I still remember seeing Disgaea in action for the very first time. It was a trailer with a song called “Invasion From Within” by Tsunami Bomb, and the video clip that accompanied it was some of the most off the wall, ridiculous thing I’d ever seen.
I was sold at that point and picked up the game on release date. What I got was a challenging game with a great sense of humor that possessed an incredibly deep SRPG system. Ever since then, I’ve played and finished every main Disgaea game they’ve put out without any regrets.
However, four games later, one can’t help but wonder if the formula is wearing out its welcome. After finishing the Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, I can definitively say that not only is the old formula just as good as it ever was, some key additions make the whole package feel new again.
The odd naming of this title stems from the fact that this is a direct sequel to the original Disgaea that started it all. Following the exploits of tsundere overlord Laharl, love freak Flonne and prinny abuser Etna, the old gang goes on an adventure to discover why the netherworld is being invaded by heavenly flowers.
The story feels more like a “day in the adventures of…” more so than a tale spanning their greatest/worst moments like it was in the original but still, the characters are charming and their interactions are always fun to watch.
Those unfamiliar with the original title can go into D2 without much worry; while there are references made to events and characters from the previous game, it’s quickly explained most of the time.
Meeting Laharl’s supposed sister, who just happens to be an angel, or seeing Laharl being turned into the one thing he hates most- a busty girl is all good fun and the option for both Japanese and English voices makes the characters come alive in whichever form you’d like.
I wouldn’t consider the story the strongest point of the D2 but it certainly isn’t a weak point either since I often found myself laughing during many seemingly nonsensical moments and pondered just how everything might end.
The greatest strength of Disgaea has always been the game play, and it shines brightly once more.
If I wanted to delve into every single mechanic present in D2, it would take more pages than I’m willing to write and most certainly, more pages than you’d be willing to read so I’ll try to get to the point with a wide brush while highlighting some of the new features.
Disgaea is SRPG where battle takes place in an isolated map where movements are block based. A character with “5 MOV” would be able to move five blocks of space not considering height and etc. It’s somewhat similar to Final Fantasy Tactics in a very rudimentary way.
There are no random battles as the player chooses to take on a map in the main base hub and is returned to base once the battle is won or lost.
While there is a traditional turn order as the player and enemy can take turns trying to kill each other, the player has the option to execute a series of moves as a unit by queueing up many attacks at once for various results. Team attacks can trigger when allied units stand next to each other and the combo counter goes up as more attacks are tagged on a single enemy in the single turn increasing the effectiveness of each attack that follows.
While playing within the boundaries of turn orders, there is much strategy and freedom on how one can approach each battle.
There are also the geo blocks and panels, which grant a bonus or penalty for anyone standing in the colored panel. Many maps are created as such that geo blocks much be used in rather creative ways to be successful. The usage of geo panels to effectively cripple one’s opponents or give allies a much needed boost feels rewarding and adds a strong puzzle element to what would’ve otherwise been a straightforward SRPG.
Then there’s the item world where one can dive into an item that they want to strengthen. These randomly generated levels are filled with untold treasures and dangers alike as each stage that’s cleared levels up the item, increasing its effectiveness and allowing for various customization options like renaming, changing the way it looks or just flat out upgrading its stats.
The item world is also home to the many innocents within the game who are stat modifiers that can be placed on items to give the player’s characters an extra edge. While some will give straight stats like ATK or DEF, others will give increase gain in experience or mana which are both crucial to being able to tackle the challenging end game content.
Mana is used to call the Dark Assembly, which is necessary for passing bills to unlock extra maps, give the player’s characters permanent buffs and a whole lot more. Luckily, this time there is an option to bribe the senators with HL(gold) for their overall cooperation so the old tradition of simply murdering them all if they disagree is more or less obsolete.
One of the three brand new additions to D2 is the all-important and game-changing cheat shop. While players will find the shop rather barren of options early on, the more they progress, the more options unlock.
From there, the player can increase and decrease how much experience, mana and HL they receive from killing enemies. They can also increase the strength of enemies to make even the enemies from the very first stage into devastatingly powerful killing machines. The added challenge and danger increases the rewarded exp, mana and HL so the whole game can be tweaked to suit ones needs with a simple visit to the cheat shop.
Previously, increasing and decreasing enemy strength had to be done through the dark assembly and it was undoubtedly an unnecessary chore. Want to level up a new character? Take all the points out of Mana and HL, and make it so he’ll get 300% experience per kill! Want to level up a weapon mastery to learn some new skills? Notch that up to the maximum and go smack stuff in the face to level up those masteries with swift efficiency!
The goodies don’t end there as there are options to toggle on Land of Carnage(and one even crazier) for ultra-difficult enemies or customize the item world to suit one’s plans on how they want to approach diving into an item they want to level up. The cheat shop maxes out at an insane 1000% boost once all the extras are cleared with a number of free points to be used without any penalty.
I will clearly state that the cheat shop is the greatest thing to hit the Disgaea series ever since the Big Bang attack (Disgaea veterans know what I’m talking about). It cuts out the worst part of the series, which is an overdose of unrewarding busy work. To see Disgaea streamlined without any real sacrifice to its depth is great sign for the series as whole as it heads to the future.
Another new feature is called “Mounting”, which allows a humanoid unit to mount a monster unit but outside of adding a single new skill, it didn’t seem all that useful to me as it robbed the humanoid unit of its weapon based skills.
Lastly, there is “Likeability” which increases as the player interacts with them in base (nothing more than simple one liners, unfortunately) or fights alongside them in battle. It can also decrease if they are harmed in combat too often and even more so if they are attacked by their fellow allies.
Likeability factors into a myriad of functions like the chance to activate team attacks, mounted skill damage and at maximum, it can be called upon to steal an evility (a powerful passive skill unique to units) between units that like each other.
The stealing of evility opens up the floodgates for interesting character builds and strategies, many of which seem nearly game-breaking at a glance.
However, this is Disgaea we’re talking about where one million damage is child’s play- a game where the entire universe is destroyed during special attack animations with alarming frequency. I’ve learned over the years to take every single advantage that I’m allowed just so I can survive and perhaps in one faraway reincarnation, live to dominate foes that previously wiped the floor with me. This is the Disgaea way and it’s wholly unique, broken and I love it just the way it is.
While those two additions are novel, compared to the almighty cheat shop, they are but pleasant afterthoughts.
With a multitude of endings to discover and the infinite sea of the item worlds to dive into, there is a wealth of content the likes of which a normal person will never see the end of. If that wasn’t enough, the various end game content leads into a confrontation with a boss so buff, so powerful that the mere sight of his stats sent literal chills down my spine.
The question you should be asking yourself isn’t “should I play Disgaea D2” but rather, “do I have the balls and time to play such a crazy game?”. The answer may surprise you.
Fun Tidbit – I am not joking about that final secret boss. That may very well be the strongest killable creature I’ve ever witnessed in a video game.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.