Almost lost in translation
Tactics’ second coming
Rare is it that we see the release of a strategy RPG translated and released on this side of the Pacific. Rarer still is it when there are two of these engrossing games hitting the shelves at the same time. Of course I’m talking about Square Enix’s Final Fantasy Tactics Advance for the Game Boy Advance, and this game, Atlus’s Disgaea: Hour of Darkness for the PlayStation 2. Developed by Nippon Ichi, creators of such quirky games as Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness manages to be both familiar and iconoclastic.
Same, but different
Familiar is the basic game system. You move players around spaces on a field presented from an isometric perspective and attack enemies in a turn-based combat system. Like the PlayStation’s original Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea’s fields are presented in 3D, with 2D sprites representing players and enemies. Characters are moved into position and various actions can be taken. This is where most of the similarities end. Certainly many of the actions are carryovers from earlier games in the genre, but the other options Disgaea opens up, both during combat and out of combat, are surprising in both their originality and what they add to the gameplay.
Like most games in the genre, you tend to gang-up on enemies by surrounding them with the up to 10 characters you can bring into a battle. But in Disgaea’s case, there’s a reason to pay a bit more attention to your characters’ position: combos. Combos are one of the more interesting additions to the typical strategy RPG formula that this game brings to the table. Essentially, the position of your characters in relation to each other and the enemy can trigger a combo. The chance is random, but you can control the likelihood by placing characters with an affinity for each other in adjacent panels. The game tells you the chance of a combo attack before you attack, so you’re not shooting in the dark. The game’s tutorial, which should be mentioned as much nicer than Final Fantasy Tactics’ exceptionally long lecture on the game’s minutiae, explains this and other bits, while still letting you figure out a lot of it on your own later.