Imagine if, when George Washington died, there was no process to name a successor to the leadership of the country. Rather than any democratic process or royal lineage, the title of President was decided by a blood gauntlet of battles and deceits, with the ultimate winner being the claimant to the ultimate title of power in the known universe. Now imagine that the winner of that power struggle was a petulant, disrespectful child with no leadership qualities and a mindless lust for ultimate power and God-like respect. That’s the story of Laharl from the classic Playstation 2 title Disgaea. The only son of the great King Krichevskoy and claimant to the title of Overlord of the hell-style “Netherworld”, Laharl must go on a new adventure to secure his place at the top of the dark realm of unforgiving infinity. All of these horrible sounding things are delivered with jokes, glee, and oddness in the greatest strategic role-playing game of a generation’s true sequel, Disgaea Demension 2: A Brighter Darkness.
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is, to be brief, just super fun. Like many other SRPG titles delivered by the people at Nippon Ichi America, the gameplay is stellar and challenging in the right way, and the story is excellently drafted and rife with humorous quips that actually make you laugh. The Disgaea franchise is famous for it’s infinite replayability and outrageous 9999 level cap, and both of those qualities are delivered in this great new title. In Disgaea D2, players get to live out an alternate universe (or just a second sequel, if you don’t want to get cute about it) with Laharl and his “loyal” vassals Etna, a demonic tag-along with little respect for her master, and Flonne, a fallen angel who still harbors all those fluffy good feelings of the world above (as well as a sizeable memorabilia collection.) Laharl restlessly pursues the title of Overlord, which he believes he had already taken by force. Along the way, he and his crew adopt a rag-tag team of demons to assist him in his endeavor, and a few new major players enter the fray, including a new angel with special ties to Laharl. Each section of the story is separated into chapters, which are broken into a series of battles and cutscenes that describe the action at hand. Playing through each chapter rewards the player with different perks and available equipment.
Battles in Disgaea D2 are based on a grid-style map, with a beacon located on the map that allows the player to summon his party. The player receives the first turn, and places his fighters and mages in various places within the map. Fighters can be equipped with weapons and items in the game’s base of operations, and they are loaded onto the map with items in hand. Every character, including enemies, have a special skill known as an evility. These special powers are varied across different classes, and each character class can have one of three evilities. These powers can be as simple as lowering damage from particular units or evading all counter-attacks, and as complicated as altering the map and elemental weaknesses of characters. If a character is in range for attack or spell, he can be ordered to attack, but unlike many other games of the SRPG genre, the attacks don’t come seperate to each friendly or enemy character. Rather, every character in a player’s party attacks on the same turn, at the same time. Unfortunately, this is also true of the enemy.
While on the map, players can attack, defend, use items, and pick up and throw different items or their allies. In a character is thrown before he makes his first move, he can move from his thrown position, allowing for greater distances traveled than what is natural to the character. Each function can only be used once, and throwing a character or item is considered a full-round action, so it ends the round for a character even if he has not moved or attacked. If allies are set up next to, in front, or behind an attacking character, they have a chance to combo attack, based on their likeability towards one another. In addition, if a player is defending next to an ally who has used his action, the defending character will defend not only himself, but his adjacent ally. The more these tandem abilities are used between characters, the higher their likeability will rise with one another. After all of your actions have been queued, players can execute them or end their turn, wherein all the actions will take place in the order they were selected. The battles end when all enemies have been eliminated. After each battle, a bonus list and given, and based on the amount of enemies destroyed and the methods of doing so, a bonus meter determines the level of gifts you receive after each battle.
One of the trademarks of Disgaea present in this sequel is the use of Geo Effects. Geo Effects are map-based buffs and debuffs. Each Geo Effect zone is represented by a field of a particular color on the battle map. These zones alone have no effect. To cause a color to have a buff or debuff, items called Geo Symbols must be present and placed on the colored grid. These symbols are also given a color, but do not need to correspond, so a red Geo Symbol will effect a blue Geo Effect zone. Destroying a Geo Symbol on a colored grid will cause the grid to change color or disappear completely, and damages all units standing on the grid, friendly or otherwise. If a large enough chain is completed, a massive explosion engulfs the map, greatly damaging only enemy units. For beginners, these symbols and zones can be destroyed and not worried about further. For die-hard Disgaea fans and strategists, these items and their corresponding zones can provide limitless ideas and quick solutions to battles, and allow for multiple ways to defeat a single map.
Much of the game is spent in King Krichevskoy’s castle, talking with characters and preparing yourself for battle. The castle acts as a hub with a shop, training room, options, cutsceen theater, and a few other special functions, each facilitated by a permanent character within the castle. The first of those special functions is known as the Dark Assembly. Instead of having a generic character creation system, players spend mana that their fighters collect in battle to generate new fighters that bulk up and diversify the team. Aside from the main cast, all characters are user created and named, and your party can be of any design that you wish. In addition to their look and name, players can give their new characters one of three personalities special to that class, that come with a different voice and evility. Want a well balanced team of warriors, tanks, mages, and healers? Do it. Want a team of just healers for whatever reason? Do it. Want your team to be all dragons and ghosts? I think you get the point. Other than just character creation, the Dark Assembly has all sorts of functions, but these are not as simple as spending your mana and getting what you want. Players in need of funds or new items can address a collection of senators, but rather than with boring words and facts, these senators can only be swayed with bribes (what am I saying? That’s every senator ever.) If you successfully petition the group, they will vote in favor of your request, and you’ll get a special perk for the next round of battle. Perhaps the best function of the Dark Assembly is the ability to change an item’s name and look. Items can be changed to resemble any other weapon that you’ve owned within it’s weapon type. If you get a new staff, but you want it to look like your very first staff and you want to name it Susan, you can do it with the help fo the Dark Assembly. This is just another As the chapters progress, more and more fun options can be tried out in the Dark Assembly.
The other special function within the castle is the Item World, a random set of dungeons that take place within an actual item in your party’s inventory. Each item has a certain number of floors and a starting enemy level, and as each floor is progressed, the enemies on the map level and become stronger. The item world is traversed through the use of ships that can travel through an item, and each level is won by either defeating all enemies or reaching a special portal on the map that allows you to bypass the battle (but does not reward you with bonus items as it would if you defeated it in standard terms.) Every tenth level is a special room, with a group of NPC’s called innocents. These innocent dwellers of an item have no animosity towards you, and can simply be ignored and bypassed. If you choose to speak to them, you will either be rewarded greatly or attacked. As you progress through an item, the item itself levels up and reaches new potential in it’s usefulness. If you are defeated in the Item World, you are spit back out in the Netherworld Hospital (which is just a ratty old corner in the castle) and your item does not gain levels or power. The Item World serves as a leveling complex, that allows players to level their characters to their heart’s content without progressing the story to quickly, and could potentially lead to an infinite amount of gameplay.
Not everything is great in the game, however, but many of the gripes are minor and mostly aesthetic in nature. For starters, the game just doesn’t look that great. While compared to it’s Playstation 2 predecessor, it’s a Monet painting wrapped in an In-and-Out Hamburger wrapper, it just doesn’t come close to it’s more contemporary counterparts. This is definitely a result of their trying to stay true to the original, and that’s fine enough. Sadly, it just doesn’t do enough to excuse some of the poor qualities, like fully 2D sprites and items, and uninspired battle landscapes. Regardless of this, many of the attack, spell, and skill animations are elaborate and stunning. A few choice songs in the game’s soundtrack are wonderful, but a majority are wailing-guitar Bon Jovi wannabes, and that’s never a good look for anything. Players looking for a graphically advanced experience will be disappointed in Disgaea D2, but the look of the game rarely has any effect on the feel and the gameplay itself, aside from an ugly walking animation inside of the castle. The main drawback of the game is that it’s genre is very specialized and has never been very popular outside of cult followings.
For those gamers who are excited to play a new Disgaea title, rest assured that you will not be disappointed in any way. The story is fun and hilarious, the battles are challenging and rife with possibilities, and everything from your party to your items to the main character is customizable. Disgaea Dimension 2: A Brighter Darkness is worth every hour you’ll spend tirelessly perfecting and balancing your team and their abilities. With a RPG story that is somewhat fresh and dialogue that goes beyond tolerable to actually well written and hilarious, each new chapter is a true treat and never becomes just a way to get more battles. There may not be another game out this year that can provide as much limitless fun as Disgaea D2. Many fans of the original still play it religiously 10 years after it’s release. With the triumphant work done by Nippon Ichi America, Disgaea D2 is well on it’s way to still being as fun and as rewarding as it is today at it’s ten year anniversary mark. For a video game, that’s really saying something.