It’s hard to believe that four years have gone by since Disgaea steam-rolled its way onto the PlayStation 2 and completely obliterated expectations for the strategy role-playing game genre. Bizarre, darkly-humored, and at times completely sadistic, the storyline typified the kind of experience only Japan could offer. Add to it expressive 2D sprites, insanely high level and damage caps, crazy character customizability, and a refreshing amount of depth to create the quirkiest, most addicting strategy-based RPG we’d ever seen. And guess what? It’s back in what can only be considered the definitive version on the PSP.
For those who haven’t experienced it--and here’s the obligatory, what are you waiting for!?-- Disgaea is a grid-based tactical adventure that is fast-paced and endless. Extra stages, the Item World, and a brand new Etna mode are just some of the ways to waste countless hours. Putting more than 100 hours into this is nothing exemplary: it’s that kind of game. Fear not though, the game can be played on a minimal level, with Laharl and company, a few extra characters, and not too much digging below the surface. Thankfully, the fun doesn’t end for those who like to exploit every possible challenge. Want to unlock advanced character classes or take on really difficult enemies? Disgaea has you covered. Want to make a sword powerful enough to level an entire battlefield? Just spend plenty of time in the Item World leveling it up.
Battles will be familiar to those who’ve experience strategy-based games before, though Geo Symbols add additional variables to each match. Geo Symbols change the base attributes of certain squares. These effects can be combined by throwing all symbols onto the same color, and then can be destroyed netting a higher item reward at the end of the match. Beyond normal attacks, skills and spells level up with use. Character tossing, team and combo attacks, and other goodies make battles as much fun the first time as the tenth, which is good for those who want to power-level and take on some of the really difficult extra stages. Getting things done in Disgaea means you have to provide incentives to coax the Dark Assembly into passing bills that range from more expensive shop items, to new stages, to increased counter attack rates. Sometimes, despite your best bribery, the Assembly with veto your bill time and again. You can always muscle your way to a victory, by taking out all the naysayers present.
This is great, but what about those of us who have already played the game to death? Well, there are incentives for veterans and newcomers alike. The sheer length of Disgaea lends itself perfectly to the portability of the PSP. The sprites have never looked better and the widescreen presentation looks sharp and colorful. Added is the completely new Etna story mode, shedding even more light on this sadistic flat-chested vassal. NIS even included a head-to-head mode for friends who want to customize battles and pit their mega-armies against each another. Veterans will notice other additions such as a music shop and even more extra stages (with appearances from Disgaea 2 and more).
Disgaea is brilliant stuff. Where else can a bubbly fallen angel butt heads with a bratty, ambitious prince hoping to become Overlord of the Netherworld? The story is funny and well-paced. The action is addicting and only really outclassed by its sequel (let’s hope Disgaea 2 gets the same portable treatment!). The game is deep, so much so that you may discover new things when playing through this again and again. If you’re new to the experience, don’t get overwhelmed by all the options. Take it slow and play the game at your pace. That’s the beauty of this adventure. Following the obnoxious Laharl as he fights to become overlord is a truly unique experience that has been ported exquisitely to the PSP. This is one of a handful of must own games on the PSP, and another reminder that amidst all this high definition nonsense--originality, solid artwork, and fun are still as necessary as ever.