Game Changers: Volume 26 – Disgaea: Hour of Darkness

Two hundred and fifty-five; deux cents cinquante-cinq; nihyaku goju go; 255. This number will be familiar to most gamers. It seems to crop up quite a lot. In the original Zelda, it’s the maximum number of Rupees you could carry; it’s the max number for many of your stats in most Final Fantasy games; it’s the highest number of Effort Points in Pokemon. There’s a technical reason for this. You’ve heard of bytes, right? A byte is made up of eight smaller units called bits. The result is that the maximum number of values it can represent with these eight-digit units is 256 (255 numbers plus zero, I assume). Let me quote Wikipedia for a moment: 225 is “the maximum value representable by an eight-digit binary number, and therefore the maximum representable by an unsigned 8-bit byte.”

Yup, you read that right: level 9,999.
Yup, you read that right: level 9,999.

Does that make sense? Sort of? I’m not a programmer so my understanding of such matters is sketchy at best, but it was nice to know there was an actual reason my stats were capped at 255 in so many games. This was especially true when it came to games like Final Fantasy where, if you had a little extra time on your summer vacation, you could easily get your characters up to level 99. And then that was it. Your characters had reached the pinnacle of heroic ability and you might then notice an conspicuous number of “255”s in your stats. The level 99 cap was also traditional in many many games. Disgaea, however, has always eschewed tradition.

Disgaea was not Nippon Ichi’s first tactical RPG — that would be Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure for the PS1 and its more interesting spin-off La Pucelle Tactics. Rhapsody was far too simple to be very interesting and La Pucelle wasn’t released in North America until after Disgaea became a runaway hit in 2003 — or perhaps more of a cult classic since it wasn’t the easiest game to get one’s hands. Disgaea stands out as one of the rare RPGs whose plot is almost entirely humorous. No spiky-haired-emo-save-the-world drama in this game! No, instead we have Laharl, the would-be overlord of the Netherworld, his not-so-loyal vassal Etna and her band of demon-penguins, the Prinny Squad, and Flonne, the cheerful angel and failed assassin. Mayhem ensues. But there is another very notable feature to the game. Please see screenshot number one. Do you see that level? No that is not a glitch or a cheat. Disgaea says level 99 is for sissies.

Ouch, that's gotta hurt!
Ouch, that’s gotta hurt!

Disgaea represents the apotheosis of level grinding as you reach for the lofty heights of level 9,999. (Good luck with that. I left off around level 450, I believe). There’s no capping stats at 255 in Disgaea and damage is never limited to 9,999 — not even close! Levels and stats can reach truly ridiculous heights, which are only necessary for those planning to wade through the oodles of post-game content and the New Game+ feature. And the ultimate boss? Think Prinny with several million HP. Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is certainly not one to be daunted by ludicrously high numerical values and it’s since spawned a franchise that deviates from the old 8-bit standard with great success. After all, what’s so great about level 99?

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