Review: Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days (Sony PSP)

Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: Nippon Ichi America
Genre: SRPG
Release Date: 09/08/09

The Disgaea series is generally regarded as Nippon Ichi’s flagship franchise and has garnered a dedicated following. The first Disgaea has gotten three different incarnations, the first on the PS2, an enhanced port for the PSP, and finally, another port for the DS that had some things the other two versions didn’t have (i.e. Prinny commentary and new characters to recruit), but also received some downgrades (the graphics and most of the voice acting) to make it fit on a DS cart. Now the middle sibling of the Disgaea series has started to follow suit with this PSP port.

So does this port provide compelling enough reasons to revisit D2, or does it feel like someone was trying to squeeze water from a stone? Read on to find out.

The plot for the main game remains the same as in the original: Adell’s mother attempts to summon Overlord Zenon so that she can give him a good tongue lashing and get him to lift the curse that’s affected everyone except Adell. Naturally, things don’t go as planned, and she inadvertently summons his daughter instead. From there, Adell and the gang set out to find Zenon, getting sidetracked into all sorts of hijinks along the way. The story is serviceable, but feels rather cliche and lacking next to the plots in the other games. The irreverent and occasionally fourth wall breaking humor Nippon Ichi games are known for is present here. There’s also a new mode featuring Axel which takes you through his failed attempts at reclaiming his former glory prior to meeting up with Adell and the gang. You either unlock it by beating Adell’s mode (as in fighting the final boss – losing to Axel won’t cut it, and unless you’re severely underlevelled you have to actually try to lose to him anyway) or by punching in a code. Even if you you can sort of guess how it’s going to end, it’s still amusing to play through.

The characters in this game have their charm in their own special way, but they aren’t as memorable as the ones in the first game. Adell isn’t a particularly compelling protagonist, and his character type is something we’ve seen ad infinitum. The contrast between him and the rest of the cast does make him stand out, though not necessary in a good way. Recurring encounters with Axel pepper the plot, and while watching him play the role of the humorously incompetent villian can be entertaining at times, he kind of pales in comparison to Midboss in D1. Of course, considering Laharl, Etna, and Flonne appear in every Disgaea game (and also make cameos in other NIS games like Phantom Brave), and Etna’s integrated into the main plot of this game, it’s pretty hard for other characters them to beat them in terms of memorability.

Characters from other Nippon Ichi games tend to make cameos in games other than their original series, and this is no exception. For starters, the aforementioned Laharl, Etna, and Flonne join your party, though to get Laharl and Flonne you’ll have to unlock and beat two extra stages. You also recruit characters like Mao from D3, Majoly from Rhapsody, Priere from La Pucelle, and Zetta from Makai Kingdom. There’s also poor marooned Asagi, who has yet to succeed in her quest to find her own game despite her many cameos in other games.

Nippon Ichi games are not exactly known for their cutting edge graphics, and this is no exception. The opening animation still looks impressive, but sadly that’s the only one in the game. The graphics consist of 3-D backgrounds and isometric maps and the recognizable 2-D sprites we all know and love. The interface, characters portraits, and text boxes look sharp, which emphasizes how comparatively low resolution the sprites are (though they do have their charm). There is a bit of lag at times, like when a character twirls their weapon for about four seconds before casting a spell or a delay before a character talks. While it’s not too onerous and is inherent with the UMD format (with the exception of a data install like with Dissidia), it does drag down the pace a bit. The attack animations are flashy, though considering how much battling you do, you’ll probably want to turn them off after a while to make the battles go a bit faster. However, Axel baring his pasties covered chest while making a face like he just sucked a carton of lemons (like so) is something I could’ve gone the rest of my life without seeing – and joy of joys, that’s the background for the area select screen in Axel.

The soundtrack contains a number of catchy tunes and vocal themes like “White Tiger” and “Sinful Rose”, as well as remixes of music from D1. Much like in the PSP port of the first Disgaea, you can purchase music and set it as the background music for trips into the Item World so that you’re not stuck listening to the same song over and over again as you trek through the Item World. There is also the option of having either the English or Japanese voices, and you can switch back and forth at any time. The voice acting is mostly pretty good across the board, though Tink and his horribly exaggerated accent might annoy some.

You’ll split your time between your base and battles. In your base, you can do the usual stocking up on supplies and healing your units. Treasure chests will randomly spawn periodically, so it’s worth your while to take a look around after moving the story along. There’s also the Dark Assembly, wherein you can pass bills ranging from making more items available in the shops to unlocking classes and maps if enough senators vote in favor. Of course, you can either bribe or kill senators who don’t vote your way, or even become a senator yourself. To create units, existing characters spend mana earned from killing enemies, and they and the newly created character share a master-pupil relationship. Counterintuitively, the master learns specials from the pupil by using them enough times for it to reach level 1 (the master and pupil have to be standing adjacent to each other for the master to be able to use those specials). You can also reincarnate units into a different class, meaning they start back at level 1, but keep the abilities they’ve learned and gain some status bonuses depending on when they reincarnate and how many times they’ve reincarnated.

During battles, your characters are deployed from a base panel, and you can deploy up to ten at a time. You can throw enemies into the base panel to have thrash on them. However, if the enemy is stronger, the base panel is destroyed and the units in there are out of commission for the rest of the battle. The Geo Panel system returns as well, though some geo stones move every turn, forcing you to revise your strategy (or just destory them). You can also earn felonies for achieving certain things, like killing many enemies or gaining attack power quickly. They net you extra experience, and racking up enough of them unlocks extra stages.

Of course, this wouldn’t be an enhanced ports without the, well, enhancements. Characters now have a passive ability, such as dealing more damage when low on health and recovering SP every turn. You can also bounce thrown characters off of ally monsters, which sends them farther in the direction they’re tossed. That comes in handy when you need to get a unit somewhere quickly. New classes and monsters, such as Peta-class magic users and Entei (no, not the Pokemon), have also been added. If you have a save file from Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, you can create Lady Samurais.

Some smaller tweaks were also made. For instance, you can now see the accuracy of an attack before you execute it. Stats are now less likely to overlap the stat name, though that can still happen if you get a character’s stats astronomically high (particularly HP). When selecting allies to dispatch from the base, you can organize them like you would your items (by level, attack power, etc.). The Level Spheres in the Item World from D3 have also been added. Lifting them and clearing a stage will add more levels to the item you’re in, which makes leveling up items a bit less tedious.

One notable addition to this version is the Magichange feature, which was first implemented in Disgaea 3 and can be unlocked by playing through Axel Mode. Magichange allows a human-type unit to use a monster as a weapon, gaining a new ability and a temporary stat boost in the process. The type of weapon, ability, and the size of the stat boost depends on how strong the monster is (note that a very weak monster can actually drop the humanoid’s stats). New to this version, however, is Magichange 2, which lets a Magichanged human character Magichange another monster and and gain use of their abilities as well. All the characters involved accrue all the EXP and mana from defeated enemies. However, it only lasts a limited number of turns, and after that the monster(s) involved become unavailable for the rest of the battle, so you have to think carefully about when to use it.

You could just complete the main story and call it done if you’re so inclined, as one playthrough has a lot of meat on it even if you just go straight through the game. But if you want to complete every last thing in the game disc and max out as many units as possible, you’ll be mired in this game for quite a while. You can experiment with different classes and weapons; the possibilities are near limitless, especially when you factor in reincarnation. Like in the other Disgaea games, there’s also the multiple endings to shoot for. Earning them should be easier after you’ve gone through at least one playthrough.

Like other Nippon Ichi SRPGs, this game has a steep learning curve. Those who have played other Nippon Ichi SRPGs will be have no problems. But those who haven’t may feel overwhelmed at first. It might take them a while to grasp all the gameplay mechanics and be able to use them strategically, and not everyone will have the patience to play long enough to do so. The game does do a decent job of introducing beginning players to the basics, and it at least starts off easy before piling on the souped up units and tricky Geo Panel setups i.e. going through a gauntlet of archers (that never moved) to get to the six geo blocks giving them various boosts, including healing them every turn, no lifting, and cloning them if you do manage to off them. But then, such moments are what the more hardcore fans pick the game up for. While Axel Mode contains less than a third of the chapters that Adell Mode has (four versus thirteen), the difficulty ramps up more quickly there.

Some aspects of the game have been given adjustments to make the gameplay more balanced. Healers can also gain experience by casting their healing spells instead of having to rely on them learning offensive spells from a pupil or involving them in melee attacks (because we all know how good healers are at that), making them easier to level up. Some loopholes were closed, much to the chagrin of some. For instance, you can no longer capture monsters that are at a higher level than Adell/Axel. That means no more capturing level 9999 Nekomatas – unless, of course, Adell/Axel also happen to be that level.

It’s hard to call a port of a three year old game original, even with the additions and incorporation of gameplay elements from Disgaea 3. There’s no changes to the plot in Adell’s mode, which while mildly amusing wasn’t anything spectacular in the first place. Axel’s mode was a nice addition, both in terms of fleshing out Axel’s character and introducing some of the new gameplay features. Given how short it is, though, you could beat it in a day. However, the number of characters from other games making cameos overshadows the actual cast, and as a result those characters end up carrying the game. That being said, there’s enough additions that even if you invested hundreds of hours in the PS2 version of D2, this version still offers enough new features that playing it will still be worth your while.

You could spend hours and hours just building up your units and customizing them into killing machines with insane stats. I found myself glued to the PSP for hours on end doing exactly that, trying to level up all my units and unlock the new classes and maps. The fact that it’s on a portable system makes it that much more addictive since you can now take it wherever you go instead of being tethered to a TV. The game can last you for a very long time, especially if you’re a completionist. On the flip side, there’s the possibility that some might find the voluminous amount of context so staggering that they eventually put the game down and pick something else up.

D2 has been somewhat overshadowed by its predecessor D1 being the seminal title of the series (you never forget your first and all that jazz) and by D3 being the newer and more shiny game, as well as due to its own shortcomings. Having a spruced up port helps to change that. Fanatics of Disgaea and NIS games will eat this up and likely picked this up release day. SRPG fans will gravitate to this as well due to how much strategic depth the game has to offer. Again, the question remains as to how many will stick it out through the post game, as that’s the bulk of the game.

Sometimes a message popped up saying, “DL cannot be utilized. DL content will stop playing. To play DL content, DL content must be installed onto Memory Stick at the time of the game’s booting. If you save now, your save data will be saved in the state in which you cannot use the DLC.” It appeared if I quit to the title screen and went to load a file, regardless of the amount of room I had left on my memory card. It was puzzling consideirng there isn’t even downloadable content available for the US version yet. However, according to NIS, this will not affect your game and you do not in fact have to wait until DLC comes out on this side of the globe. To compensate, they’ll be releasing the Sapphire DLC for free. While this sort of thing should have been detected before the game was released, it didn’t affect anything except for causing people to worry something was wrong, so the offer of free DLC was a nice gesture of goodwill. It was at least handled a whole lot better than the Rhapsody bonus content fiasco.

The Scores
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Unparallelled
Replayability: Unparallelled
Balance: Above Average
Originality: Pretty Poor
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: Enjoyable Game

Short Attention Span Summary:
Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days is the definitive version of D2, incorporating gameplay mechanics from D3 and expounding on them, as well as some completely new ones. It excels in gameplay, but falls short in the story department. If you missed the PS2 version, definitely pick this up. Even if you’ve played the PS2 version to death, there’s still enough new content and gameplay additions that the experience will still feel fresh.