If you suspect that you might be what the games industry has affectionately labelled a 'casual gamer', stop reading; I'm afraid this game just isn't for you. A frightening combination of statistics, attributes and menu screens glued together with anime visuals and a ludicrous narrative make the Disgaea series very much exclusive to the core club. Still reading? Good, then like me you're a fan of niche Japanese titles, and can handle the complexities of a deep and intricate role playing experience. Dark Hero Days is the PSP remake of Disgaea 2 which hit the Playstation 2 back in 2006, complete with all new missions and features brought over from Disgaea 3.
The game takes place in the once prosperous world of Veldime, where a powerful Overlord by the name of Zenon appeared and placed a curse on the entire human population, gradually consuming their consciousness and turning them into demons. The only person left unaffected by the curse is a young man named Adell, who promises to find Zenon and defeat him in order to save his family. Using a powerful summoning spell, Adell's mother attempts to summon Zenon, but ends up summoning his cherished daughter Rozalin instead. Alongside the spoilt Rozalin, Adell and his rag tag army embark on a quest to find Zenon, and lift the curse.
Those that have played a Disgaea game before, PSP or otherwise, will know exactly what to expect from Dark Hero Days, which rigidly follows the formula set by its predecessors. Missions are undertaken from a central hub, which in the case of Disgaea 2 takes the form of Adell's hometown, Holt. From this hub players can manage and arrange their army, create new characters in the Dark Assembly, shop for better equipment and heal their dishevelled characters at the Netherworld Hospital. The hub is your board room, strategy office and headquarters all rolled into one.
The main bulk of the gameplay, however, takes place on the battlefield: an isometric grid where characters can be moved around like little animated chess pieces. The player takes it in turns with the enemy to dish out commands with the intention of defeating the opposition. Simple enough in theory, but the game offers such a vast array of strategic options that things can quickly get confusing. Each character has a move range, which determines how far they can move around the grid. Once positioned within appropriate range of an enemy, the character can use magic, a special attack, items, lift or throw an enemy or ally, defend or simply attack. In addition to this, characters can team up for joint attacks, and objects known as geo symbols affect the properties of the environment itself. The scope for strategy is consequently immense, and each mission can be approached in numerous ways.
Your army starts off with a modest five members: Adell, Rozalin, a warrior, a magician and a Cleric (read: healer). The Dark Assembly gives players the option to expand by creating characters from a further fourteen classes. Only some of these are available from the start, with new classes unlocked by meeting certain requirements. The Ninja class, for example, requires level five Sword and Fist mastery, whilst unlocking the Beastmaster requires that you capture a monster. Each class has six sub classes that improve on base stats and aptitude (how well statistics improve with each level), and each character can be levelled to a staggering 9999 - for anybody with that kind of time on their hands.