Disgaea: Hour of Darkness is my mind was perhaps one of the most frustrating but most rewarding Playstation 2 era games in my collection. While it featured many hours of entertainment, it was a real hassle to find over here in Australia and to this day remains a very challenging find in any retail store. However from this one which at the time was localized by ATLUS USA, we have seen NIS America form and several additional installments and spin-off’s in the franchise launch to both Japanese and English-speaking markets.
Nippon Ichi Software have decided to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary by giving Laharl, Etna and Flonne, the main characters from the very first Disgaea game, what they have longed and invaded games for ever since – the chance to become main characters once again. Rather than tack on a game in an alternate or future timeline, NIS have chosen to make Disgaea D2: A Bright Darkness a chronological sequel to Disgaea: Hour of Darkness following on from the events of the first game. Ten years has changed the series considerably, so has this resulted in a better experience than the original? Read on to find out.
Several years after the events of Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Laharl has now begun his reign as Overlord of the Netherworld, a title he acquired from his beloved-by-all father. The big issue is that in keeping with his current ways, he has alienated himself from the rest of the netherworld who either don’t know he exists or disapprove of him as the Overlord. While conducting a scheme involving statues of himself with funny faces (Kudos of Etna), the trio find themselves the target of a faction trying to overthrow him in the name of King Krichevskoy. While dealing with this threat…. the Netherworld has fallen under disarray with a threat that could send Laharl down a whole new walk of life. They are also joined by Sicily, Laharl’s angelic little sister who literally mailed herself in from Celestia amid suspicion from everyone else.
If you are someone who expects and requires the typical “epic” RPG storyline of drama, romance, sorrow and so forth, you should back far away from Disgaea and look for something else. On the other hand if you are in for a title with a less serious storyline filled with “cartoon violence”, comedy, pop culture references and fourth wall breaking… these are all pretty much staples for a Disgaea title and Disgaea D2 handles them quite well.
The story is once again split up into a number of chapters, each containing a series of maps that comprise of a single battle based in a “chapter themed” arena and is usually complemented by some form of dialogue or interaction between the characters. For the first time the main characters will also occasionally interact during battle, often with some witty remark. While not all characters make their return in this title, the character selection both new and old fared well – with Laharl, Etna and Flonne still retaining their charm points after all these years.
The storyline is overall enjoyable and should hopefully provide what fans have been expecting. You don’t really need to play the original to necessarily enjoy the title, but if possible I would personally recommend doing so. In comparison to earlier titles Disgaea D2 didn’t have as great a lasting impression but still was a thrill to play through. A particular disappointment however was Etna’s “Next Episode” previews, which didn’t hit the same mark as the originals, although this was only a minor issue.
NIS have released Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness with the same visual improvements that were present in Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten, which in general look considerably better than earlier installments with everything receiving the HD touch – from character designs to environment layouts. The visuals look bright, vibrant and colourful with the option to change even the main character’s colour pallette through the Dark Assembly without having to create / reincarnate a character. Unlike their last release there is no option to switch between the HD and retro styles, which was a bit surprising considering they have gone back to the original storyline.
Many of the character designs have carried over from Disgaea 4, with a few new additions to the mix including the new “trap” priest, female Armor Knight and the Sea Angel monster. Other than that, many of the monster and creatable character designs have been carried over from earlier releases and have generally been with the series from its early years.
One of my personal favorite new design features involves the Overlord’s Castle which has been carried over from Disgaea 1. Similar in style to Makai Kingdom, characters you recruit will appear throughout the castle and can be interacted with. This proved to be a step up from the rather static base worlds in all earlier titles. As you can change who your “main character” is through the Dark Assembly, interactions change depending on who you control.
Music / Voice Acting
Tenpei Sato has returned to be the mastermind behind many of the tracks included in Disgaea D2. The game boasts a varied compilation of tracks ranging from a number of new and often enjoyable tracks exclusive to this title as well as remixes of earlier tracks. While the instrumental music is very strong, I wouldn’t have objected to more vocal tracks in the title, even if for specific battles. Disgaea D2 also boasts perhaps the most impressive opening sequence yet, with strong animation and the theme “CRADLE OVER” performed by Minori Chihara hitting the right spot. It could have however used (optional) subtitles for those who are not familiar with the language however.
Barbara Goodson, Michelle Ruff and Sandy Fox have voiced Laharl, Etna and Flonne respectively almost since the beginning (Amanda Winn Lee originally voiced Etna in Hour of Darkness). NIS America retained the trio in this title and for the most part pulled off a nearly identical performance to the one they did almost a decade ago. While I don’t have any specifics on voice actors / actresses for each role, it met the same standard I would expect from any English dubbed title from NIS America.
The standard Disgaea gameplay formula has not changed over the years, however for those of you who are newcomers – here is my generic description of the core gameplay: This is what is known as a tactical RPG game. Whilst Nippon Ichi Software has tried to expand the system over the years, this remains faithful to the original system where the characters are given a HP/SP bars and corresponding stats such as Attack (ATK), Intelligence (INT) etc and whilst remaining locked to a grid battlefield, you have to traverse to your enemies and attack them using a variety of skills. These basic concepts are taught in a tutorial at the beginning of the game so you are well equipped before tacking the storyline challenges.
You are allowed to use up to ten characters in a battle which consist of your storyline characters alongside custom characters each who can equip one of eight weapon types (Fist, Sword, Spear, Bow, Gun, Axe, Book (New), Staff and Monster) each of which have corresponding skills ranging from physical (ATK) or magical (INT) spells. The game also requires you to perform group attacks, lift and throw party members and environment objects and tailoring your individual character to your play style – For example I like to charge in and attack so my party primarily consists of a healer with Sword and Fist users. Even after so many releases it still remains fun and challenging.
Disgaea D2 took a slightly different approach to the battles in my opinion in order to entice players not to just focus all their experience on a single character. This was done through enemies (and the party member’s) additional Evilities (A bonus trait that can result in increased defense, resistances or attack benefits) and a particular love of poisoning my party.
As with other installments, there were a number of new additions and tweaks included with the aim to improve the experience. While not all of these will appeal to fans or take part in the element of strategy, they were nevertheless mostly welcome additions. The biggest addition revolves around the monster party members. In Disgaea 3 they introduced the MagiChange system where any humanoid character could transform any monster character party member into a powerful weapon. This has now been removed and replaced with a new mounting system, where humanoid characters can hop on and ride any monster during battle. This gives the party member more HP as it is the monster who initially takes the damage, but also provides access to special abilities enhanced by the relationship between the character (Often formed by fighting together). I didn’t personally use it too much, but it was another good attempt at making monster characters more useful. The relationship system also serves to benefit humanoid characters, with high feelings between characters resulting in a higher probability of team attacks, follow-up attacks and protection.
Unlike D3 and D4 where there were limits on how many characters you could have depending on your progression through the game, Disgaea D2 slackens many limitations and reprises the original Dark Assembly system will a few alterations to the formula. The biggest improvement was that rather than reincarnating your normal characters to improve their rank, you can now use mana directly to promote them without any loss of level – making that climb to Level 9999 all the more easier. In addition, the new “Cheat Shop” allows you to increase the difficulty level to your specifications and juggle the games experience settings amongst other things. Wanting to level up your character but have a big pile of HL sitting in your wallet? You can increase your EXP percentage while lowering the percentage of standard HL you receive in each battle for example. Characters stats can also be altered through a Dojo System that with progressively unlocking slots and services, allows you to give your characters a little additional stat boost every level-up or one of several other perks. Disgaea D2 really is a game that is about customizing the characters to your specifications not just the in-game default.
Unfortunately a number of features did not return from Disgaea 4 such as the level construction (Although they were heavily nerfed internationally), online pirating systems and other little features that made the game stand out from the crowd when it won my Game of the Year 2011 award. Item Worlds do however return, with potentially tens if not hundreds of hours worth of randomly generated stages ready for any player to explore (or exploited via the Cheat Shop). With pirate ships serving as your vessel, you once again are left to take out enemies and make your way to the end of the world – improving an items capability with every level reached. Extra Rooms are now random encounters instead of the two per ten levels formerly included, but enemy pirate ships did feel to put up a bit more of a fight. While this may just be exclusive to my experience, the one issue I had with Disgaea D2 was that the game was prone to crash in the Item World – often when enemy characters used animations. Given there are times when gamers do decide to make 30-60+ floor trips in the Item World, even occasional crashing can prove very frustrating (With no save points in between and potential hour-long runs).
Final Words on Disgaea D2
While making some features more approachable and lacking newly introduced functionality to the series, Disgaea D2 proved to be another worthy and enjoyable installment in the series with gameplay that could easily last you 50+ hours of gametime – not bad in comparison to other titles for its $59.95 AUD launch price. It was great to see that the writers could still handle Laharl, Etna and Flonne without falling into several of the traps that befall sequels, and makes me hopeful that NIS still have plenty in store for Disgaea 5.
New "Mount" system for Monster characters. After a ten year struggle, Laharl, Etna and Flonne take the Main Character title back.
Lack of Disgaea 4's online features.