Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness
If you were feeling cruel towards the PSP, you might say that it doesn't have a whole lot going for it except PS2 ports. That's a discussion for another time, but the fact remains that Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness is a faithful port of the original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness from the PS2. After the original game spawned a sequel and an anime series (as well as a promised third entry on the PS3), it was not surprising that that it was added to the PSP's impressive collection of PS2 ports.
The game involves playing as Laharl, Prince of the Netherworld. His father has recently died (whether or not through natural causes) and Laharl has a fairly rough time of things for a while. The storyline treads that glorious Japanese RPG path of the slightly ridiculous mixed with the strangely banal.
Anyway, the gameplay is based around two core sections. Laharl and his little chums spend a lot of time in his castle, seemingly preparing for missions and having a good old chinwag. The story is really quite dialogue-heavy, and it all takes place in this castle section. The rest of this area is basically about finding merchants and buying stuff from them.
When I say that this is roughly half the game, you realise how story-based the game is. Of course, the story ticks all the boxes required to step up to the challenge, too.
The other side of the coin are the battle sections. Once Laharl has chosen a mission, usually centred around defeating his rivals for leadership of the Netherworld, the gang troops out of the castle and gets stuck into some baddies (or goodies, depending on which you want to look at it).
The battle system itself is fairly standard turn-based fair. If you have played Popolocrois or Lord of the Rings: Tactics on the same platform, you will have a fairly good idea of what is expected of you - each character takes turns to walk up to an enemy and hit them. If you surround an enemy, you get bonus damage, and you can use spells and powers as long as you have the power available. Nothing especially new there. The main difference is the addition of special squares on the board known as Geo Panels. If you have a character standing on one, they may get special bonuses or de-buffs, depending on the character and the colour of the square. Certain powers can also change the colour, adding a bit more of a strategic element.
The battles are all fairly 'by-the-numbers', but once you get back to the castle you can dive into some other aspects of the game. Of course, experience in battle translates into levels for your characters. The characters can stick to their original class, or start levelling a new class (reminiscent of Dungeons & Dragons multiclass characters). You can unlock more possible classes as the game goes on, and so your possible combinations really do get quite overwhelming.
The hospital also somewhat bizarrely gives out rewards if you get really badly injured, and you can even have a meeting with your party members in the Dark Assembly. Decisions that you make here create some branching plotlines, providing distinct replay-ability. You also need to convince the Assembly to vote for your proposals. In a twist of genius, if they don't you can fight them and make them pass it anyway! If only real politics were this fun.
Once you have beaten the game you will probably agree that Disgaea on the PSP is quite a long and wordy experience, and is probably hard to get into for those unfamiliar with the genre. However, hardcore RPGers who missed it the first time around will relish the deep possibilities and the engaging story. If anything the slightly repetitive battles are the game's biggest downfall. The sprite-based graphics are also slightly dated, but on the small screen are more than passable. If you like your Japanese RPGs and have a lot of time to spend to get the most from the game, it comes highly recommended.