Disgaea: Hour of Darkness

You know those made-for-TV movies MST3k and Rifftrax do sometimes, where it obvious it was two episodes of a show that were smooshed together into a ‘movie’ because halfway through the plot resolves and the entire second half is an unrelated plot with completely different characters? That’s this game, except that the first plot was actually very good and I liked it and then 30 hours in the game ended, brought in a new cast, switched genres, and started up a completely different, worse plot, and somehow continued for another 15 hours. The whole thing was so weird, and it was so jarring and the new plot/characters so shitty I just couldn’t finish it. I ended up watching the True End on Youtube to see how the loose ends of the first plot tied up and felt totally satisfied and like I had no more questions, which goes to show how out-of-nowhere the second plot was. The game is largely worth playing through Chapter 10 (I think? It may have been 9). But there’s really no reason to finish it.

I’m publishing this concurrently with the Phantom Brave review because Phantom Brave does all the things Disgaea does well even better, has a coherent plot, and is without all the shitty sexualization, so it’s worth looking at them together, but I had too much to say about each individually for a single dual post to make sense.

Disgaea and PB are both story-heavy 2D tRPGs, and their basic mechanics are very, very similar. The character creation, summoning, and levelling systems are almost identical. The gameplay format, with cutscene > battle > back to home base >cutscene > battle > home etc. is the same, and the way the strategy is used is the same. The both also have a side dungeon and some minigames that you can use to make the gameplay deeper but that are mostly optional.

There are some small gameplay differences. Disgaea uses a combo system similar to (though not as intuitive as) Yggdra Union’s, where if you line up characters and chain attacks you do more damage, while PB has a kind of weird but fun equipment system where characters basically don’t have dedicated weapons but just use whatever is in the environment. Phantom Brave, which came out the year after Disgaea, also has some streamlining (wow did I miss the ability to filter all your mana to one character during Disgaea). Being able to see your summoned NPCs in PB was also a nice UX touch.

My point is that despite some small differences, they’re basically the same engine and same strategy, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they were developed mostly parallel to each other. They both do some interesting, if not totally unique, things that set them apart from the typical Fire Emblem-style straightforward tRPG but not from each other, and what they do isn’t so exciting that you’re missing out if you only play one, so just play PB.

The first 2/3 of Disgaea are about the death of the king of the Netherworld, and the ensuing fight to see who is going to take his place. We follow Laharl, the king’s son, and Etna, a demon who says she’s his vassal, as they attempt to conquer the other demons and bring Laharl to the throne. Meanwhile, an angel-in-training called Flonne embarks on a mission to assassinate the king, only to show up and see he died anyway. She decides to hang out anyway and see what demons are really like so she knows how they should be handled when she’s an angel. She ultimately befriends the duo as they try to handle Underworld drama. It’s actually a very cute setup, and the story is meant to be tongue-in-cheek and silly, but also has some very good serious moments and it’s largely carried by characterization. I liked the characters, liked the world, and wanted to know how things would turn out, especially with Flonne becoming progressively more synmpathetic to the demons.

The character design and costuming is interesting because basically no one is wearing clothes and everyone is sexy, including the dudes. I actually quite like Etna’s design — it’s sexy without being oversexualized.

Then the whole game turns upside and none of any of that fucking matters.

A spaceship crashes in the Netherworld because sure that makes sense and the dude is in a normal spacesuit and the woman is wearing what I can only describe as tit caps and it’s SUPER IMPORTANT THEY SAVE EARTH FROM THE EVIL CONSPIRACY and if this all sounds like complete nonsense that’s because it is. I don’t think I actually believe this was two games grafted on to each other — for whatever reason, it struck me more as a shitty writer going, “Wouldn’t that be hilarious?” and no one stopped him before it was too late.

I’m still baffled by this and I experienced it weeks ago now. It’s not even like the second half would have been good as a separate game; it was absolutely terrible. The writing was terrible, it wasn’t funny, the way the woman astronaut was treated was terrible (ISN’T IT HILARIOUS SHE’S A SCIENTIST JUST LOOK AT HER TITS HOW COULD TITS SCIENCE), the characters were flat and uninteresting, the plot was utterly stupid, everything was just awful.

Fuck I thought I would have a lot to say about how wtfy this was but I just don’t. I’m just vaguely irritated at the bait-n-switch and confused as to who thought it would be a good idea.

One Comment

  1. QuintanaDS says:
    Happy birthday, Act! :-) Sorry, I don’t have anything meaningful to contribute, I haven’t played either game.

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