Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness PS3 Review
It’s crazy to think that 10 years ago we were introduced to Laharl and the gang, and the world of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness (our PSP review). It was Nippon Ichi Software’s first game in Europe, and to this day the Disgaea series is probably the company’s most well-known brand. It has had numerous sequels and even the first three titles have had various ports to PSP, Vita and DS, with the fourth game coming next year to Vita. Even though they are sequels, they never continued the adventures of the original cast – who were some of my favour characters in the series – until Disgaea D2 was announced. Disgaea D2, with the D standing for Dimensional, which just adds confusion to the franchise’s numbering, brings back the trio from the first game for another wild story that is filled with endless gameplay, amusing dialogue and the trademark Disgaea depth and complexity – it’s like the original cast never left.
The plot continues on after the first game, where Laharl has taken over from his father to become the Overlord of the Netherworld. While Laharl completely believes himself to be the perfect Overlord, the rest of the demons living in the Netherworld have different feelings on the matter. They show Laharl zero authority and will do what they can to remove him from power and replace him with a leader who is more worthy of the title Overlord. In typical Disgaea fashion, this isn’t a serious tale, but one that is made up with jokes and other comical gags.
Weirdly, this time, the jokes weren’t as amusing. It’s still funny, such as Laharl turning into everything he hates (a female with firm breasts) and Etna becoming a Player 2 version of herself and still hitting it out of the ball park with her post-episode skits, but overall, I wasn’t laughing as much as previous entries, which is the opposite of what I would have expected from finally getting back with the original cast. In fact, aside from the main core of Laharl, Etna and Flonne, you don’t see any of the first game’s major characters make a return, which was dissapointing after liking most characters that made up that game’s genuinely funny story. However, the story is just a luxury item on top of the game’s real investment – the incredibly deep strategy RPG experience.
Disgaea D2 is a game that I like to call a strategy RPG for the ridiculous. If you’ve played any entries in the genre, such as the popular Fire Emblem: Awakening, then you’ll have an elementary idea how Disgaea D2 works. The difference with this franchise compared to many other strategy RPGs is the fact that Disgaea is an incredibly deep and complex title. On a fundamental level, you move characters in a team turn-based fashion, meaning that you move each individual on your team and then select their commands, but these aren’t performed unless you state otherwise or you end the round. Position of allies is very important, as this leads to advance battle mechanics playing a role to help you, such as setting the positions up for team attacks, cover attacks, huge combos (you can eventually deal over 1 billion damage… just think about that for a moment) or having a friendly unit who will step into harm’s way to protect another.
Units can even learn a companion’s skill if they are linked together through the master/student system, a mechanic that adds the skills from the master’s class to the student. The student character needs to use these skills to eventually learn them, so when removed from the master they still know how to cast that educated ability. This allows classes that are often mainly created for offence or defence to adapt and blend both together to become the ultimate support and killing machine.
Over the years the series has kept adding additional mechanics and Disgaea D2 is no different. In fact, Disgaea D2 has been changed from recent releases to feel more like the original game by switching or altering mechanics. The first evidence of this is the return of the Geo-symbol, which have been called Geo-blocks in latest entries, thanks to their ability to stack upon each other. Geo-symbols are coloured prisms that contain stat buffs or debuffs. By themselves, they don’t do much, but when you mix in the Geo-panels, coloured areas of the battlefield, with these symbols, then they become deadly. Placing a Geo-symbol on a Geo-panel colour will force that colour to absorb its stats, meaning any enemy who is sitting on the same colour will receive that advantage or handicap. It’s a mechanic that can swiftly turn the tide of battle. If you’re fed up with the enemy overpowering you, due to how the battle is set up with Geo-panels, then you can destroy them, causing a chain reaction if the colour of the Geo-panel is different from the colour it resides on. This deals damage to all who are placed on the volatile colour. It’s possible to wipe out a whole team if you correctly set up the Geo-panels, which is an amazing visual to watch unfold in front of your eyes.
A new feature implemented is mounting, which takes over from the limited magichange system introduced in Disgaea 3 that allowed monsters to transform into weapons for friendly human units to use. The mounting system is a better implementation of having monsters work cooperatively with human friendlies, as this allows the human unit to ride the monster in a benefiting way. When mounted on a monster, the human unit doesn’t take damage; instead, the monster takes all the hits until it dies, but the rider can still attack in place of the monster and kill to earn both units experience points. This is a fantastic way to buff up weaker units that are behind in levels. This is probably the first time where I felt monsters were decent enough to create in the dark assembly, a feature that allows you to create new units for your army in exchange for the mana gained for fighting. I had always gone with human characters before playing Disgaea D2.
Not all of the new features and changes are limited to the battles, when you’re not busy taking down mobs of monsters through the game’s 10 story chapters you’ll spend a lot of time in the late King Krichevskoy’s Castle. This is where you do all your management, item buying and various other activities. The item world, a feature in the castle that allows your team to jump into any weapon or armour and increase its stats by beating 10 floors of a randomly generated dungeon, makes a return, albeit with a little twist. Instead of being able to progress at your will through the item’s world, you now have to enter via ships. These ships have limitations, with the first fully functional ship offering 60 floors of access, but once you meet up with pirates that raid the same item world as yourself, you can try defeating them and taking their ship to gain access to more depths and in turn creating a more powerful item. The item world has always been a clever inclusion for Disgaea, as it allows people who might not be able to buy gear from the shop to be able to upgrade their weapons through different means, often making a poor weapon into a competent one.
A cheat shop is a new feature implemented into Disgaea D2 which takes some of the modifications from the Dark Assembly and puts them into its own area. They call it a cheat shop, but it’s not an in-app purchasing feature; it’s a shop that lets you modify game variables. Fed up with not getting enough money? Reduce the experience slider and increase the percentage of money gained. Need to level up some skills? Reduce other aspects and pump it into weapon skills. The cheat shop is barebones at first, but the more you play, the more areas you can modify and the less the restrictions become on how much percentage you can increase the modifier. It’s a neat way to help players speed up satisfying the requirements they are after.
Setting up team members just how you like them has always been a distinct feature of Disgaea. Players aren’t bound by story related characters stealing the limelight, as any character you create in the Dark Assembly can be as important as you want them to be. I’ve mentioned already about how the master/student system lets you shape characters to your will, but building on top of this character crafting is the new Demon Dojo, a place that allows you to train up any members of your team. This feature is basically a level up modifier that will offer an increase in growth to a potential stat. Stick your fighter in a training regime for strength and he’ll gain a 5% increase on top of the basic growth for strength when levelling up. This is another feature that allows you to fill in a unit’s weakness or increase their key stats even more. There’s no exaggeration when I state that character potential is limitless in Disgaea D2.
My only concern for Disgaea D2 is that while this game is fantastic for newcomers, for people who have kept with the original and its sequels throughout the years, you might feel yourself running into familiar territory with the game. If Call of Duty can get away with people loving that every year, then I am sure fans of Disgaea can do it just fine as well. But I felt that I should warn that this game uses the same formula and progression as past titles, which also means it contains a wealth of content, will last for hundreds of hours and you can max out your characters at level 9999. Whether good or bad, that depends on the player. I personally still get a kick out of it, but I’m looking for something to break tradition in the next game. With the President of Nippon Ichi Software stating that the next Disgaea game will appeal to a bigger audience, maybe Disgaea D2 was a celebration, a party to rejoice where it all started with its niche crowd before it moves on to greener pastures?
Graphics were never a big selling point with the series, so don’t expect that to change with this new release. Disgaea D2 has an appealing and colourful art style, heavily influenced by anime, which follows in the footsteps of Disgaea 4 to offer HD sprites and character portraits, but it’s very low-key when it comes to pushing the hardware. Its charm comes from the animation and character art, not fancy particles and special effects. The voice acting is great, with the return of Barbara Goodson, Michelle Ruff and Sandy Fox reprising the main three characters. The newcomers fit well into the Disgaea universe with solid voice work, too. The Japanese audio track is present, for fans that dig that, and the musical score is good, but a lot of it is reused from the first game, such as Laharl’s Hymn.
There’s not really much else to say about Disgaea D2 – it’s more Disgaea. Having the original cast is a dream for fans, even if the story isn’t as entertaining as Hour of Darkness’, but in the end it is the same formula you’ve seen before with a few tweaks here and there to make it more in line with the first game (no map creation and community features, for example). If your dying for more hardcore strategy RPGs, then you certainly can’t do wrong with Disgaea D2, it’s great, but just remember, you might have a feeling that you’ve been here before.