Disgaea DS (DS) review
"It's this trio that quickly become the driving force of Disgaa, be it through Etna's constant sadistic mocking every time Laharl makes a mistake or Flonne's unflagging insistence that both of her new demon friends are basically good people underneath all the mindless slaughtering and evil cackling. Such is the force behind the threesome's interactions that it's all too easy to forget that there's a competent strategy game lurking between all the comic capering. "
Disgaea is a turn based strategy that really goes that extra mile. In the very first stage, Demon-Prince Laharl lays siege to a randomly-picked stronghold belonging to one of the many challenges to his late father's throne as King of the Netherworld. It's the home of an outspoken rebel upstart with big designs on the power that slipped from Laharl's grasp as he slumbered for two years, and the drowsy would-be overlord is keen to regain his status. After slogging his way through the stronghold's army of goons, aided by his sharp-tongued vassal, Etna, and a trio of simplified penguins, he finally reaches the heart of the keep where he is greeted warmly by the lord of the manor. Drawing himself to his full height and resisting a stylish hair flick with all his might, the Dark Adonis lets the rose grasped between his teeth fall to the floor while he congratulates Laharl's superior strategy to take out his biggest threat to the throne early. He finds his audience less than captivated at his eloquent, heart-felt speech; they're too busy bickering amongst themselves to care what the Demon Lord has to say. When Adonis finally snags some attention, his sense of self-worth is shattered as neatly as the fourth wall as Laharl casually dismisses him, changing his name from Dark Adonis to Mid-Boss.
Mid-Boss stands, looking utterly alone and heartbroken, as he's completely ignored once more in favour of further infighting.
But! Should Mid-Boss have the last laugh and prevail in this battle, he earns a faux ending sequence that plays behind Laharl's Game Over screen, complete with victorious organ music, mock endgame credits and a somewhat surprised admittance from the victor that he probably shouldn't have won that fight before breaking into mass gloating. It's a step a lot of gamers will never see as they roll over Mid-Boss' forces, but it's there, nonetheless. It's that little bit of extra effort ploughed into Disgaea that has endeared it to so many.
It's a game that runs on personality. Chapters are bracketed by pseudo-anime previews voiced by Etna as she fantasises about becoming a super space sleuth or a magical pinch hitter in a minnow devil baseball league with unrealised dreams of grandeur. Laharl himself is nothing more than a spoiled and selfish rich-kid brat prone to petulant tantrums should he not get his own way. A few stages in, and they're rounded out with the arrival of Flonne, a bubble-headed angel sent from the heavens to assassinate someone long since dead who hums her own theme tune as she snakes between castle pillars with all the stealth and guile of a neon strobe light in a power surge.
It's this trio that quickly become the driving force of Disgaa, be it through Etna's constant sadistic mocking every time Laharl makes a mistake or Flonne's unflagging insistence that both of her new demon friends are basically good people underneath all the mindless slaughtering and evil cackling. Such is the force behind the threesome's interactions that it's all too easy to forget that there's a competent strategy game lurking between all the comic capering.
The most praise can be heaped around just how much Disgaea can give you to do. While the basic formula behind everything remains the same as every TBS that's come before it, there's enough fresh ideas to find the battling invigorating. Your army has a few staple characters in it, such as the main three and the Prinny squad, which consists of three mercenary soul-sucking penguins, but the rest of your troops are made from scratch using magical power you gain after defeating numerous foes, be these human-esque warriors of all the staple job classes, or copies of the monsters you've defeated in the past. Battles are played on fields often divided into toned areas that you can add statuses to, like attack buffs or random teleportation that throws your forces from one side of the screen to the other. There's limitless scope for endless gaming, giving you extras such as delving into any and all items you own to take on the hidden worlds within them (and level up the item depending how deep into the 100 floors you delve) plus the chance to capture residents that lurk there and move them into differing items to bolster given statistics. You can hold regular meetings with the Demon Council, asking them to pass laws on what goods Larharl's item shop can sell or to cough up some war funds, and convince them either by good old-fashioned bribery or violence. You can replay old levels to try and train up newly-created soldiers, take on one-versus-many fights to bolster the reputation of individual fighters or just plough ahead with the main game's story mode.
There's no denying that Disgaea is a great game. However! There's reason to criticise Disgaea DS for being a lacking port.
Obviously, trade-offs need to be made when downgrading a game made for the Playstation 2 onto a handheld like the DS. The title's stellar voice acting is cut down, reserved for scenes bracketing chapters, as are many of the character's profiles and other such artwork. You can label this give and take, if feeling charitable; Disgaea DS needed to be scaled back, but now it's portable and multi-playing over wi-fi a worthy addition. It might be a fair point if the PSP port didn't do all this without a fraction of the cutbacks or the drop in sound and graphical quality.
But then, more people own a DS than a PSP, so that choice isn't often available. So, I say to all of you with only the DS as a viable machine to play Disgaea on that I'm sorry; you're stuck with the weakest port of the game. Excusable though the last list of complaints rattled off might be, the complete mess that is the DS' strain of a control is without defence. You can guide your armies around with just the stylus and find yourself massively missing the shortcut keys that take you straight to a menu with no fuss, but playing without the stylus seems to leave the DS with too few buttons to perform some of the simplest tasks, like turning a character around so they don't display their backs to a horde of enemies. The only way to exhibit full control over the game is to use a clumsy combination of both the system's face keys and awkward stylus prodding, which is a lot to ask to simply turn around 90°.
Perhaps it sounds like I'm nitpicking, and perhaps I am, but imagine being taken in by a game that you can quite literally sink an infinite amount of hours into and still have something different to do if you so wish, but having to do so with a control scheme as streamlined as the entire continent of Africa. Disgaea DS doesn't play up to DS strengths and, in a bizarre twist, manages to take what makes the system unique and warp it into a flaw. The blueprints of a fantastic game remain present and correct, and no amount of clumsy can truly muddy that up, but there are better ways to experience the game, and I think it's important to voice that. It wouldn't be much of a Disgaea review otherwise.
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