"Accessed once you complete the original adventure (or with a code from the title screen), Etna Mode is a retelling of the classic story that begins with Etna trying to wake Laharl from his slumber... then accidentally shooting him in the head. As the late Overlord's son crumples into his casket, the red-headed heroine realizes she has a problem. The nearly 40 hours of gameplay that follow answer the question of what the Netherworld would do without its self-absorbed prince."
Portable gaming is about sacrifices. Developers make genuine efforts to squeeze the fun you can have with a console game onto a cartridge or tiny disc, but even the most admirable projects seem to be plagued by maddening issues. Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness on the PSP is the exception. In fact, it actually includes hours of additional content! That's good for both newcomers and returning veterans alike, but some may have questions. For example, what is Disgaea even about? How good is the new content? Is it still worth buying the handheld version of the game if you already own the original?
In a nutshell, Disgaea is a comical SRPG along the lines of something like Final Fantasy Tactics, only with a warped sense of humor and character customization so deep and engaging that you just might start playing in the early afternoon and not take a break until it's time for lunch the next day. Fans of Disgaea are drawn either to the unexpectedly comical plot twists or for the joy that comes from building a legion of loyal troops... or both. They play hundreds of hours because of the multiple endings or to see how it feels to go through with a bulked up dragon (or other beast). If you have a lot of time to spend with games but not a lot of money, there's perhaps no better investment than Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness.
Those who lost a few weeks to the original might dread the thought of starting over again. For people of that mindset, there is “Etna Mode.” Accessed once you complete the original adventure (or with a code from the title screen), this new option is a retelling of the classic story that begins with Etna trying to wake Laharl from his slumber... then accidentally shooting him in the head. As the late Overlord's son crumples into his casket, the red-headed heroine realizes she has a problem. The nearly 40 hours of gameplay that follow answer the question of what the Netherworld would do without its self-absorbed prince.
Etna Mode plays similarly to the original adventure. The level hub is the same, as are the items you can obtain throughout your adventure. You can still talk to the demon Senate if you want to develop new characters and skills, still venture deep into the bottomless Item World. In fact, you'll have to do all of that--extensively--if you want to reach the closing credits in one piece. From almost the first tutorial screen, it's clear that the difficulty has been ramped up significantly. Even within a single episode, you might be expected to gain 10 or 15 levels just to survive. Most battles don't involve the tricky Geo panel placement that was a hallmark of the later adventure's final areas. Instead, there are hordes of powerful monsters and you must either overpower them quickly or face annihilation. Each new encounter is challenging enough that none feel like filler.
Plot in Etna Mode isn't abundant, but it is interesting. Even in the original game, it was clear from the start that Etna had her own personality and agenda. In Afternoon of Darkness, you get glimpses into her childhood and motivations as she tries to piece together that which was taken from her. There are a few new gags, mostly involving Flonne, and there are several key characters from Hour of Darkness that don't appear at all. The extra content isn't as memorable as the original, but at least the localization seems solid (outside of the word 'transofmration' in one line of dialog).
Happily, all of the new text has been voiced by capable actors. The only complaint in that department is that some of the people lending their talents this time around don't sound quite right. That's not to say they do a bad job, just that both Etna and the prinnies sound a little like they're coming down from a helium-induced high (more than usual, even). Most players will probably decide that the localization effort for Disgea: Hour of Darkness was handled better, but the differences are minor enough that loyal fans will adapt within a few minutes.
That only leaves the question of whether or not the PSP hardware gets in the way of the experience. As many fans will attest, past NIS America games have suffered from horrendous load times of the variety that could make even Disgaea unplayable. Fortunately, that didn't happen here. For the most part, any 'now loading' interludes last only a few seconds and occur no more frequently than they might on a console. Unless you can't stand load times at all (enjoy your 16-bit games, you), there's really no reason to complain. Disc access typically isn't irritating in any other way, either. The PSP streams data fairly steadily throughout your play session, but that doesn't keep the excellent soundtrack or dialog from coming through the speakers crisply. You can even sample voice work and choose what music plays in the Item World, if you wish.
Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness's chief problem is that it's so addictive. The PSP wasn't really built for marathon gaming sessions, so the result can be a stiff neck if you don't take breaks to relax every now and again. It's hard to hold that against Disgaea, though. Similarly, it's difficult to suggest gameplay tweaks that wouldn't lead to unpleasant complications. The system at play here works every bit as well in 2007 as it did four years ago, with the new content ensuring that Disgaea is worth buying all over again. If you didn't like it the first time around, you certainly won't now, but most people will be pleased that no one tried to fix things that weren't broken in the first place. Thank the stars!
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 04, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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