Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days PSP Review

In 2007 Nippon Ichi released a very well done port of the original Disgaea for the PSP with bonus extras. Now Nippon Ichi is using the same tactic again for Disgaea 2. Its PSP release, Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days, also comes with added content.

Disgaea 2 first made its appearance back on the PS2 in 2006. All the content from the original release is all here, including the same story. New things that have been added include new weapons, items, magic and a new move called Magichange (this allows a monster on your team to change into a weapon for you to use), which was first introduced in Disgaea 3. The main inclusion for fans of the series is the new story mode featuring Axel, one of the major non-playable characters of Disgaea 2. Axel’s story mode is unlocked after you complete the original story of Disgaea 2.

Even if you haven’t played a Disgaea game before, there’s no harm in playing Disgaea 2 first, since the story is mostly a standalone one, though it does help to play the first game as you will appreciate cameo appearances from past characters.

The story of Disgaea 2 is set in the world of Veldime where the main character, Adell, is the only human left. Fifteen years ago a fearful Overlord by the name of Zenon came to Veldime and put a curse on all the population to turn them into demons. For some unknown reason Adell was the only one who didn’t get transformed. From then on Adell has made it his goal to hunt down Overlord Zenon to defeat him in battle, to transform his family and friends back into human form.

I didn’t think the story and cast were quite as strong as in the original Disgaea; instead of playing someone who is evil like Laharl, you have Adell, who is a human trying to solve the world’s problems. It does take away some of the mischievous mishaps that characters from the first and third Disgaea got into. The story retains Nippon Ichi’s comical storytelling trademark. There’s plenty of laughter and the ride is a joyous one, it just isn’t the best they have written compared to their other games. I’ve also noticed a couple of typos in the text while playing through the game. The same was true of Disgaea 2 on PS2.

Gameplay in the Disgaea series is split into two sections: fighting and the hub world. The less complex of the two is the hub world, set in Adell’s home town of Holt. This is your gateway to everything in Disgaea and contains places to buy new weapons, armour and other items. There’s a hospital there to heal your injured party members and a portal to take you to your next level to conquer in the storyline.

When you start diving into the other areas like the Item World (randomly generated levels that when passed level up the weapon you jumped into) or the Dark Assembly (a court where you can vote for help from the senators to create new units or gain favours), you instantly know that Nippon Ichi have kept Disgaea 2 just as hardcore as the original was.

If you aren’t exploring the hub world, then you’re battling. Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days improves on the mechanics of the original’s strategy RPG fighting system.  Ten units can to be placed on a grid, usually found in other well-known games like Final Fantasy Tactics or Fire Emblem. What makes Disgaea so different from those titles though is just how deep Nippon Ichi has made the combat. It would take me ages to describe all the features that you could possibly do in the battle system, so I’m going to just name the main ones that affect how you are going to fight.

Geo Panels are a returning element and influence grids by putting status effects on the colour the Geo Panel is put on. Early on you’ll see things like extra defence, extra attack and other general power ups. As the game progresses you start getting crazy affects like clone, which after the round is done will clone the amount of enemies on that colour and spawn them into battle. Another one is warp, which moves your characters around the level randomly after every turn is finished.

One of the most irritating Geo Panels is block, which stops you crossing the colour and therefore has you finding another way to the point you need to get to. There are some points in the game where there is just too much blocking and it can become an annoyance. There are plenty of handicaps and advantages to gain from Geo Panels and is one of the features that needs to be mastered to truly progress through the game.

Throwing is another useful mechanic as it allows you to pick up friendly characters to throw, allowing them to move further than their movement would normally allow. It’s also possible to throw enemies as well – and if the enemies are Prinnies then prepare for some great Prinny explosion combos since those penguins explode when thrown.

The depth to this game is just insane. I can easily say it’s the deepest strategy game series ever to grace any system. Items come in plenty of forms and each item can have the same name, but a different rarity, which usually means that the weapon is stronger than a normal version of it. Characters can level up to nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine… yes that’s 9999. If you want to reach that level then you have to pretty much say goodbye to your life. It even allows you to reset the character’s level to 1, but keep the skills so that you can start levelling up the character to make them even better in battle.

Magic and special attacks can also level up. As you can see there’s so much to do and plenty of places to gain experience through the item world and repayable story missions, so you should never be stuck for a place to level up, it’s just a matter of if you have the time as Disgaea 2 is a very time demanding game if you want to fully experience everything it has to offer.

What is nice for new people to the series is that if they want to just enjoy the story, then they can by all means. A lot of the gameplay features can be overlooked and it would still be ok for a new player to play through the story while not using some of the more baffling features.

Even though Nippon Ichi have added some good features to the port, it still suffers from some of the minor niggles that affected even the first game in the series. The camera can still only be used to view at an isometric ninety degree angle, with four different views to spin round each time. It’s fine to use at the start of the game but as the levels get fancier and buildings start to be placed on the maps they obscure your view when you are looking for enemies on the map. This results in you having to guess where the enemy could be by moving the square around in that area till the target information appears on the screen to say it has being selected.

If you played the original port of the first Disgaea game on the PSP then they will know that the game looks pretty good when shrunken down from its console brethren. The backgrounds are sharp, clear and the sprites don’t look as blocky as they did on PS2, making it overall a better looking game, and all the animations and videos are still intact.

The audio is all there too and you can switch between Japanese or English at any time when you have access to the game’s menu. It’s great that Nippon Ichi has given players the chance to choose which language they prefer to listen to. It’s not that the English voiceover work is bad, most of it is rather good, but some people just like being purists.

Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days works brilliantly as a game on the move. The battles don’t often last that long and if you do get interrupted, the PSP’s sleep mode makes sure that you’re ready to jump back in once you are unoccupied.

If you’ve never played the series before then there’s no problem for you to pick it up and have some great fun. I recommend picking up the first game as well because I feel that Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness tells a better story. The new battle mechanics are nice to have, but they don’t really push the gameplay forward, and newcomers are mostly going to ignore or feel intimidated by them.

Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days will eat up a lot of your hours because of how deep the game becomes and there’s more to it than just beating the story. With a collection database and unlockable side missions, this is a game that can offer hundreds of hours for dedicated people who can’t get enough of the addictive post-story grinding element of the game.

Strategy RPG fans need to have a taste of the Disgaea series. It’s simply one of the best and most engrossing series the genre has to offer and Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days continues this trend.

8 out of 10
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