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Disgaea: okay, slightly hellish

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness Flonne
(Image source: Atlus.)

I’m closing in on the end of Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness‘s main storyline. I’m not just enjoying playing the game, I’m consuming it greedily. As I mentioned before, it’s been far too long a time since I’ve had a turn-based strategy game that hits all the right notes for me as this one does.

As I also mentioned previously, the game is not excessively difficult and in fact, is quite lenient in many respects. Character deaths in battles aren’t punished severely as a visit to the Netherworld Hospital will return a fallen character to full strength. There will, of course, be Hell to pay. (Hell being the currency of the Netherworld.)

On the other hand, a party wipeout will result in a Game Over screen. There’s one really tough fight which occurs early on at a point when your characters are fragile and lack offensive power — lose this one and you’ll get a credit sequence with a full song — but the game shouldn’t prove to be too frustrating.

At least until you get to Episode 11.

Is that a threat?

I’d credit myself with having superior tactical acumen and a masterful grasp of strategy but clearly, that would be a laughable notion. The real story here is the AI in Disgaea is limited in its abilities.

It will take advantage of positioning by whacking your party members from the sides or rear whenever possible and it will zero in on weaker characters — either characters close to death or character with low overall health and defence — but aside from that, it doesn’t do anything to merit a “Whoa!” Disappointingly, the AI seems incapable of using advanced tactics like fully exploiting Geo Panels and Geo Symbols or throwing characters.

The designers have compensated for the AI’s deficiencies in a few different ways. There’s the standard CRPG tactic of boosting the foes’ levels. The higher the levels, the harder they hit and the tougher they are to take out.

The other thing that makes Disgaea opponents tricky is their unknown threat levels. There is a bewildering variety of special attacks in the game and I almost never know how dangerous a foe might be until my characters get hit. You can look at an opponent’s character status to see the names of their special attacks but that reveals nothing of the attacks’ potency. How much does damage does a Giga Fire spell inflict as opposed to a Omega Fire? How much hurt does level 9 Giga Fire spell cause as opposed to a level 10 Giga Fire spell? And what in the blue blazes is a Stomp-O-Rama?

To complicate things even further, every special attack in the game seems to have very specific prerequisites. The attacking character has to have enough spell points to execute the attack, naturally, but on top of that the foe must be located on specific square relative to the attacking character and there might be further spatial requirements that are so complicated that they render the special attack almost useless.

But the main advantage the designers have given the AI is terrain-based in the form of beneficial Geo Symbols and Geo Panel layouts on battle maps. Nowhere is this more abused than in the battle at the end of the 11th episode. It’s titled Hero’s Tomb but I refer to it by another name, one that’s best left unmentioned. It was also at this point that I came up with several nicknames for the designers for this particular scenario. These nicknames will also be unrevealed here.

I had to replay this battle half a dozen times before I finally worked out a successful strategy and when I finally beat it, I felt relief rather than any great deal of satisfaction. It was clearly a scenario designed to frustrate and I was glad to get it over with.

If I don’t encounter any more frustrating battles of that sort, I should be able to complete the game by the end of the week. I should be receiving Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions in a few days so this turn-based strat game kick I’m currently on (and enjoying immensely) should last till the end of the year.

Posted in Disgaea, Games, PSP.

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