"The beloved trio Laharl, Etna, and Flonne return for another round of hilarious wisecracks and satirical affairs with the challenging gameplay still feeling fresh and engaging despite lacking much innovation."
Last time I ventured through the punishing lands of Disgaea was with the PS2 rerelease of Cursed Memories. While I briefly explored Disgaea 4 on the PS3, I never had the opportunity to fully experience a next gen reiteration of the franchise until now. Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is being released in celebration of the series’ tenth anniversary and while its fundamental (and unquestionably successful) gameplay formula hasn’t altered much, Disgaea D2 is as fun and as tough as I remember it back in 2006.
Disgaea fans already know what to expect. The beloved trio Laharl, Etna, and Flonne return for another round of hilarious wisecracks and satirical affairs with the challenging gameplay still feeling fresh and engaging despite lacking much innovation. The truth is, Disgaea doesn't need major change. It’s a series that finds itself in a niche position, offering gameplay mechanics found in very few titles this generation. The only other directly comparable equal I can think of is last year’s Rainbow Moon (and a few similar PSP titles).
"Like a traditional game of chess, it’s not about changing the core principles…it’s about the opposition and the playing field."
If you’re a fan of the franchise, Nippon Ichi’s latest offering is precisely what you’re looking for…more of the same crushingly difficult madness wrapped in cutesy aesthetics. “More of the same” may not sound like an enticing way to describe a game, but in Disgaea’s case it’s a favorable characteristic. Like a traditional game of chess, it’s not about changing the core principles…it’s about the opposition and the playing field. Of course, that’s not to say that Disgaea D2 is an exact replica of its predecessors. There are enough small tweaks spicing up the combat, like the Monster Mounting which replaces the Magichange from Disgaea 3 and 4 allowing humanoid characters to attack on top of monsters while the creatures take damage…or the nifty Cheat Shop that lets players modify certain attributes that affect EXP distribution during combat.
But let’s rewind for a second. What about newcomers? What about those who never experienced the joy of surviving the brutal battles of Disgaea with your entire crew diminished and only a few HP to spare? There’s never been a better time than now! If you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into, here is the basic breakdown. Disgaea is a strategy RPG that takes place on a gridded map…think Final Fantasy Tactics. Each character has special skills and attacks that need to be used strategically to defeat enemies. Combat consists of strategic positioning, item management, and leveling up your characters. Certain characters have unique relationships with each other allowing them to perform over the top special moves when positioned in particular patterns. This can be done with two, three, or four members simultaneously. Additionally, small colorful pyramid-shaped crystals show up during battles which cast various effects of the battlefield, like raising enemy defenses and such…and figuring out how to reach and disable them becomes key during battles. Outside of combat you can explore the overlord castle, which serves as the home hub for your party. Here you can upgrade characters, create new ones, or engage in hilarious court case dealings where you’re bribing officials to support your cases…which are typically things like providing expensive items for sale early on in the game or tripling your EXP for the duration of an entire battle.
"Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is a remarkable throwback to old school strategy-RPG gaming both in its punishing difficulty and deep gameplay mechanics."
The story has never been Disgaea’s strength and only serves to fill the gap between battles with charming dialogue and hit-and-miss humor. The blue haired misfit Laharl has been crowned Overlord of his father’s Netherworld but finds himself struggling to earn respect. A demon faction has formed to find a more suitable leader for the throne and it’s up to Laharl to prove his worthiness. You won’t find a deep plot here but that’s not to say that the story should be written off completely. It really becomes about character relationships and their amusing back and forth banter that keeps the narrative engaging.
Visually, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is simple, but incredibly stylish with beautiful picture book aesthetics accentuated by adorable Anime characters. The battlegrounds are large floating landmasses radiating with vibrant colors and constantly changing terrain layouts. While I would have liked more diversity within each environment-theme, I was still enamored by the game’s overall design and charisma.
If you’re a long time Disgaea fan, this one is a no-brainer. Even if you’ve never played a title in the franchise before, this may be the best place to start. Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is a remarkable throwback to old school strategy-RPG gaming both in its punishing difficulty and deep gameplay mechanics. It’s a real treat to see a series with such a niche audience still kicking strong ten years after its release. The upcoming holiday season may be packed with highly anticipated AAA releases, but you’d be really missing out on a fantastic experience if Disgaea D2 went unnoticed.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Playstation 3