Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness – As We Play

As we play offers the thought strands of the reviewer as they’re going through the game. This offers unique content for the reader so they can come to understand the conflicting feelings of the reviewer as they’re playing a game for the very first time.
All feedback on this concept is welcome.

Role-playing games are not widely known for their humour. In the case of Nippon Ichi though, that is never true. Most famous for the PlayStation 2 classic, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Nippon Ichi have since worked on a huge number of follow-up titles, including re-released versions of the game on PSP and several spin-off titles. Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness, however, is the first game since 2003 that sees characters Laharl, Etna and Flonne return for the first time. A direct sequel to Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, the new PlayStation 3 title promises new features as well as a significant face-lift to its character maker, supposedly adding a whole new level of depth. Join me as I delve deep into the realms of the Netherworld in order to see just how much Disgaea has changed since its golden days,  and whether it still gives that sensation of absolute joy whenever I pick up the PlayStation controller.

Into the Netherworld

Disgaea-D2-story-1Disgaea D2 picks up from the exact point where the original left off. Laharl, an arrogant young demon-prince has assumed a new position as Overlord, having inherited his fathers throne, and is eager and ready to take on the important demonic duties. There’s just one teeny-tiny problem; nobody will take notice of his new status, and fail to respect any authority, instead just poking fun at the poor prince’s statues. As Laharl, it’s time to take matters into your own hands and beat your minions into submission with your army of cute, adorably explosive penguins, dood.

The story starts with Laharl, along with sidekicks Etna and Flonne, giving the monster inhabitants of the Netherworld a reality check on just what being boss is supposed to mean. From the onset we are introduced to a group of demons known as the Krichevskoy Faction, who are looking to kick the prince from his trusty throne and take it for themselves.

To The Dark Assembly and beyond!

Disgaea-D2-dark-assemblyKing Krichevskoy’s castle acts as the main hub, and is where the majority of the game is spent preparing for battle and talking to other characters. Like previous games, there are the usual amenities, such as a training room, a shop, the cutscreen theatre, a hospital and so forth, along with a few other special functions. The first of these special functions is the Dark Assembly, where instead of the usual character creation system, players can spend their mana in order to generate new fighters to diversify and pack out the team. A nice addition and a welcome change to the character creator format, players have the ability to name, personalise, and design their characters as they wish. Fancy a team of ghosts and dragons or a gaggle of witches and healers? It is completely within your power. The Dark Assembly is not just for simply spending mana and team formulation however, as it is privy to a number of other essential functions. Calling on the senators of The Dark Assembly to provide you with additional funds or items doesn’t come but without a price, however, it is now within the players power to bribe senators in swinging the vote in your favour. Obviously, if you’re successful, this will earn you special perks for battle, and so forth. What’s great about The Dark Assembly is their ability to allow you to change your weapons name and look as much as you wish. The fun never stops, as there is just simply so many options to probe and explore.

The second special function in King Krichevskoy’s castle is the Item World, which is a random set of dungeons that generate within an item in your inventory. One of the huge differences here is that you will now travel to each stage via a boat, starting off small and unlocking new ships as pirate enemies are defeated. Each item has its own specific number of floors, and enemy level, and as you advance throughout the dungeon floors, the enemies become stronger and tougher to crack. Levels are then won by defeating every enemy on the map, or bypassing battle by activating a special portal on the map.  On the tenth level of this Item World, there is a group of bystanders called Innocents, who will either react in a positive or negative way once spoken to. This means that players can either be rewarded, or attacked. The item itself has the potential to level up as players advance throughout the Item World, and it’s a nice way of slowing down the progression of the overall story and messing around with character levels.

Prinny at your service, dood!

d2disFor those unfamiliar with the Disgaea series, the battle system is without doubt one of its greatest assets. Known as an SRPG, in which up to ten characters can be controlled at one time on the battle field. Attacks are either done alone, with special skills that have been learnt through levelling, or in pairs, if a character’s likeability is high enough. Monsters can also be useful for special mount skills, or to ride them around the battlefield. The skill animations are also really enjoyable to watch and as wacky as ever. One new addition I noticed upon playthrough, is how the characters interact during battle. It seems that in D2 they will initiate conversation with each other before attacking, and what’s great is it makes for some interesting stop-gaps between cutscenes and keeps the whole tone of the game upbeat.

Castle capers, dood!

Disgaea-D2-cheat-shopOutside of combat is where returning fans will notice some huge differences that have been introduced in <em>Disgaea: A Brighter Darkness.</em> For one, creating characters now gives you the ability to grant a special effect called an Evility. Evilities vary hugely depending on class and monster type, for example, one of my characters deals multiple attacks in one round, whilst there are others that allow advantages such as defending a team-mate from the other side of the map, or increase a certain stat by 10% for each enemy overcome in battle. The Demon Dojo is an additional feature that allows you to assign a specific type of training to a character, like a gym of sorts. This can increase stats in battle such as speed, experience, hit points, and so forth, and as you complete stages in the game, each type of training will level up as you go along.

Even better is the addition of the Cheat Shop, which allows customisation over a whole number of elements in the game. The Cheat Shop gives players the ability to lower the increase of Mana, HL, Weapon Mastery, and Special Skill EXP in order to boost their experience rate to 300%, which allows for some super-fast power levelling to commence. Also at hand is the option to turn off battle dialogue, among a large number of other things.

Hilarity ensues

DisgaeaD2_GameplayThose looking to have some fun with Disgaea D2 will not be disappointed in the slightest. New gamers may find it a bit of a learning curve at first, and returning players will be greatly satisfied with the challenging battles and interesting new in-game features. A story with the rather cavalier Laharl, the hotheaded Etna and the fallen angel Flonne will always be a joy to experience, but for some reason I found that the storyline was not up to par with that of the original. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun and the dialogue was fresh and truly hilarious at times, but I didn’t feel that the story was as involving or as exciting as the previous Disgaea titles. That said, Disgaea is still well on its way to being one of the most rewarding and enjoyable tactical RPG’s for some time, with countless hours of strategizing and a quirky comical story to keep old and new fans alike hugely entertained.

Let’s wrap this up, dood

I have but one gripe with Disgaea D2, but I’m not sure if it is more of a personal preference than anything else. The graphics in the game are uninspired, outdated and old fashioned at best, the battle landscapes are unoriginal and somewhat lacklustre, and the 2D sprites do not seem on par with the quality you would expect. The animations and cutscenes, however, are intricate and striking, so it’s not all bad news. Though there are also some wonderful songs that stand out from the game’s soundtrack, this is overtaken with some repetitive and overused similar sounding guitar riff tracks.

That said, there is not a thing that can take Disgaea D2 off of its well earned trophy spot in the RPG gaming world. Being a series that is celebrating it’s ten year anniversary, the series has come a long way and will continue to grow a fanbase for as long as it is around, even for the cult series that it is. This is the sort of game that screams to be played long after players complete the main storyline, and only offers more and more playtime as the series progresses.

DisgaeaD2ItemWorldPlayers new to the Disgaea series have nothing to fear with jumping into the deep-end here. The standalone story is easy to follow, and the game has been designed to learn as you play, so any amount of trial and error will help you discover new techniques, learn how to deploy them and enjoy the main campaign, where as returning players can once more return to the battleground post-game and get into the grind of things. As any true Disgaea fan would say, this is where the fun really begins.