Disgaea DS (Nintendo DS) Review

By Karn Spydar Lee Bianco 11.04.2009 5

Review for Disgaea DS on Nintendo DS

Disgaea DS is a port of Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness for the PlayStation Portable which is, in turn, a port of the original Disgaea outing, Hour of Darkness, for the PlayStation 2. The franchise has also spawned two sequels for the PS2 and PS3, respectively. The purpose of reeling these facts off? To reassure anyone who's unfamiliar with the series that Disgaea DS is an excellent place to start.

Disgaea DS is a tactical role-playing game that features turn-based battles and an isometric, grid-based area map. It’s a well established setup that should be familiar to fans of the Final Fantasy Tactics series, among others. Players take control of a group of characters (both humanoid and monstrous), which can be ordered to move around the map and subsequently attack enemies, use magic spells, and so on. The goal of most maps is, unsurprisingly, to simply eradicate any hostile forces, but part of what allows Disgaea to stand out from its peers is the multitude of ways in which this feat can be accomplished.

Before we get into all that, though, let’s take a look at some fundamentals. In terms of plot and setting, the game’s story mode takes place in the underworld and follows the demon Laharl’s quest to claim the title of Overlord. It’s a pretty light story that doesn’t always blend flawlessly with the game’s inherent depth, but it is nonetheless an amusing embellishment that offers up a welcome alternative to the overbearing plots present in many similar titles. It never takes itself too seriously and even boasts some genuinely laugh-out-loud dialogue and more than a few innuendos along the way, too.

Extensive in-game options - that can be tweaked on the fly - help keep combat fluid by allowing you to customize everything from how quickly units move to whether or not their battle animations play, and so on. The isometric perspective is occasionally problematic, though. Area maps often feature terrain at wildly different heights and the limited camera angles can make it difficult to pinpoint certain units, but the inclusion of a detailed overhead map on the top screen is usually sufficient to minimize any confusion. Whether you utilize stylus or button control, Disgaea DS goes out of its way to provide a smooth experience.

Screenshot for Disgaea DS on Nintendo DS

One of the game’s more innovative features is the ability for humanoid players to pick up and throw allies across the map. Not only is this useful in and of itself, but the process can be repeated until one character is carrying a massive totem pole of allies, each of which can throw the characters above themselves further and further away, allowing for a vast amount of ground to be covered in a single turn. It’s also possible to lift enemies - potentially clearing blocked paths in the process - before throwing them out of harm’s way, or onto another foe, causing the two to merge into a single, more powerful entity that may or may not be more manageable.

Once in position, multiple allies can work together against individual foes to rack up bonus damage. This is accomplished both by having allies stand next to each other (to initiate team attacks), and by simply attacking the same foe in succession (for extra combo damage). What really opens up your strategic options, however, is the ability to perform individual actions without ending the turn. Let’s say you want one character to attack an enemy while three adjacent allies provide team attacks; that's all well and good, but the benefit would be all but nullified if these allies couldn’t attack the opponent as well, right? So what’s a demon to do?

Screenshot for Disgaea DS on Nintendo DS

All you need do is select ‘Execute’ from the main menu, and only the actions you’ve set will be executed, leaving you free to continue issuing orders to remaining allies . The freedom this offers may not be immediately apparent, but you’ll soon wonder how you ever lived without it. Accidentally ordering too many allies to attack a quickly-defeated enemy is no longer a frustrating waste; any allies queued up to attack a defeated foe simply get their action quota reset. Picking up foes to clear new paths? Needn’t use an action at all when you can simply cancel the lift order before executing, but after allies have moved on by.

Many of the game’s area maps are also covered in coloured Geo Panels which imbue characters with different properties. Each property - be it positive such as invincibility, or negative such as stat reduction - is controlled by a Geo Symbol that can be moved or destroyed. As well as being the key to victory in many battles, Geo Panels and Symbols can be utilized to rack up massive bonus points that unlock experience boosts and new items. By chaining together the destruction of Geo Symbols, Geo Panels can change colour or even be wiped out entirely. The bigger the combo, the higher the bonus score.

Screenshot for Disgaea DS on Nintendo DS

Focusing on Geo chaining can dramatically alter the feel of the game - changing the experience from an SRPG to a sort of puzzle game. This is particularly true in the Item World - a series of randomized areas that exist within every item in the game. Battling through these areas increases the strength of the item itself and often pits you against ‘innocents’ - non-hostile characters that act as specialists for certain stats (attack, defence, etc.). Subduing these innocents increases the boost for said stat when a character equips the item, and even allows for them to be moved to other items to boost their power.

The strategies needed to succeed in the Item World are quite different from those needed to complete the standard campaign, and the depth of the former soon outweighs the latter. Despite this, it’s an optional feature - the campaign requires it only briefly, leaving it to be most useful when tackling the extensive post-game content. The randomized nature of the Item World feels similar to a roguelike, and could almost stand alone as its own game. While completing the main campaign might require as little as 15-20 hours, the Item World, coupled with post-game content, might sustain as much as ten times that amount.

In addition to leveling up by defeating enemies - something that, somewhat irritatingly, even passive healing characters must abide by - characters learn special skills that increase in potency with continued use. Characters can also create disciples - new characters whose skills and stats can be transferred to their master by operating in tandem during battle. It’s a rewarding system that stands as part of the larger ‘Dark Assembly’ - a sort of netherworldly government maintained by senators who can grant your requests for improved abilities, new areas and items, etc. in response to bribery and/or brute force.

Screenshot for Disgaea DS on Nintendo DS

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

The amount of content included in Disgaea DS is staggering. Not only are the game's core mechanics solid, innovative, and insanely addictive, but there's enough post-game content to consume hundreds of hours of your life if you so desire. New Game+ is something of a given, but that's really only the tip of the iceberg. If you love strategy role-playing games but have never had the chance to play Afternoon/Hour of Darkness, this could be one of the best investments you ever make.


Nippon Ichi


NIS America





C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10 (5 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   


An excellent game worthy of supporting -- even if it a port. Hopefully Disgaea 2 will be brought to DS!

Good review Karn!

I've always been intrigued by Nippon Ichi's games, but never tried them out...but between this and Phantom Brave on Wii, I might just give them a whirl, especially after this glowing review!! Smilie

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Nice to see some praise has finally been given to NIS games. Already grabbed this game and its amazing, perfect port. Now we just have to wait to find out if the DS will be sharing the D2 port with PSP

Great review Karn, though I do disagree on value. Persoanlly I would have given it a 10. Smilie

Great game and must buy for all DS owners SRPG fans.

Zakattack08 (guest) 05.11.2009#5

10 out 10 easily. I only play my ds on car trips, and the like, yet in the year i've owned this game, i have over 300 hours put into it! Needless to say, we take ALOT of car tripsSmilie. lol. Anyway, I have all the ultimate weapons except for the spear which im about to get. Best weapon is obviously the yoshitzuna sword. Extremely powerful, and has the range of a gun with 5 spaces! But besides magic, longest range attack is 6 spaces with a gun. The ultimate gun is called the Etoile, and it looks like a barret-50 cal, and has a range of 6 spaces! Ive already defeated baal, who was easy. Now Im facing prinny baal a.k.a. the UBER prinny. He is hardest enenmy in the game! period!

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