Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness
Developer: Nippon Ichi
Publisher: Nippon Ichi
Release Date: 10/08/2013
Back in August of 2003, a game called Disgaea hit US shores thanks to Atlus USA. The game was their biggest hit to date, won numerous awards (including GOTY and several others from us) and helped to convince Nippon Ichi to open a US branch. Several years ago, it was the first game nominated and successfully entered into our video game Hall of Fame and it has spawned three sequels and several spin-offs, like Makai Kingdom and Phantom Brave. Now, a decade later, Nippon Ichi has decided it’s time to give Laharl his own game again. It’s only fair I suppose. After all, the previous Disgaea games have all featured new main characters, and even the supporting characters of Flonne and Etna have appeared in numerous games as major characters. Even the prinnies have been the main character in games more than the Overlord of the Underworld, so it makes sense Nippon Ichi decided to correct that situation.
D2 starts off close to where Disgaea ended. Laharl is lord of the Underworld, but he’s far more of an obnoxious prick than he was at the end of the first game. He gets better as the game goes on, but they did retcon this a bit and let his personality backslide. I’m not sure why they did this, but perhaps it’s because, for some reason, the demons of the Underworld haven’t accepted Laharl as their Overlord… even though he conquered it pretty handily and managed to secure peace with Celestia. Well, I guess some people will never be satisfied. Maybe they are Zetta fans? Anyway, Laharl sets out to prove he is the rightful Overlord through force, and along the way, he encounters an angel named Cicily who comes to the Underworld to become the Overlord. It seems that, as the daughter of the previous Overlord, she feels she has a right to rule. But wait – the previous Overlord’s daughter? That makes her Laharl’s little sister! How can an angel and a demon be siblings? Is it a ploy or a scam by this angel? It doesn’t seem to be, so it’s just one of the many mysteries you’ll have to uncover while playing Disgaea D2. Others include Etna’s missing memories and someone who recognizes her from her past that shows up around the tail end of Chapter 5. Finally, Celestian flowers are blooming like crazy in the Underworld, causing all sorts of crazy things to happen. In Chapter 4 you’ll see Player 2 Etna and Laharl-Chan!
Although the hilarious satire and comedy antics you’ve grown to know and love from the Disgaea series and characters are in this game from beginning to end (you even get quips when main characters are on the field next to each other in battles), the game does feel a little weak story wise. Several of the chapters just feel like padding to increase the length of the game and could have easily been cut out to make the story flow better. I guess it was hard to come up with a real storyline for Laharl and friends, seeing as how the original game wrapped up so nicely. The end result is that the story is weaker than the original Disgaea and Disgaea 4. I’d put it on par with Disgaea 2 and better than Disgaea 3. The game is funny and I chuckled a lot, but the impact isn’t as great as some other Disgaea titles, and the character development is noticeably less, mainly because all their growth, maturity and evolution occurred ten years ago. What you end up getting is a game that assumes you already know everything there is about the core three characters of Laharl, Etna, and Flonne so if you haven’t played Disgaea, much of the story will be lost on you, as it constantly references characters and events from that game. The good news is you can get Disgaea on PSN for $9.99, so if you’re thinking about getting this but haven’t played the original, you can get it really cheap, and I STRONGLY advise playing that (or watching the anime I guess) before booting this one up.
The visuals in Disgaea D2 are quite nice, and Laharl and friends have never looked better. The HD graphics of Disgaea D2 really make the game look great, especially for an SRPG, which tend to get the short end of the stick visual-wise compared to other RPG subgenres. That said, the game is a bit of a step backwards from Disgaea 4. The characters aren’t as detailed, the backgrounds aren’t as rich, and most notably, the talking head cut scenes aren’t as animated as in Disgaea 4. Remember how, in the cut scenes, characters would move? Valvatorez would flourish his cape or you’d have a seamless transition from one visual to another? Well that’s gone here. In Disgaea D2, we’re back to static visuals while the voice actors give their lines. It’s a bit of a disappointment, as I was really hoping to see Disgaea 4 style animations done with the original cast, but it just wasn’t to be. Finally, although the character models are cleaned up and given the HD treatment ala the last game, most of the character models in the game are the same as we’ve seen since the beginning of the series. It would be nice to see some new designs to stave off the feeling of “same old, same old” staleness. We have a little bit of this with a new Iron Knight to replace the Armor Knight (different gender now too!) but that’s it. We’ve even lost some classes and monsters from Disgaea 4, which is shame, as many classic monsters aren’t in this game (We do have a wereshark thingie now though…). Perhaps instead of a palette swap, we could have gotten a second model. The game and the PS3 could easily handle that. So like the story, the graphics of Disgaea D2 are enjoyable, but a step down from what we experienced in Disgaea 4 two years ago.
The audio aspects of Disgaea D2 are in a similar boat to the previous aspects of the game we’ve talked about so far. What’s here is nice, but there is certainly room for improvement. Now, don’t get me wrong – the voice acting is extremely well done, and it’s great to hear the usual cast reassembled. They do a wonderful job. I’m actually talking about the music. My wife came by while I was playing Disgaea D2 and asked which Disgaea I was playing. When I told her the one that was coming out later this year, her reaction was, “Holy crap – are they EVER going to get new music for that series?” and this was coming from a woman who has been Etna for Halloween before! I had to admit, she was right. I mean, I love the classic songs from the series, and it’s always fun to hear them, but many of the tracks are the same ones from a decade ago. Even games that liberally reuse music, like Pokemon and the Street Fighter series, at least remix the tracks regularly, and that just isn’t happening here. Again, I have to state that what is here is enjoyable and I appreciated the game for what it is, but much of the game felt like a backslide from Disgaea 4, as well as like the game is resting on its laurels instead of being what it COULD have been.
The good news is that playing Disgaea D2 is pretty awesome. It’s the same old turn based grid style combat we’ve known and loved since Fire Emblem and Shining Force first reared their heads in ye olden days. The usual tropes of leveling up, reincarnating your characters to higher or even different classes and unlocking new classes or monsters is still here. Characters are all staring back at Level 1 without any of the skills or powers earned in previous games, but you had to be expecting that. You can’t expect to start the game at 9,999 with every ability in the game – where would be the fun in that? There are some notable changes though. The Dark Assembly is really cut down, with the only real things to do there being reincarnation, creating new characters, gaining the double jump ability at base and asking for some post game effects. A lot is gone, and I only needed two or three bills passed by the Assembly as I played through the core story. Senators are a lot weaker, and the concept has really been scaled back, which is fine I guess. It is worth noting that you can promote your characters in the Dark Assembly now, which is nice. You don’t have to pass a bill or anything. As long as you have enough Mana, your characters can go from a one star fighter, valkyrie, healer, archer or whatever to a two star, and then from a two star to a three star. So on and so forth. This is a really enjoyable addition, especially for the gamers that don’t want to grind and reincarnate to get a slight stat boost and just want to play the game through to the ending. As you can imagine, you have a lot of Mana to spare in the game, the first time I’ve ever encountered that “problem,” and it is a bit of culture shock to see characters sitting with hundreds, if not thousands, of Mana points and nothing to spend them on.
This is where the brand new Cheat Shop comes into play. Here you can scale how much XP, Mana, Hell, Skill XP and Weapon Mastery Points you earn. Since I found I was earning a ton of Mana I didn’t need, I scaled the Mana back and increased the amount of Skill XP and Weapon Mastery I was getting. You can tinker around to see what works best for you, and it adds a new dimension to the game.
We also have the Training Dojo. Here you will assign characters to various tasks. Each one will give your character some kind of bonus. At first you can only assign a single character to a task, and they will get a 5% bonus to a stat when they level up. So Laharl might be getting a 5% bonus to Attack each time he levels up, Etna a 5% Defense bonus and Flonne a 5% Resistance bonus. These tasks will slowly level up as you go through the game. It takes a while though. I didn’t get a dojo training up to Level 2 (out of a possible 5) until the end of Chapter 5. When it does level up, you can add another character to the training and the rate increases. So I could add a Warrior to the same task as Laharl once the task hits Level 2 and now both get a 10% Attack bonus instead of one guy getting a 5%. You’ll unlock more tasks as the story progresses, including WM bonuses, Mana bonuses, XP bonuses and the like. Eventually you’ll have more slots than you do characters, which is nice. You then just have to decide who you want to get what bonuses.
A big change to the game is the going away of the Magi-Change option. Magi-Change was when a monster could turn into a weapon for a character. I rarely used it, as it dropped me down a character, and if the human character died, the monster went with it. Just too risky and the gains from doing so were slight. This has been replaced by the mounted attack system, and man is it a million times better. Here a character rides a monster, and when this occurs, a special super attack can be used. This is a lot of fun, and I found the Dragon attack to be one of the best. It’s also nice because both characters gain XP from mounted attacks, they can each use their own skills, powers and magic, and you can dismount at any time. Some monsters I rarely used in the past are now incredibly awesome. Take, for example, the Mothman. Generally, it couldn’t take a hit and did little damage. The best thing about it was the movement rate it possessed. Now I team my Mothman, who has a Movement of 8(!) thanks to various items, with a human who has a very low movement rate (Say a Warrior or a Mage) and together they zip around the map with a crazy high Movement and can do a ton of damage. It reminds me a lot of my Heroclix days, where some armies would have a character just to transport someone. Unbelievable Professor Judo Chop (The Mothman) and Hot Springs Manager (The Warrior) are two of my highest level characters because of this crazy tandem. It’s a lot of fun to see what different monsters do, and the mounted visuals are hilarious – especially Etna riding a Prinny dood!
Finally we have the new love/support based system. If you’ve played any of the Shining Force 3 games, or more recently, Fire Emblem: Awakening, you have a good idea of what this is and how it works. Basically, as characters work together, be it casting beneficial magic on each other, doing a team attack or combo together or just standing next to each other at the end of a turn, friendship goes up. When you reach a new level of friendship, there will be a heart (These range from zero to five hearts) and the synergy between characters increases. The higher the rating, the more damage the characters will do together or the better a buff/healing spell will be when cast by one upon another. The friendship also powers up mounted attacks, and you’ll see a character and a monster really ramp this up quickly if you use mounted attacks regularly. Hearts progress from one through three pretty rapidly, but the last two take forever. There are two other added abilities with a high friendship rating. You might get a Protect support, which is where one character throws him or herself in the way of an attack meant for their friend. This is potentially good if, say, a warrior protects a healer, but potentially awful if a character with a low defense or resistance blocks a physical attack that their friend could have shrugged off. You can also earn support attacks, which is when a friend gets a bonus attack after their ally has gone in a combo, special move, regular attack or what have you. If you really want to see the power of a support attack, get a Healer with a bow. She will be get two to three hearts on all characters rather quickly, and if you do a big attack on, say, a boss, she will often do a support attack FOR EACH FRIEND IN THE ATTACK. I once had the healer get four different support attacks in addition to her own turn, which was awesome. You have no control over when support attacks or protect supports occur, so keep that in mind. They’re an unexpected bonus rather than something you should ever count on.
The downside to the new friendship system is that it actively discourages you from having a large collection of characters. You see, if you don’t use a character in a battle, their friendship level slowly goes down from lack of use. As friendship can be crazy powerful, the new system has a big flaw in that you pretty much need to have a much smaller group of characters, say ten to fourteen, in order to prevent noticeable regression of your friendship levels. This means less experimenting or trying out new classes and/or monsters unless you want to reincarnate a lot. This is a big disappointment and makes the Item World far less fun, as you generally want a large range of characters for that for inevitable character KO’s, but now each level of the Item World means characters are losing friendship if they aren’t used, so this really changes how you go about things. Basically, the new friendship system is pretty interesting and makes for new strategies, but it’s also got one huge flaw that takes away from the whole experience.
One area where Disgaea D2 is as strong as previous renditions is in terms of replay value. Besides the story, you have a ton of post game content, randomly generated item worlds, five sets of DLC coming out, items to collect, randomly occurring pirates to encounter and kill so you can steal their ships, and more. You should be able to put over 100 hours into this game and still have a massive amount of content to discover. That makes the Disgaea series one of the best deals in gaming, and doubly so for D2, as it has an MSRP of only $49.99 – ten dollars LESS than most PS3 releases. How can you not want to take advantage of that? It’s hard to think of a series that provides this much content, regardless of sticker price.
Balance is another area where Disgaea D2 really excels. You can adjust the difficulty of the opponents in the Cheat Shop. Even if it gets too hard on the lowest difficulty, you can just enter an item world, leveling up that item while also leveling up your characters, come out and continue to progress through the story. Unlike a lot of times where you grind for the sake of grinding, no effort is wasted in Disgaea D2. For example, if you are having trouble getting through the story, spend a lot of hell on a strong weapon, enter the item world and level it up. Now you have a weapon that will do a LOT more damage and your characters will come out with higher levels and stats to boot. That should be enough to help you progress. It’s also worth noting that the maps in the story part of the game are more puzzle based than usual, with some interesting geo block configurations. So the game challenges your wits in addition to your tactical expertise and willingness to grind. In all, Disgaea D2 is a pretty user friendly game, although not necessarily newcomer friendly.
I know I’ve been hard on Disgaea D2 at times in this review, but I also hope my love for the game is pretty apparent as well. Yes, I feel the game’s story and visuals are a little weak compared to previous releases, but that doesn’t mean the game is bad. It’s a really enjoyable one – it’s just not as holy crap awesome as some previous Nippon Ichi SRPGs. I still laughed a lot, enjoyed plowing through the game, had a hard time putting the controller down (except after a full 100 level item world run – oh my god did I not play the game for a few days after that. Talk about burnout!) and consider Disgaea D2 to be one of my ten favorite games of 2013 so far. It’s just not AS good as, say D1, D4 or possibly D2. So it’s like saying, “Hey, that dump truck full of silver bullion you delivered to my house isn’t as good as that previous truck of platinum you gave me a few years ago.” A critic’s got to critique, you know? By no means am I saying you shouldn’t get this game, or that the Nippon Ichi faithful won’t love it. Rather the opposite. They just won’t enjoy it AS MUCH as some other releases – especially if they haven’t played Disgaea 1, as a lot will be lost to those newcomers that play this first.
Basically any RPG fan worth their salt should pick this up. Not only does Disgaea D2 offer the most replay value of any game released this year, it’s coming it at a slightly less than normal price tag, making it all the more appealing. There’s no better deal to be had this year. Is the game a bit weak in terms of story, graphics and originality? Yes. Is the game resting a bit on its laurels and its Disgaea pedigree? Yes. Is the game still a lot of fun? Yes. Is it funny and well worth experiencing? Yes. Is it a solid well built game guaranteed to entertain anyone who likes SRPGS? YES. While Disgaea D2 isn’t perfect, and it’s definitely a step or two down from Disgaea 4, it’s great to have Laharl back as the main protagonist in a Disgaea game, and a wonderful way to celebrate a decade of this awesome franchise.
Short Attention Span Summary
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is a wonderful game that offers more replay value than any other game released this year. It also doesn’t hurt that Nippon Ichi is charging ten dollars less for this game than most brand new releases. The game is a bit of a step down from Disgaea 4 in terms of playable characters, storytelling and graphics, but it’s still an enjoyable SRPG and it’s great to see the original Disgaea gang reunited for some madcap deviltry. You probably should have played Disgaea 1 to get the full effect of the game, especially in terms of the story, but otherwise this is one game you can easily wrack up several HUNDRED hours in and still not have touched all that the game has to offer.