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1/25/2015

Spoony Plays Illusion of Gaia, Part 3

Two crazy dungeons in the sky and at the bottom of the ocean. With vampires. And angels!

1/20/2015

Spoony Plays Ultima VII: The Black Gate, Part 3

We begin our plan to infiltrate the Fellowship.  As we reach Minoc, we learn that our killer has struck again...



Unvirtuous acts committed
  • Stole Rudyom's Wand, the Hoe of Destruction and some Starbursts
  • Savescumming to avoid consequences for our actions
  • Drove a man to suicide (see below)

Mysteries to solve
  • If Margareta is to be believed, we'll be meeting with the Time Lord.  What role does he have in all this?
  • What is the secret of the odd substance known as "Blackrock"?
  • What kind of portal does the Fellowship plan on creating?

Mysteries Solved
  • There is a definite link between the murder in Trinsic and the Fellowship; this is mentioned in the scroll Batlin has you deliver.  Batlin's scroll also mentions the Crown Jewel, the ship used by the killers.
  • The item Christopher was making some manner of pedestal, and a defense mechanism for their "portal".

Stuff done off-camera

A bunch of miscellaneous training, mostly with Sentri, Markus and Zella.  Though I did also stop by Vesper and talk to Zaksam to boost a couple characters' Strength stats as well.  Bought some lockpicks and another spell or two as well.

(I will be covering most of the side-quests here, since they take up a fair amount of extra time to complete).




Minoc's crime scene is supposed to get cleaned up a day or two after you arrive in town, but sometimes it bugs and doesn't show up at all (as it did here).  Still, you can talk to people about a few suspicious things found there; namely, a Fellowship candelabra and a serpentine dagger.  Elynor denies all knowledge of both.

(The dagger at the scene is not a special item, so picking up any Serpentine Dagger will work for this purpose.  Ditto with the candelabra.)




You've probably noticed by now that most people in Minoc don't have kind words about Owen.  One in particular doesn't - a man named Karl who lives outside of town (south of the Moongate, southwest of the Mining Company HQ) visits the tavern occasionally, and claims that one of Owen's faulty ships got his brother killed.



If you take the plans from his house and show them to Julia and then the Mayor, they will confirm Karl's suspicions and cancel Owen's monument.


Owen does not take the news well.


Welp, no sense in letting his stuff go to waste.


Returning Miranda's bill after getting it signed by Heather in Cove will earn you a whopping ten experience.  Not a great reward, but it's not out of our way at all, so whatever.




The Britannian Mining Company's lone worker seems to be a gargoyle who they're forcing to work around the clock by pumping him full of dangerous drugs.  As reparation for this grievous breach of worker's rights, I confiscated all of their drugs (and sold them for a tidy profit back in Britain).


If you have any spare gold bars or nuggets, you can also trade them in at the Mint for a decent bit of cash.  Or if you're feeling really unvirtuous, you can kill Cynthia, loot the back room with her set of keys, have Lord British resurrect her, and then sell the mint's own gold back to her for a tidy profit.  (I didn't do that though.)




You can also talk to Raymundo at the play house, who wants you to audition for the role of the Avatar.  Talk to Gaye at the tailor's shop on commercial row to get a costume made (30 Gold) and come back for a bit of humorous dialogue.


Moreso if Shamino is in the party and you talk to Amber afterward.



And finally, Candice at the Museum will let slip that she's having an illicit relationship with Britannia's mayor. Confront them after they leave the Fellowship's meeting at night and Patterson will agree to break it off, and learn a lesson in both Honesty and Humility.

Bonus video: The Batlin Dupe Glitch



A simple way to get as much experience and gold as you want.  The steps are listed below.

  1. Talk to Batlin and go through the questionnaire, then say "no" when he asks you to deliver the box to Elynor.
  2. Make sure you have some free space in the Avatar's inventory, drop a stack of coins (or any other stackable object) on the ground, then talk to Batlin again.  Say "Package" to start the dialog about the box again, then accept.  He will hand it over.
  3. For some strange reason, this will also create a duplicate of the item stack you dropped and place it in the Avatar's inventory.  You will also get the requisite 100 Experience for accepting the quest.
  4. Because of a bug in his dialog, you can also now talk to him and accept the quest again.  Which means that you can also duplicate as much gold and get as much experience as you want from it.
Delivering the box to Elynor closes this loop, though, so be sure to get it all out of your system before you move on with the main plot!


Oddly, magic bolts don't seem to work.  Gold and regular bolts work just fine though, so it's a bit of a moot point - you can always just dupe yourself some gold and buy as many bolts and reagents for Enchant spells as you want...

1/18/2015

Super Short Reviews, Page 7

Zelda special!

The Legend of Zelda - The quintessential NES adventure game, featuring some surprisingly complex dungeons to traverse, tons of hidden secrets and plenty of varieity in enemies and bosses, as well as some fun items to play around and solve puzzles with.  It's pretty cryptic in a lot of parts and uncovering some of its secrets just comes down to trial and error, but somehow I don't midn that - I think it all just comes down to the fact that the game is fast-paced and fun to play, so you don't really mind having to brute-force your way through many of its stages.  Oh, and if you find the first quest too easy, there's an even tougher second one waiting for you afterwards...

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link - A very different turn for the franchise, exhuming the previous game's play style completely in favor of something that's akin to Dragon Quest meets Metroid.  Broken into overworld segments (with Dragon Quest styled random encounters) and sidescrolling action platforming, it's also the only Zelda game to feature a leveling system, having you gain experience from enemies in order to gain levels and power up one of your three primary stats.  That doesn't make it a bad game, though - far from it, actually.  The game still provides plenty of secret hunting, challenging battles and the same clever atmosphere and catchy music that every good Zelda provides, and though the difficulty is uneven (and often excessive), it's still a very worthwhile adventure to undertake.  I was always kind of disappointed Nintendo never made another game in this style...

Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - Well, if you've seen my Top 25 games list, you know that I listed this one as my favorite game ever.  I stand by that too, as this game is nothing short of genius.  Taking all of the best elements of Zelda 1 and expanding them ten times over, we have not one, but two distinct versions of Hyrule, each with their own set of secrets, a very detailed (and surprisingly realistic) game environment and a ton of different weapons and items to utilize, and they're all a lot of fun.  From invisibility cloaks to magic canes that create switch blocks to the ever-fun hookshot, there's a ton of variety in your arsenal.  Not to mention some stellar visuals and music and some of the most epic boss fights the SNES ever brought us.  I never get tired of LTTP.

Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (DX) - Another long-standing favorite of mine, as this was essentially Link to the Past scaled down for the Game Boy.  Retaining its strong gameplay and design with a surprisingly distinctive and charming aesthetic style of its own, Link's Awakening was nothing short of stunning for the Game Boy platform.  I also actually rather like the weirder and more cartoonish aspects of the game - after all, this is supposed to be a game set in a dream world, so it's supposed to be on the surreal side.  The DX remake for the Game Boy Color is much the same, with the only real differences being the addition of some nice color palettes, an extra dungeon that grants one of two armor upgrades and some minor Game Boy Printer features.

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - I'm going to catch flak for saying it but... I never really cared for Ocarina of Time.  After LTTP and Awakening, this one just felt like a step back in many ways with its blocky character models, clunky controls and camera, weird hit detection, largely barren overworld and a rather generic item list (with the game insultingly insultingly making you find items just to use bombs and carry more than 99 rupees now).  Not to mention some of the dungeon layouts seem to be engineered for maximum annoyance (hi Water Temple) and some of the minigames are outright awful (Fishing minigame, Dampe's Plodding Bore-you-to-death Graveyard Tour).  I can certainly appreciate that the N64 was a difficult platform to program for and that it's honestly not bad for their first attempt at a 3D Zelda, but it's still a game I rarely, if ever, revisit.

Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask - The superior N64 Zelda, in my book at least.  It still has a lot of the same control and camera issues, but everything else got massively tuned up thanks to the introduction of the Expansion Pack.  The graphics look far nicer, with much fewer stretched ugly textures and a more colorful palette overall.  You also have a much wider variety of abilities now thanks to the three transformation masks (Deku Scrub, Goron and Zora), as well as a slew of lesser masks that grant abilities like faster running, accessing new areas and growing to giant size (only usable against one boss, sadly).  The game also has a staggering amount of content, being almost entirely comprised of sidequests and having some truly enormous dungeons.  While overall rather buggy, it's a game with a lot of ideas, and while they don't always work, they're still a lot of fun to see in action.  I can't wait for the 3DS remake.

Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages/Seasons - The first two Capcom-devleoped Zeldas, and honestly, I think I like the concept of them a lot more than the execution.  The idea being that Ages is based around travelling between past and future to right wrongs in the past and change events in the future whilst Seasons is based around cycling through the four seasons to reach new areas.  The only problem is that a lot of the puzzles seem rather arbitrary - more often than not, there's no real logical connection between a change you make and what it affects elsewhere.  Not to mention that the game feels largely derivative, with most of its assets being directly recycled from Awakening and many of its dungeon puzzles and ideas being the lifted straight from earlier games in the franchise (particularly the arbitrary block-pushing puzzles from Zelda 1).  It just feels like they're trying to pander to nostalgia rather than try to make a game that has any identity of its own...

Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker - After the comparatively ugly N64 games, Wind Waker's gorgeous cel-shaded style was definitly a breath of fresh air.  As was its free-roaming camera and analog controls that felt like, well, analog.  Wind Waker certainly had its own set of problems, though, what with an overall easy feel, some very frequent and tedious sailing and its sidequests being more tedious than rewarding (which again comes back to the low difficulty level).  Still, the main quest was a lot of fun, and it has probably my favorite version of Ganondorf in any Zelda game, playing him as more of a tragic villain (and having a pretty epic final battle).  A solid outing for the Gamecube, but nowadays I'd recommend the HD remake on the Wii U, which fixes a lot of the flaws of the original release and delivers a much more smooth experience.

Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap - The third of the Capcom developed Zelda games and a better effort than the first two, having some clever dungeon designs and bosses to fight.  However, it still has its share of problems - most of them stemming from the awkwardly designed world map that makes getting around tougher than it should be and the Kinstone system, which boils a lot of the game's secret hunting down to pure RNG.  Not to mention trying to shoehorn in a "Four Sword" mechanic that just ends up being more annoying than anything since a single hit will dispel all of your duplicates and force you to go through the long charging up process again.  A stronger Capcom effort, but still not one of my favorite Zeldas.

Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure - To be honest, I never bothered with the Four Swords minigame in the GBA port of LTTP.  But if it was anything like this, I probably wasn't missing out on much.  There's not much of a puzzle solving aspect to the game, just lots of enemy fighting and item collecting, with you literally being stuck replaying stages again and again just to collect enough points to move on to the next one.  Not to mention it doesn't really take advantage of the Gamecube's potential, relying mostly on recycled sprites and music from Link to the Past.  It might be a bit of fun as a party game (provided you have four link cables and 4 GBAs to enable that sort of thing), but as a solo experience it's just a dime-a-dozen mindless hack and slash...

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess - Easily my favorite 3D Zelda to date; with its strong storyline, grim atmosphere, a dark yet oddly beautiful aesthetic, new innovations like horseback battles and new sword techniques and some ingenious items and dungeons, not to mention some of the most epic boss battles in the entirety of the franchise (particularly the skeletal dragon fought entirely on the Spinner), Twilight Princess is an amazing title.  So much so that this is still the only 3D Zelda I've played to 100% completion.

As for the Gamecube VS Wii version debate, I'd say go for the Gamecube version, if only because I like having more control over the camera and not having to mess around with motion controls...

Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - The first of the two DS Zeldas, and definitely the one I enjoyed playing more.  It addressed one of Wind Waker's problems by letting you automatically plot sailing courses, which saved a lot of time navigating and wind-shifting.  On the other hand, it also suffered from the DS' lack of a thunb stick, forcing you to use the stylus even for mundane things like moving and attacking - the face buttons see virtually no use at all.  On one hand, this did allow for some clever uses of old items like stretching ropes between pillars and bouncing an arrow off them to a switch behind you (which closes if you look striaght at it).  On the other hand, the limited controls make precise maneuvering and attacking a lot more of a pain than it really should be.  I finished this one once and then had no desire to replay it.

Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks - The second DS title carries on all of Phantom Hourglass's problems and then some.  Not only did the hated stylus controls return, but the game also suffered from a pretty awful new gimmick in the form of railway travel, requiring you to switch tracks to avoid the evil trains constantly and plan your movements well in advance, with one mistake usually dropping you straight into the game over screen or, at best, forcing you to restart the area.  It got so aggravating to me that I eventually just quit playing shortly after the second dungeon.  Which is too bad, because I rather liked the gimmick of Zelda's ghost accompanying you and helping you solve puzzles...

Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword - The first proper Wii Zelda title, and it's honestly pretty solid, taking advantage of the Motion Plus peripheral to provide a more realistic edge to the combat.  I also liked that you could upgrade almost every item in your inventory through crafting and the sheer creativity in some of the boss designs (notably the six-armed automaton).  The world does feel a bit small in comparison to previous Zeldas and controls tend to feel off after extended play (though thankfully the game provides a one-button recalibration), and the story does start to feel padded near the end with recycled bosses and dungeon elements becoming commonplace, but the amazing final battle in the game more than makes up for that.  For one of the more "experimental" Zelda games, it came out rather well.  Not to mention it looks absolutely fantastic for a Wii game...

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D - While I still have mixed feelings about Ocarina of Time, this is definitely the best version of it to be released.  Cleaning up the models and graphics and running at a smoother framerate alone makes this game much more tolerable than its N64 counterpart (though some textures still show some JPEG-style artifacting).  Other helpful changes include a touchscreen interface for the menus, making boots into button items so you don't have to pause the game constantly to swap between them and adding visual cues to some of the dungeons (particularly the Water temple) to make them less annoying to navigate.  It's still not my favorite Zelda, but the 3D remake is definitely a substantial improvement over the original release.

Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Okay, okay.  This one is blatantly pandering to LTTP fans with its similar overworld layout and theme of world-swapping to take advantage of subtle differences between the two maps, but you know what?  That's no bad thing to me.  Especially when it also exhumes the awful stylus-driven controls of its earlier counterparts and introduces a pretty clever upgrade system to every item in your inventory - yes, even the mundane ones like the bug net and the lantern.  Not to mention that the dungeon layouts are surprisingly clever and thought-provoking despite the game's shop gimmick requiring that none of the usual Zelda items are needed to complete them.  They really thought outside the box for Link Between Worlds, and for that reason it's my favorite handheld Zelda title since Awakening.

1/17/2015

Spoony Plays Illusion of Gaia, Part 2

We sail the sea, free the slaves and somehow end up miles in the sky, all in the span of a month...

1/13/2015

Spoony Plays Ultima VII: The Black Gate, Part 2

Our journey continues to Paws and Britain, where we get a bigger glimpse of what's going on in Britannia.

Oh, and I turned up the speed a bit on DOSBox, so this part should run at a somewhat quicker pace.  Not accounting for game lag, of course.



Unvirtuous acts committed
  • None.  This time, anyway.

Mysteries to solve
  • What has caused the Moongates and magic in general to malfunction?
  • Why has the Isle of Fire risen again?
  • Is the Fellowship really as corrupt as it appears?
  • Where is the Avatar's impostor, Sullivan?
  • Who sent the red Moongate to Earth?

Stuff done off-camera
  • Equipped Shamino with that spare Sword of Defense Iolo was carrying.
  • Trained Spark in Dexterity and Combat (three points each) by way of Sentri and Markus in Trinsic.  By all rights he is now my most skilled fighter with Dex and Combat stats of 25...
(More info on how training works is found here)

1/10/2015

Disgaea: Hour of Darkness in a Nutshell

Another game which loads of "RPG fans" find it trendy to shit upon but which I can actually find some appreciation for.  What are the odds?

I won't be poking a lot of fun during this nutshell either, because the game honestly does a pretty good job of that on its own.  Yes, unlike a lot of RPG companies whose scripts featuring silly and barely-sensical story elements, Disgaea's writers are definitely aware of this fact and the whole thing is played very tongue-in-cheek.  Certainly a much better alternative than trying to play it completely straight and making fools of themselves in the process...

Our story opens in the Netherworld, which at a glance appears to be a fictionalized, cutesy version of hell.  It's not an entirely inaccurate comparison either as we're also introduced to the slave class of said world, the Prinnies - squeaky-voiced penguins with peg legs who explode when thrown.  As the game goes on, we learn that they are in fact the souls of sinners, brought here to atone for their crimes by doing hard labor in hopes that they can one day buy their way into being reincarnated into a happier existence.  It's a nod to the Buddhist concept of the afterlife, albeit with a bit of an irreverent spin to it as the Prinnies are also portrayed as bumbling slackers who seem to spend most of their time getting drunk and partying, implying that they'll be here for a very long time indeed...

As for our plot, we're introduced to the prince of the Netherworld, Laharl.  His vassal Etna awakes him from a two-year nap and reveals to him his father, King Krichevskoy, is dead, and that the Netherworld has fallen into chaos in his absence.  Laharl quickly decides that he's going to take his father's place and sets out to quash all of the other pretenders to the throne.

Of course, being an impudent brat has its downside as you find out that nobody considers Laharl to be a serious threat, let alone stacking up to his father in any serious way, and even the castle's staff openly poke fun at him.

Spoony: While that summary makes this sound like one of those typical stories where the underdog protagonist rises to some sort of challenge whilst enduring all manner of mean-spirited mockery (as seen in every Disney and Dreamworks movie ever made), they take it in a much different direction here.  It also works a humorous level because Laharl is a loud, standoffish brat for much of the runtime, so you feel at least a little bit of gratification from watching him suffer for it.  The game is also smart enough not to play up this aspect of his character to the point where he becomes completely unlikable as a protagonist, as we'll see shortly.

There is also a small subplot buried in the castle; by finding the two hidden switches (the skull on the shop counter and just behind the throne) you can access Etna's hidden chamber, which sets up a small subplot that will become important later.  In short, someone has stolen her memories of the past and she wants them back.  It's not strictly necessary to view these scenes since this plot point will be laid bare later, but it is a nice bit of introspect into her character.

Our first target on Laharl's quest for legitimacy is a silly character named "Vyers" whom Laharl immediately dubs "Mid-Boss", and the game follows suit by referring to him with this name throughout the rest of the story.  He doesn't prove to be especially tough, though you can trigger one of the game's many false endings if you actually lose to him during this fight.

After his defeat the castle is sacked and we get a scene of Etna consorting with some unseen person, revealing that she was the one who poisoned the prince into his two-year coma in a bid to put the unseen character on the throne.  We also briefly get introduced to the "Big Sis Prinny" among Laharl and Etna's minions (whose relevance will become clear later) and the first of many silly "next episode" bumpers that just serve as humorous skits and never actually tie into the plot (a trend which recurs throughout the series).

Chapter 2 opens in Celestia, which is appropriately this universe's equivalent to heaven.  Here we're introduced to Seraph Lamington, who tasks an angel trainee named Flonne with assassinating King Krichevskoy.  A decidedly un-angelic thing to do, but as we'll see, there's more to it than there initially appears.

Another angel named Vulcanus apparently takes exception to Flonne being sent on this task (unsurprising, considering her airy disposition) and demands to know why he wasn't sent instead.  Lamington simply brushes him off, though, which results in him launching a scheme of his own that we'll be filled in on later.

Meanwhile, Flonne gets caught almost immediately and spills that she was sent as an assassin, resulting in her fleeing the castle and Laharl giving pursuit.  They have a few battles with Flonne summoning stronger and stronger monsters each time before finally being cornered and unleashing a dragon (which is surprisingly dangerous for this stage of the game).

Spoony: This is a cutscene-only power, by the way.  She can't actually summon any monsters to the field mid-fight...

Once she is defeated, she seems rather broken up where Laharl isn't; namely that his father is dead. Reacting to this, Laharl denies that demons have any concept of love or sadness (though his inner monologue suggests otherwise) and Flonne embarks on a new mission: to discover whether demons really do feel love or not.  Laharl seems amused by this and recruits her as a new vassal, which sets up much of the rest of the plot.

Spoony:  I've seen a lot of people dismiss Flonne as being "useless", but that's actually not the case; she as a surprisingly high INT stat despite her air-headed personality, making her one of the better mage-type characters in the game.  The only problem is that her default skill set is bunk, so you'll have to give her some Mage vassals and teach her a few elemental spells to make her a legitimate threat.  Still, it's maybe twenty minutes of extra work, so it ends up being a worthy tradeoff; not that anyone who's into the hardcore aspect of the series would mind that extra time among the hundreds of hours one typically sinks into these titles.

She's also a pretty humorous character in that she's got a bit of an obsession with Super Sentai styled shows and magical girl anime, and in fact incorporates elements of both into her special moves and overall character throughout the series.  This is particularly evident in Disgaea 4, though I won't spoil that here.

In typical demonic fashion, our next mission is to sack some hapless dope's castle; in this case, a minor demon lord named Hoggmeiser; as his name suggests, he's pretty well obsessed with money.  But so is Laharl, as it appears that he's simply going to slay him and take his fortune for himself (and does so in another bad ending if you have too many ally kills at this point).  In the canon story, though, Flonne and Hoggmeiser's son manage to remind him of his father and he stops his assault, only saying that he's wasted too much time here as it is.

Spoony: The thing I like about Laharl's arc is that it's handled in a pretty clever way.  He upholds his pride as a demon by playing the tough guy and always making some excuse about why he doesn't act like a total dick, but it's pretty clear to the player (and the other characters present) what's really going on in his head.  Same for the next chapter, which I won't mention in great detail save for a scene where Laharl dives into hot lava (yes, hot lava) in an attempt to save a pendant that's necessary for Flonne's survival in the netherworld; he does it under the excuse of wanting a reward, but again, it's pretty clear what's really going on there.

This carries over once again into Chapter Five, where Laharl gets lured into a trap by one of Krichevskoy's former vassals, a vampire named Maderas.  As it turns out, he was Etna's co-conspirator in her attempt to off the Prince, though not of her own volition as he is the one who stole her memories.  With some pushing from Mid-boss, though, Laharl manages to overcome his weaknesses and Etna betrays Maderas.  At the end of it all, though, Laharl finds it in him to forgive her in his own stubborn way, stating that he was impresssed by Etna's ambition and that if he falls to her, then it's his own fault.

Spoony: Again, another clever scene, as it highlights the camaraderie between the two characters and his rationalization doesn't feel out of place for, well, a demon.

Not much to say about the next two chapters either, save that they show Laharl being his typical self.  The first entails him giving an open invitation to any and all demons in the netherworld who wish to challenge him for the throne, with one putting him in over his head.  Thankfully, Krichevskoy's vassals save the day, pummeling the challenger under the excuse that they have too much respect for the late king to see his Netherworld fall. They still don't have enough respect for Laharl to do anything other than freeload off him, though.  Vulcanus, having witnessed Flonne not only survive his assassination attempt but actively assist in Laharl's ascension, is none too pleased, escalating his plans further.

Our next major plot point comes on the night of the red moon, when several Prinnies exit the castle en masse.  Flonne has a brief conversation with the Big Sis Prinny, revealing that she's been following Laharl and Flonne's interaction since the beginning and noticed a change for the better in Laharl.

Then comes the saddest scene in the game.  No joke; Episode 8 is surprisingly heart-wrenching considering all the game has thrown us so far.

We finally get our explanation for Laharl's aloof behavior, and it's not just because of his demonic nature; as it turns out, he fell ill when he was very young, and his mother sacrificed her life to save his, leading to him shunning the idea of love since it led to his mother's death.  The Big Sis Prinny is in fact Laharl's mother, reincarnated for her sin of suicide, and has been watching over him in secret ever since.  Having atoned for her crime and feeling that Flonne's influence has changed him for the better, her soul departs her Prinny body and is reincarnated again, leading to a genuinely moving scene as Laharl finally comes to terms with her death.

Spoony: Just... wow.  This shouldn't even work considering that 90% of this game's writing is off-the-wall goofiness, but Nippon Ichi somehow pulls it off.  Whether you care for the game's sense of humor or not is a matter of opinion, but if there's one thing that Nippon Ichi understands full well, it's that characters should be layered and have some actual depth and human emotion to them.  That's something you'll never get from those boneheads who think putting a character in a PVC suit with forty kajillion belts and zippers on is somehow a substitute for a personality.

Not to worry, though, as the game hasn't gone completely melodramatic on us.  Quite the opposite, in fact, as our next introduction to the plot is a hammy Flash Gordon equivalent appropriately named... well, Gordon.  Backed up by a hyper-intelligent yet somewhat ditzy sidekick named Jennifer and her super-robot named Thursday, no less.  They arrive on a mission from Earth to defeat the Overlord and ensure Earth's future.

Spoony: This does feel a little out of place at first (even by Disgaea's standards), but it does tie back into the overarching plot, so...

As they duke it out, it becomes clear that Gordon and company were misled into believing that the Netherworld was planning an invasion of Earth as  Laharl clearly shows no interest in an invasion (saying that he's not interested in conquering a world polluted by its own inhabitants).  It's also not the worst thing humans are shown to do in this franchise, which becomes especially evident to those who have played Disgaea 4...

Spoony: Thankfully they do refrain from any specific social commentary in both games.  It's also darkly humorous to see a story where demons aren't the most evil force in the universe and in fact seem a bit bored of their violent and greed-driven culture, if their admiration for Krichevskoy is any indication...

Vulcanus' scheme also becomes more clear at this point, as he falsely reports to Lamington that Flonne was responsible for killing a human in the Netherworld and several angels are placed under his command under the excuse that he plans to capture Flonne.

After hearing of Gordon's failure to defeat Laharl, Earth launches a full-scale invasion against the Netheworld, leading to Laharl and Gordon's camps to ally in order to get to the bottom of things.  As it turns out, the Earth Defense Force had planned all along to conquer the netherworld due to their own planet's diminishing natural resources, and that their leader, General Carter, had always intended for Gordon to be killed by the Overlord so they'd have a pretext to do just that.  He's also backed up by Kurtis, a cyborg who holds a grudge against Gordon because of an accident that claimed the lives of his family and 70% of his body.

Spoony: And also a subtle homage to the cast of Cyborg 009.

Forcing their way through the EDF's space fleet (and several fights with Kurtis), they come to the bridge of the flagship and battle Carter, with Kurtis reclaiming his humanity and sacrificing himself to free Jennifer from Carter's mind control.  Carter goes down shortly thereafter, only for us to discover the true culprit behind this invasion: the invasion was suppred on by Vulcanus, who has become convinced that Lamington is no longer fit to rule Celestia and has taken it upon himself to overthrow him and destroy the Netherworld that he can rule over all of existence.  Flonne, appropriately shocked at this development, decides to return to Celestia to find out the truth from Lamington.

Fighting our way through Vulcanus' forces, we're eventually joined by Kurtis, now reincarnated as a Prinny to atone for the sins he committed in his former life.  He does get to keep at least some of the benefits of his former existence though, retaining his cyborg implants and his special attacks, making him more useful than your average Prinny.   It is a little silly from a gameplay perspective to introduce a new playable character this late in the plot, though he does also appear as a playable character in later games in the series so I guess that makes up for it to an extent.

We finally end up duking it out with Vulcanus and defeating him, causing him to plead to Lamington for aid; of course, Lamington was aware of his plot all along and punishes him by turning him into a flower.  Flonne, accepting her punishment for having harmed both humans and angels, undergoes the same transformation, leading to Laharl attacking Lamington in a fit of rage and cuing the final battle.  However, this is part of Lamington's plan as well, serving as his "atonement" for allowing Vulcanus' plan to advance this far, and this is reflected in the ending you receive afterwards.
  • If you've killed any allies in your current playthrough, Laharl will slay Lamington and, mirroring his mother's sacrifice, give up his life to resurrect Flonne.  It's then implied that he followed in her footsteps by being resurrected as a Prinny.
  • If you've gone through the game with no ally kills, however, Laharl will stay his hand before landing the finishing blow, saying that killing him won't bring Flonne back.  He then prepares to make the sacrifice, but is stopped when Flonne is suddenly resurrected, albeit as a fallen angel. Mid-Boss then explains that this was all a part of Lamington's scheme to build a bridge between the angelic, human and demon races.
Spoony: They still have a long way to go, of course, but every game in the series does have camaraderie between the races in some form, indicating that all of them are capable of cooperating and changing themselves for the better.  I like this development as it ends the game on an optimistic note, yet retains a touch of realism as well, acknowledging that tensions between different races and cultures (especially ones as drastically different as angels and demons) can't just be settled overnight.

This also leads to our discovery of the true role of this character.  It's hinted at up to this scene, but the ending all but confirms that Mid-Boss is actually a reincarnated Krichevskoy.  The game never outright states this, but it becomes clear who he is due to his continued interest in Laharl and his kinship with Lamington, not to mention that the two bearing an uncanny resemblance to one another.  So throughout the game he was watching over son in secret, helping him to awaken his emotions after his mother's death and subtly pushing him to build a bridge between the races.  Again, it's a pretty clever twist and one that I felt was very well executed.

I also like that Vulcanus' fate is left somewhat ambiguous; he's not seen again in later games, but he is (possibly) shown among a crowd of demons in an ending scene, being lectured by Flonne about the nature of love.

Perhaps that's Lamington's way of having him atone?


Of course, the game doesn't end there; as is tradition for Nippon Ichi titles, there is plenty of extra content to see and unlock.  There are numerous alternate endings and many hidden characters and classes, usually in the form of cameos from other Nippon Ichi games.  In this case, Marjoly and Prier from Nippon Ichi's Marl Kingdom and La Pucelle: Tactics, respectively.  The PSP and DS remakes also include some other cameos characters including Zetta from Makai Kingdom, Adell and Rozalin from Disgaea 2, and the ever-popular Pleinair.  Truly devoted fans can also opt to seek out every item in the game and face the franchise's recurring uber-boss Baal who, once defeated, returns as a Prinny and becomes even more powerful to add an even greater challenge.  That's part of the genius of Nippon Ichi's games - if you just want to experience the story, you can just casually play through it as you would any standard RPG.  But if you want to truly master the game, you can expect to run up the play time counter with hours well into the triple digits.  Deep enough to appeal to hardcore gamers, but accessible to those who just want to finish it and move on as well.

Spoony: And that's Disgaea, a sleeper hit from the early days of the Playstation 2 that has since gone on to become a fan favorite and a major component in launching Nippon Ichi's considerable following outside of Japan.  It's not hard to see why either, as the game is a combination of deep turn-based strategy mechanics with a puzzle bent, legitimately funny humor and surprisingly well-written characters backed by some solid voice acting.  The story's arc is also handled in a very clever way, showing Laharl's gradual character shift at the influence of those around him (in spite of his stubborn pride) and the overall theme of unlikely unity among races.  It's essentially to RPGs what Total Recall is to action films - a competent one in its own right that's made entertaining by its over-the-top elements, but which is also heavily steeped in self-referential satire and with some underlying themes portrayed in a subtle but surprisingly effective manner. Nippon Ichi definitely has a great amount of passion for what they do as a company, and Disgaea in particular stands as definite proof that making a game largely silly and irreverent doesn't mean that it can't also have some intelligent subtext and a strong story to go along with it.  The fact that it manages to avoid falling into the common RPG pitfall of becoming self-indulgent and preachy whilst doing all this is just another cherry on the cake.