Bend the Disgaea engine to a Roguelike and this is what you get, pretty much. Nippon Ichi returns with their anime, "wacky", genre-parody style, this time sending up "sentai" shows (if you're not a Japanerd, think Power Rangers). Unlike Disgaea, it's not a strategy-RPG, though it looks and feels very similar; instead it tries to mash together Roguelike mechanics with the Grindan Forever style of Disgaea, and ends up doing both rather poorly.

The game opens with the titular Darkdeath Evilman about to off the Super Baby ... yeah, it's one of those "wacky animu spaz humor" games just like pretty much everything else NIS ever does, so if you have a low threshold for that sort of thing, you might as well just check out right now. I can take this stuff in moderation, provided there's some good gameplay on hand to back it up ... unfortunately that's not the case here.

Anyway. The Unlosing Ranger races to the scene, but manages to get run over by a delivery van. He transfers his costume and powers to you, some random stranger, and you bravely (but stupidly) step up to the challenge, only to get killed pretty quickly. You're revived in some pocket dimension a la Dragon Ball Z, where you can train in various dungeons until you're leveled enough to go back and fight the Evilman.

The pocket dimension has a "hub world" structure identical to Disgaea; there's a functional but fairly boring hub where you get new items, get items repaired, and etc. When ready, you talk to a gatekeeper who gives you a list of dungeons. You take on a bunch of these in sequence and eventually there's a boss battle, then you get a new set to work with.

The difference is that dungeons are done in the Roguelike style; you take a step, all the monsters take a step. You die, you lose everything that you're carrying and all your money. You exit a dungeon and re-enter, you have to start from the beginning at Level 1 again.

Well, that latter part isn't entirely accurate, and that's what makes ZHP stand out from most Roguelikes, but also sets it up for failure. Your overall level resets every time you die or exit a dungeon, but successfully completing a dungeon permanently levels your base statistics. So why is this a problem? The challenge in most Roguelikes comes from the fact that you DON'T permalevel ... but it's technically possible to complete any dungeon from level 1 and with crap equipment, provided you play with optimal strategy (and get a fair dose of luck to boot.) Some of ZHP's dungeons - particularly the boss battles - are intentionally NOT designed to be finished this way. It's impossible until ... you guessed it ... you do a whole bunch of Grindan in the lower levels. The boring, repetitive lower levels. Over and over and over and over.

Disgaea had much the same structure - short, easy and uninspiring regular levels, but some brutal boss encounters that forced you to grind the easy levels over and over to prepare for them. It's what eventually killed that game for me, and it's the same story here (except the Animu Humor is even more omnipresent and obnoxious, the characters aren't even as good, and there's barely a story to speak of.) It has a nice soundtrack by the same guy that scored Disgaea, but that's about all it has going for it. Unless you really love Grindan and Spaz Animu, I guess.


* Gameplay Video