For many American gamers, Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was our first introduction to the hidden genius that is Nippon Ichi Software (NIS).  Granted, Rhapsody had come over years previous for the Playstation, but until Disgaea in 2003, we really didn’t know what we were missing.  That game, and NIS itself, launched an invasion of quirky, fun games for the Playstation 2, almost single-handedly revitalizing the strategy RPG genre with first Disgaea, then La Pucelle, Phantom Brave and Makai Kingdom.  People spent hours upon hours in these games, leveling up characters and enjoying the whacked-out humor from these titles.


In 2005, it was announced that Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories would be coming to the United States, and SRPG fans were thrilled.  Flash forward to August 2006, and we’re ready for the release of that title.  Clutching a copy of the gold master in my greedy little hands, it was time to unleash the inner Prinny in myself for our review of Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories.


DOOD!


Yes.  Dood, indeed.

One of the biggest complaints about Disgaea was that the graphics were nothing better than Final Fantasy Tactics on the PS1.  NIS went back to the drawing board and it looks like one of the first things that they did was clean up the graphics. 


Not only is everything in a higher resolution than the previous title, which serves to make the text and the graphics themselves much crisper and brighter, but the characters themselves, the background world and the animations all got touch-ups.  In fact, the characters look to have gained the most improvement, to the point where you can easily tell the emotions that the characters are portraying thanks to their on-screen movements.  The game is still lacking in animated cut-scenes, leaving everything to the on-screen character shots which shift with each scene-cut, but the camera now shifts around during some in-game cutscenes, showing different angles for dramatic effect. 


The only major graphical issue with Disgaea 2 is the game’s camera system.  Unlike many other games on the market, which allow you to pan the camera around at will, Disgaea 2’s camera remains as it was in the previous game, only allowing you to rotate 90 degrees at a time and allowing only two zoom-out modes.  This can make things exceedingly difficult to target, especially in the Item World, wherever everything tends to be bright and colorful, with numerous peaks and valleys.  Also, the camera doesn’t auto-shift with the action, instead leaving it where you are when you choose to either execute your actions or end the turn.  This means that numerous times the action happens with a large amount of land in front of it, allowing you to only see the numbers popping up for damage counts.  Hopefully when the rumored Disgaea 3 comes out, they’ll have advanced to a more flexible camera system.

One of the brightest parts of Disgaea was the wonderful music.  Good news to fans of both the game and its music is that Sato Tenpei is back, and the music is absolutely gorgeous, including a few remixes of tunes from the original Disgaea.  A number of vocal tracks are also part of the game, and they’re quite decent to listen to also.


One of my personal peeves from Disgaea was that no matter what you set the language setting as, the voices in battles were always of the English voice actors.  This is no longer the case.  While those who prefer the original voice track won’t hear constant cries of “DOOD!” in battle, it’s nice to have the game be uniform in its voicing. 


Speaking of the voice acting, the Japanese vocal track is, as far as can be told without heavy Japanese knowledge, quite well-done, although it’s obvious that liberties were taken with the game’s script to make it more familiar to the American audience.  The dub, unfortunately, isn’t quite so good.  While a number of the voices really seem to fit the characters, there were a few in particular that really didn’t mesh well and were almost grating at times.  This is the one major flaw in the way the game sounds, to be honest.

The controls in Disgaea 2 are very similar in form to any of NIS’s other titles.  The grid system from Disgaea and La Pucelle is back (no sphere system here), and the controls mesh quite well.  Moving your character is done with the left analog stick, X selects, O cancels and triangle opens the menu.  The L1 and R1 buttons rotate the map in 90 degree chunks while the L2 button zooms out through three settings.  R2 cycles through characters in-battle and square is used for a number of other features, as is select.


The only major issue that was found with the controls is that sometimes the game is too quick to respond to presses, which can cause you to overshoot your mark on targetting.  It’s more of an annoyance than anything else, but it’s still an issue in the Item World.  The camera is its own problem, as stated earlier in our Graphics category of the review.


Beyond that though, the controls are quite simple and intuitive, and the game runs just fine with them.

Disgaea came along 3 years ago and sucked days, weeks and months out of the lives of gamers.  NIS continued in this trend with every successive game, and now it’s time for Disgaea 2.  Everything that we loved in Disgaea is back for more, and most of the things that were annoying are now gone.


Disgaea 2 takes place three years after the end of Disgaea, with the ‘good ending’ of that game being considered canon.  Taking place on the world of Veldime, you begin as Adell, the only surviving human.  You see, Overlord Zenon has cast a curse over the world that has turned everyone into demons except for Adell.  His mother has grown a third eye, his father has a pumpkin in his chest, and his brother and sister are both demons too.  It’s a hard life, and Adell has decided that the best thing to do would be to track down and kill Zenon.  To that end, his mother decides to summon the Overlord, using a bit of life energy from her husband and younger two children.  Unfortunately, it’s not Zenon who is summoned, but his daughter, Rozalin, instead.  She ends up bound to Adell through the summoning spell, and so begins the main quest of Disgaea 2.


Of course, this being NIS, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Item World makes a reappearance, and in fact becomes a part of the storyline later on, when you have to go to the Demon’s Court (residing inside the Item World within various subpoenas).  Again, the only way to leave the item is to either get to the end of every tenth level or have a Mr. Gency’s Exit, which can only be won every tenth level, except for a few which are given to you early on. 


There are additions to Item World, though, in the form of Secret Areas which can contain anything from shops, hospitals, fortune tellers which can seriously power up the item you’re in, or battles.  This serves to break up the monotony of yet another level in the item, and can also keep you playing the item longer, if you hit a hospital at the right time.  Item World has also been improved as far as the random dungeon generator, and you won’t see any huge gaps that you can’t cross with monsters (or the exit!) on the other side.  There are still gaps, but they’re more manageable now for the most part.  However, nearly every map suffers from what I like to call the ‘ups and downs.’  There’re a lot of elevation changes, and it can not only make it more difficult for characters to get around, but can really play havoc with directing your characters as well as the camera system. 


The battle maps have been changed as well.  Now, there are chests in the game.  The enemies know it, as well, and it’ll be the first thing they target, to keep you from getting the items within.  Also, some weapons can turn enemies (and geostones) into chests, which increase the party’s ability to get nifty items from within the game, especially as Rare and Legend items seem to be in the chests more often than otherwise.


The Geo system has also been updated and enhanced.  Some effects from the previous game have been done away with, and a number have been added, including Encroach (causes the colors to grow towards the middle of the screen), Enemy Level Up % (a chance the enemies will level up!), Damage Disperse and Fusion, among others.  Making things just a bit more insane on setting up the reactions is the fact that some of the geostones are inhabited by creatures, which cause them to walk around on the Enemy’s turn, making timing of the attacks even more important. 


Another addition is the stacking system.  While in Disgaea you could pick people and items up and throw them, this has been improved upon in Disgaea 2, as you can now attack while holding a stack of your friends, causing a massive combo attack, which can be very useful against a particularly tough monster. 


Cameos abound in Disgaea 2, from Etna, Laharl and Flonne (all either playable or secret and playable) to the Prism Rangers, Dark Adonis Vyers, Team Gordon, Marjory, Priam, Zetta and Asagi from various NIS games.  It’s great to see such fan-support of the previous games in this, after all.


Other changes to the game include opening up the Dark Assembly earlier on, which allows you to open up new character classes and of course change what the shops sell.  The Dark Assembly is also used to open up a number of secret levels to increase the game’s playability.  There’re also Legendary Senators who show up randomly, all wanting specific items.  If you don’t give them the item, they hold enough power to veto whatever you were wanting the Assembly to do.


A new addition is the Felony system.  Now and again, you’ll receive subpoenas, informing you of a crime you may or may not have committed.  To attend the court, you have to go into the subpoena’s Item World and travel down to the level where the bailiff is, then enter the court’s gate.  It doesn’t matter which character goes through the gate, as that’s who’ll get the felony if found guilty.  Unlike reality, here it’s a guilty verdict which you want, as it’ll net you rare and powerful items.  And, after all, in a demonic world, it’d be a sad thing to be found Innocent of…Your Existance.


Just to make the game even longer, a series of hidden levels have been added to the game, all of which unlock when certain key criteria are fulfilled, some of which require a second playthrough the game to complete.  The monsters here are much tougher, but so are the rewards.  None of this is required to complete the game, but it definitely adds to the playability factor even more than Item World itself does. 


There are eight different endings in the game, one of which can only be completed the first play through, as it requires that you level Tink over level 1000 and defeat the game’s final boss with him, which can be quite difficult.  Most of the endings are considered ‘bad’ endings, and involve Adell sinking into the masses of demonic behavior, involving a large number of felonies and attacking your party members.  Still, no die-hard fan will consider the game complete until all eight endings have been unlocked.

There’s honestly not enough that I can say about this game.  For the first thing, if you run straight through Disgaea 2 without doing any of the side-quests, hidden levels, hidden characters or playing it over and over again with New Game+, it’ll last you around 40 hours.  If you spend time in Item World, unlock all of the endings, find all the hidden characters and go to the secret areas, you can easily spend 200+ hours on this title, it’s that immense.  Beat it once?  Play it again on New Game+, and go to the Dark Assembly to pass a ‘Harder Monsters’ law!  After all, you can level up your characters to level 9999, which is utterly insane. 


When you throw in the immense length of the game, the fact that there’s so much to do within it, the fact that you can play it over again with the same characters, and definitely need to in order to unlock all of the hidden secrets within the game, it’s easy to see how much there is to do.  In fact, the strategy guide from DoubleJump is nearly as thick as a phone book!


If you’re at all a fan of SRPGs, and especially if you’re a fan of Disgaea, you owe it to yourself to buy this thing as soon as possible.  A purchase of the strategy guide is probably also a good idea, if for no other reason than to see what you’ve missed after the fact.

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