever just wanted to pick up your enemies and allies and just throw them across the map? Now you can! This is incredibly useful for traversing the map rather quickly or throwing those explosive Prinny bastards. While it doesn’t necessarily bring much to impact the genre in any way, what it has it does well.
Now how do you actually move among the levels throughout the game? Through a dimensional gate of course (because why not)! Each chapter inhabits one world or area within the gate, while the four to five levels in each chapter are smaller areas within that world. Traveling through the gate can toss you anywhere from the Land of Prinnies and the human world to a tournament hosted by yourself to take out all of the challengers to your throne all at once. While many of the locations are rather questionable, this does add plenty of organization to the story as well as a variety of maps to destroy your foes upon.
Unlike other TRPGs I have mentioned so far, Hour of Darkness has a hub area that you can wander to purchase your items. This time around you are able to run around Laharl’s castle, allowing further interaction with the rest of Laharl’s vassals and shop keepers. The hub exploration plays rather similar to city exploration of Suikoden II, so those familiar with most JRPGs shouldn’t be confused. Why Laharl has a marketplace in his own castle I will never understand…just send out the Prinnies to do your grunt work like Etna does! That is all those damn Prinnies are good for, well that and explosions (stop throwing us dood).
By far one of the most interesting characters you can find at this hub is a rather inconspicuous ghost or zombie that serves as the clerk to the infamous Dark Assembly. What is the Dark Assembly you ask? Well it’s my job to answer those questions you didn’t really ask! In Hour of Darkness the Dark Assembly is essentially a political system that allows you to improve elements of the game such as the strength of enemies, skills, shop inventory, and hidden dungeons.
Now what do you think a demon meeting would be like? Plenty of demons trying to bribe the other parties to pass their bills. So jump right into the fray and test your skills at bribing corrupt officials. While the Dark Assembly is rather limited in its first appearance, it has been improved in later iterations.
Do you find yourself playing your favorite JRPG and constantly bored reading the text and dialogue? Hour of Darkness solves that problem for you with ease. Nippon Ichi Software hired an expert voice acting staff to provide you with a real experience while playing. Shout out to Barbara Goodson, Kim Mai Guest, and Sandy Fox for portraying the main cast of Laharl, his vassal Etna, and angel assassin Flonne. Their performances give so much more personality to each of the characters that they kept me invested in the franchise. Will they continue their roles in later games? You will have to continue to see. If you enjoy their work, you can check out the Disgaea anime where they reprise their roles.
Now when you are a demon Overlord running around slaying other demons, you need a bad ass soundtrack right? Well Hour of Darkness sure as hell provides. While most of the area encounter tracks fall on the lines of rock riffs and techno beats, the soundtrack really shines with its more comical tracks. The personal standout track for me is Laharl’s Hymn, as it is both comical and beautiful at the same time. The hymn, even though it isn’t exactly a hymn, appears multiple times throughout the game in various forms. My favorite is the full version of “Lord Laharl Hymn” from the Disgaea Custom Soundtrack.
As you actually start playing Hour of Darkness you will quickly see how much there is to complete, especially when make use of the previously mentioned Dark Assembly. Exploring the Item World, a random dungeon that exists in every single item in the game that allows for quick leveling up, will absorb most of your time. This is especially true in the later chapters, as I found myself grinding in order to take out the more powerful enemies. You will quickly find that playing through Hour of Darkness‘s end-game is just as addicting and nerve-wracking as the main story. Yet when it comes time to finally wrap up your first run through the main story, you still won’t want to put Hour of Darkness down.
Overall, Hour of Darkness is a solid beginning to a fantastically weird franchise. While it doesn’t necessarily bring anything super innovative to the TRPG genre, the elements it does contain are polished and easily mastered. Throw in some hilarious characters and a decent comedic story into the mix and you have one addictive title. If you need a new JRPG that won’t tire out your eyes with reading text and will make you laugh along the way, dive head first into the Disgaea series right where it begins.
So what did you think of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness? Feel free to leave a comment and share your experience, If we haven’t satisfied your TRPG fix yet, check out some of our other titles!
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