|System: PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Nippon Ichi Software||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: NIS America||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 30, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Matt Cabral
Navigating the PSP's large library of strategy RPG titles can be a daunting task. What with all the boxes cluttering retail shelves, all sporting bizarre names and even more bizarre sword-wielding anime-inspired characters, it's no wonder we're not? able to tell our Legend of Heroes from our Spectral Souls. And while few of these 40+ hour epics are true gaming gems (like Jeanne D'Arc),most (like Aedis Eclipse: Generation of Chaos) turn out to be sub-par time siphons.
Thankfully, your sleep deprived friends at CCC are here to wade through the countless hours of quirky humor and scantily clad anime-inspired female warriors to separate the must-buys from the what-were-they-thinkings. Fortunately for us we recently uncovered Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness on our latest journey into the sleep-sucking world of strategy RPGs.
A remake of the PS2 classic, Afternoon of Darkness delivers a fun, consuming, brimming-with-content package that should appease even the hardest of hardcore strategy RPG fans. With that said, if you're new to this genre, not wise to the ways of level-grinding and turn-based play, then you may feel a bit overwhelmed by the depth and layered complexities of this title; while it might be a dream come true for seasoned strategists, it could be a nightmare for those dipping their toes into the grid-based pool for the first time. For those still interested, those that can appreciate the disguised danger of the cute Prinnies, lets get to the good stuff.
Whether you've played the original PS2 version or are a serious strategy RPG fan looking for your next fix, you can't go wrong with Afternoon of Darkness. It offers new content over its PS2 predecessor, and packs an overall experience that could easily fill 100 hours of your life. Faithful fans will already be familiar with Afternoon's quirky charm, but the uninitiated are in for a real treat. Buoyed by smart, sarcastic, laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue--both text and voice over--and wicked but lovable characters, it tells the tale of Laharl, young son of the recently deceased ruler of the Netherworld and rightful heir to the demonic throne. After he's awakened from a nap--a two year nap--by Etna, a pony-tailed pixie-looking vassal in his court, they both set out to silence all those that laid claim to his throne while he slumbered. Players are immediately introduced to Afternoon's darkly comedic tone as the game opens with Etna trying to wake Laharl with lethal methods; her arsenal of "alarm clocks" includes swords, guns, and even a jackhammer. The sadisticly silly style only builds as your quest to rule the Netherworld continues. You'll get to unleash an army of the aforementioned Prinnies, cute, explosive-packing penguins, fight along side a Buck Rogers-like space cowboy and his babelicious robot sidekick, and encounter all sorts of Netherworld-dwelling misfits.
Afternoon's out-there style, complemented by cartoony visuals, will instantly win you over, but its deep strategy, bottomless RPG elements, and just-one-more-level addictiveness will have you clenching your PSP long after sleepy time. Like any turn-based RTS, a great deal of the strategizing comes from where you place your pawns on the grid-based board. But Afternoon richly layers the standard layout with Geo panels; the colored panels are powered by Geo symbols that affect whatever's happening on that particular panel and all panels like it. So, for example, if a Geo panel is covered by a poison Geo symbol, then anyone standing on that type of panel will take damage. Conversely, a life-giving symbol will add hit points to its lucky panel squatter. Further tactical depth is added by the ability to destroy, and therefore change the color of any given Geo panel. The levels of strategy this adds to an already very strategic genre is incredible, making for some intensely cerebral melees.
If your brain's not too burned-out on the endlessly deep battle system, then you can lend some gray matter to the equally rich RPG system. Each character in your party has the option to level-up in over a hundred different classes, and all your weapons can be upgraded through game-within-a-game dungeon crawls. These "item worlds" are actual adventures, complete with boss battles, hidden within your weapons; entering and successfully completing these optional levels will upgrade your arsenal, making you that much more powerful on the battlefield. In addition to these side goodies, brave gamers can also embark on Etna mode; this alternate experience assumes that Laharl's "trusted" cohort Etna killed him with one of her lethal wake-up calls, and allows players to reclaim the underworld throne as this alternate character.
It's hard to believe a tiny UMD disc can pack this much game. If you're feeling lazy, Afternoon will generously let you off the hook with its main 50+ hour quest, but if you want to see it all, it'll happily heap on the portable play with its multiple side quests and alternate play modes. If you're still not cowering under all this gaming goodness, then you can also hook-up with a friend in ad-hoc battle modes. In addition to its colorful anime-inspired visual presentation, Afternoon's chock-full package is complemented by evocative audio, perfectly suiting this Netherworld-based romp. If any flaws can be called it would be the game's sometimes unforgiving camera control; the isometric view coupled with limited camera movement means you'll occasionally be fighting to get all the action on screen. Apart from that, and the steep learning curve that'll have newcomers reeling, this one's a must-have for PSP owners with a penchant for losing themselves in strategic, turn-based RPGs.
CCC Freelance Writer