Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories PS2 Review
Some games are known for their addictive nature, MMO’s, puzzle games and the all-consuming Pokémon series are known for their abilities to grab a gamer by the throat and refuse to let go, but very few match the heroin-like nature of the first Disgaea game, by strategy masters Nippon Ichi. Initially drawn in by the quirky humour, excellent characters and the simple yet deep battle system, players found themselves grinding away, finishing sub quests and levelling up their team mates to the maximum, with total play times heading into hundreds of hours long after the storyline quest had been finished. Unfortunately for the addicted, their subsequent fixes have been disappointing. La Pucelle and Phantom Brave were fine games in their own right, but when compared to Disgaea, they lacked something – an inexplicable Je ne sais quoi was missing, leaving strategy addicts to get their fix elsewhere. Now, Nippon Ichi has released the sequel, will we find the hit of the good stuff we have been craving, or simply have to go cold turkey?
Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories has a story only very loosely connected to that of the original game, set in the same universe but a self-contained tale, giving newcomers a fresh starting point. The Overlord Zenon, God of the Overlords (a title he earned after killing 1000 of his rivals) has put a curse on the people of his land, turning them all into demons. Eventually, they begin to lose their memories and their humanity, becoming mere slaves to the overlord. You play as Adell, the last human left in the world after being inexplicably unaffected by the curse, who attempts to summon Zenon, defeat him and break the curse. It is never this simple, of course, and during the summoning process, something goes wrong and instead, summons Zenon’s spoilt princess of a daughter, Rozalin, who becomes ritually bound to Adell until she takes him to her father. It is a classic tale of reckless, cocky male meets the prim and proper princess, who no doubt turns out to like a ‘bit of rough’. It’s Han and Leia all over again. Unfortunately, Adell is no replacement for the anti-hero of Disgaea, Laharl. Where Laharl was an evil, vicious, egotistical yet somewhat pathetic demon prince, Adell is a stereotypical anime “cool” guy – all poses, cocky attitude and Americanisms. A classic ‘Yaoi’ poster boy, backed up by his constant mentioning that “he doesn’t like girls” or “not wanting that girl near him”. I’m sure the average teenage “anime-fan” will love him, mind. A few original Disgaea characters do make fleeting appearances; winged demoness Etna and the legendary ‘Prinnies’, being the most notable ones. The story, however, is excellent and a light-hearted, self referencing affair with some truly brilliant secondary characters – a French speaking frog and a C-List intergalactic celebrity being two personal favourites – and despite my disliking of the main character, the voice acting throughout the game is of a very high standard with a script full of genuine funnies.
The story could just be delivered to you via a series of white flashes and beeps, as it is little more than background to one of the deepest strategy games available. Yes, Disgaea fans – there is no need to worry. Disgaea 2 is just as good as the original game and this is mainly to do with the fact it is practically a remake, only with a few tweaks here and there.
It still revolves around a hub system, where you find yourself between battles and can use the time here to visit a myriad of shops to equip your party with various weapons, potions and spells, but as before, the brunt of the game consists of a linear sequence of turn-based strategy missions. A typical mission requires you to defeat all opposing characters on the map by utilizing up to 10 characters of your own. These characters level up as you defeat enemies and complete missions, allowing you access to different classes as varied as Ninjas, Demonic Penguins and Pirates – allowing you to build the squad that you desire.
You can still pick up, stack and throw team mates to higher places and you can still use geopanels – coloured sections of the maps that, once stood upon, can give your party a variety of positive or negative effects, from a health boost to all your enemies levelling up – to your advantage/disadvantage. One thing that has changed is the introduction of geoanimals, who live under the panels and can get up and walk them around the map, causing chaotic scrambles for a particular power up that is moving itself away from you. Other than that, however, the core gameplay remains untouched.
Creating new character classes and unlocking powerful new fighters is still very much a key portion of the game. As you progress through the game, you’ll accumulate points during battles, which are you use to create new custom characters. When you create a new ally, you assign an existing team member as its “master”. This translates into some really clever gameplay, as students that rank up will confer bonus points to their master, and if the master and student pull off a successful combo attack together, they’ll also earn a bonus. Of course, to make powerful new units, you’ll have to get the approval of the Dark Assembly first, a demonic senate who preside over the underworld, which you will have to appeal to in order to gain the better items, weapons and characters the game has to offer.
In the original game, you could threaten the demons or bribe them with gold in an attempt to make them give you what you wanted. In Disgaea 2, you get some fun new options, such as plying the senators with booze until they’ve drunk enough to agree to ANYTHING or using chloroform to knock them out so they can’t vote at all. If these underhand methods fail, you can just resort to the age old tactic that if you can’t get your way politically, bombing the unholy hell out of them until they agree with you is always an option. Ooh – satire.
The ability to level up absolutely every item in the game returns with the item world – a series of random dungeons that take place ‘inside’ the item you have selected, and with each dungeon you complete, the item gains a level. After finishing the storyline missions, which in itself takes around 60 hours, this is where a lot of your time will be spent; levelling up items and weapons and charging through increasingly more difficult dungeons.
One of the few completely new gameplay features is the ‘Dark Court’. Break too many laws within the game, which are as varied as throwing the prinnies around to, get this; levelling up too quickly and you will be issued a summons. Most of the times, you will be told to report to a particular level of the item world, which involves some serious fighting to get there in the first place. Once you stand trial, you will usually be rewarded for your crimes – this does take part in a world of demons, after all – and by committing these often bizarre crimes, you can actually collect some excellent items and weapons for your troubles. Abuse of the legal system, which usually means trying to get too many of these weapons, and you will find yourself with a lengthy criminal record which can only be cleared by death, then subsequent reincarnation!
Graphically, Disgaea 2 looks wonderful, or should I say, still looks wonderful. All the characters you meet are rendered beautifully in 2D and the 3D backgrounds are made up of some sharp, detailed textures, but again, a lot of the sprites have been reused from the original game and even though that was by no means a bad looking game, it smacks of laziness on behalf of the developer – which Nippon Ichi are really a lot better than.
Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories is an excellent sequel to a truly excellent game, with the only disappointing thing being it is perhaps too similar to the game that came before it – prompting me to have to dust off the old cliché that if it isn’t broke, why fix it? For fans of the original, you still don’t have a true Nippon Ichi Disgaea sequel, but more of the same wonderful gameplay to tide you over until, quite possibly, the next generation. For those who have never played Disgaea, well, there are now two excellent Disgaea games for the PS2.
More addictive gameplay, more wonderful characters, more of the same – still thoroughly recommended.