Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness
Disgaea D2 follows up on the original Disgaea by putting the focus back on Laharl, Flonne, and Etna – its trio of fan-favorite characters. In the decade since then, the franchise has focused on other characters for sequels, but that original grouping always had great chemistry together so bringing them back is something fans have always wanted. Beyond the character shift, gameplay has also been brought back to basics – or as close to that as you can get with this series. While it’s always been known for great voice acting and funny writing (so much so that it was once an anime series), the deep tactical gameplay keeps folks who love the genre hooked on it.
A decade after the events of the first game, Flonne is watering her garden with a Prinny watering can before large breast-shaped craters are formed by Laharl and Etna falling from the sky. This disturbs her, but leads to them banding together to fight a group of evil-doers out to…destroy Laharls statues of himself. THOSE CADS! Your job is to create as many characters as possible, build them up either through grinding stages over and over or using the in-castle learning tools, and then take your army into battle and win the day. Avoiding death would be nice too.
Like with past entries, there’s a fairly steep learning curve to the game that you’re eased into more now than ever before thanks to detailed tutorials. You can be shown any in-game action you’ll need to learn during battle and at least see how it’s done – don’t expect to figure out most mechanics in one shot though. Grinding a stage at least a few times lets you figure out the best way to use things like team attacks or combos.
Team attacks enable you to only use one turn for a two-person (or Prinny) attack and you can even throw teammates closer to an enemy if need be. Say you’re in a situation where someone just can’t quite reach someone – they’re one tile too far away. If you’ve got a compatible partner to help (ie – a human), they can toss the other character in the direction of the enemy and give them a turn to attack. You can also just toss a Prinny and have them explodify upon impact and do slightly less-than MASSIVE DAMAGE in the surrounding area. You have to be careful when using a Prinny though because their damage radius is fairly wide and you then lose that Prinny in battle. It’s best to only use a Prinny when victory is secured and you won’t need them later to slice and dice enemies as a last resort.
Geo panels are back and enable you to do a decent amount of damage to enemies in like-colored zones when destroying their corresponding crystals. One technique you might want to employ is get your units as close to the color as possible but not on it, then allow an enemy to get near that unit, break the crystal with someone else, and hopefully take a rival out. When you’re outnumbered in battle, this can easily save your hide. Being able to heal at the in-game hospital is nice, but isn’t something you want to rely on since you can find yourself in a must-grind situation to earn enough money to pay for your party to be healed up. What isn’t back is the map editor, and while that is a shame in theory, I do like that omitting it keeps things closer in spirit to the first game, which this is building off of. Going sequentially in the series, it does seem odd to have a newer entry lack a feature of the past game, but it kind of makes sense with this being made as essentially fan service for longtime fans who love the original game more than any of the later installments.
Visually, D2 looks about the same as the newer installments – it could pass as an HD remake of any standard-def Disgaea and isn’t likely going to blow your mind visually. Instead of going for a jaw-dropping look like the Rayman games, you get a crisp, clean look to everything. Characters have sharp skin tones and black outlines, while environments are full of detail. The world looks lived in with cracks in the walls of your castle hub, although the fighting environments do look a bit too perfect. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as too many flaws in the world could get distracting, and you need to be as focused as possible to win in D2. Animation is simplistic, and while that fits with SRPGs, there are times when it just looks cheap – like when Laharl’s scarf flaps around…indoors and has animation about on par with what you’d expect from a PS1 game. It’s incredibly choppy and wouldn’t have even better more than acceptable then.
D2 features the usual silly, but sometimes-serious musical score fans have come to expect. It’s far from bad, but also doesn’t stick with you very long after playing either. The voice work remains the strongest part of the audio and has been something fans can always point to as something this series does better than most in gaming. It’s hard to believe that when the original came out, we were just a few years removed from dubs like Shenmue’s which were comedically bad at best. Now, high quality VO work is the norm and despite that bar being raised, D2 holds up nicely. The cast still clearly loves the characters and their chemistry remains strong.
While Disgaea D2 is hurt a bit by a lean plot, it is saved by offering up the most user-friendly version of the franchise’s complex gameplay mechanics yet, great music, and outstanding voice acting combined with a funny script. SRPGs really don’t need much of a plot, so going with more of a gag and joke-heavy script works fine for this series – especially since this group of characters has such great chemistry together. Between the comedy and tutorials, this is a really easy recommendation as a gateway game for the series since it catches you up on the original’s plot right away and teaches you things gradually to make the learn curve manageable. At $60, newcomers might want to wait until a price drop, while series fans can buy this ASAP without worrying about whether or not they’ll get their money’s worth out of it.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: NIS America
This review is based on a digital copy of Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness for the PlayStation 3 provided by NIS America.