Final Fantasy Tactics (on PlayStation) may have birthed the (sub)genre, but Disgaea triggered a tactical role-playing renaissance. A new generation rallied behind its combination of hilarity and unbelievably deep tactical gameplay. Fuelled by the success on PSP (check out our Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness review), developer NIS America hopes to bring more players into the fold with a new DS iteration. Disgaea DS updates the PSP release with new touch controls, additional characters, and a tweaked presentation.
Our hands-on with the game included a quick play through the opening sequence. Along with introducing the story, the first few levels provide a good primer on the new controls and basic mechanics of play.
You take the role of Laharl, a demon prince who wakes after a long two-year slumber to find his father, King Krichevskoy, has passed away. Although his royal status naturally makes him the presumptive king, he first must fight against a legion of usurpers who have taken advantage of his late rise.
The story and supporting dialogue are nothing short of comical, driving you forward through each of the game's 14 chapters. Each consists of a number of tactical turn-based battles controlled via the touchscreen. You'd expect touch controls to be far more intuitive for managing characters during battle; unfortunately, that wasn't our impression. You're given the option of using either the stylus to control units or the D-pad and face buttons. We found the buttons to be much faster and more precise than the stylus. While it was functional, the touchscreen wasn't as quick to respond to taps with the stylus when compared to button presses.
Even if the touch controls don't quite meet expectations, Disgaea DS still makes good use of the handheld's extra screen. During battles the top screen houses a tactical map that outlines character positions, the location of interactive items, and geo-panels. One of the key innovative features specific to the series, geo-panels are elemental shaded squares that trigger a range of effects in battle. They essentially add another layer to the game's tactics.
Along with providing battlefield information, the top screen also becomes an avenue for prinny commentary during conversations. As characters jab on the touchscreen, prinnies will frequently pop up on the other screen with a quick, usually sarcastic remark. With new playable characters pulled from Disgaea 2 including Adel, Rozalin, Pleinair, and Overlord Zetta, the potential for cutting prinny remarks is astronomical.
Disgaea DS essentially retools the fabulous PSP version, which is hardly a bad thing. The visuals aren't as polished, of course, but the additional playable characters and the potential of the touch controls could be enticing if you haven't already checked it out. True, some tuning up of those controls is needed before the game's September release in the US (a European release hasn't been confirmed yet), but on current form we're certain the fundamental gameplay is going to retain the fantastic quality of its PSP counterpart.