Disgaea boasts a remarkable amount of customization and depth due to its item world and dark assembly. The item world encourages you to level your favorite items by clearing dungeon floors within them, which grants you access to the specialist characters inside. Specialists increase the stats of their item depending on their class; for instance, a dietician increases a character's HP whereas a coach increases speed. Although the item world is just a series of random dungeons, it offers countless battle opportunities as well as limitless potential for decking out your characters in the best gear. The dark assembly not only adds depth but also operates as an engrossing minigame in which you propose bills to a demonic senate. These can vary from granting you access to more expensive equipment to special stages. What's most fun, however, isn't passing bills but "persuading" by force those senators who object to your machinations; this initiates a battle against a horde of higher-level demons, and though it's difficult to win, it's nonetheless a treat to thrash those who get in your way. The dark assembly also houses a standard character-creation mode, in which you can choose from 14 human classes and additional monster types to fill your ranks.
The DS version of Disgaea is visually similar to the PSP version, though a few adjustments were made to capitalize on the DS's top screen. The detailed sprites look almost identical, and you'll rarely encounter any slowdown from flashy spell effects. The game does suffer from poorer texturing and a lower audio quality, but the occasional voice acting is clear enough, and the background music is suitable. A prinny, the franchise's violent penguin mascot, now appears on the top screen during anime-style cutscenes, where he supplements random dialogue lines with foreshadowing and jokes. These snide comments pair very well with the game's jovial character and should prove amusing to both fans and newcomers. An extremely helpful option is the ability to turn off battle animations for enemy and ally characters; this drastically speeds up fights and saves you time by turning hour-long brawls into 20-minute tiffs.
There's a good 40 hours of gameplay in Disgaea's 14 chapters, though you can easily double this amount with side quests and visits to the item world. You can unlock guest characters from other Nippon Ichi games, including Adell and Rozalin from Disgaea 2 as well as Pleinair, franchise character-designer Takehito Harada's signature character, who is playable for the first time. Multicard multiplayer drastically increases replayability and offers myriad customization options; you can determine geo-cube effects that apply to all characters and even add a fog-of-war setting that limits visibility to your allies. The standard time limit and victory-condition settings are also included, and if you're the obsessive type, you can purchase items from friends to complete your collection. If you tire of multiplayer, you can always start a new game, keeping your characters, money, and unlockables as you try for another of the game's 10 endings or even Etna mode, in which you play through as Laharl's favorite vassal.
Disgaea DS is chock-full of fanfare as well as a surprising amount of depth and strategic play in a convenient handheld package, and it offers a great way to experience this unique strategy RPG.