Nippon Ichi Software is known as one of the top companies for bringing high-profile Japanese RPGs to the western market. Square Enix has Final Fantasy, Atlus has Persona, and NIS has Disgaea. First debuting on the PS2 a decade ago, Disgaea has become the most recognized series for NIS. Now, a long wait for fans is over, as Prince Laharl is back on the tenth anniversary of his North American debut.
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is a proper, direct sequel to Hour of Darkness. While the other numbered entries take place in the same universe and worlds, they have different protagonists and antagonists, which makes A Brighter Darkness’ cohesive plot something of an exception. Laharl, Etna and Flonne all return, a little older, as the story continues from the fallout of the end of the first Disgaea. Fans of the first game will be happy that the great voice acting from before is back, as if there were no ten-year wait.
This being an NIS game, Disgaea D2’s humor, dialogue, and gameplay systems aren’t afraid to thumb their noses at the establishment. If you have played any of the Disgaea games, you’ll immediately notice the formula hasn’t changed. The insane 9999 level cap, the item world, geo blocks, the tactics gameplay–everything is back. But small formula tweaks make things a little less grindy and a little more fun. Item world maps are smaller to help quicken the lengthy process of leveling items. A new training gym has been added that passively gives stat boosts to characters when they level, and each part of the gym levels up over time to give better stat boosts. Lastly, and most importantly, the best addition is that of the cheat shop, which streamlines grinding to an exact science. Need money? Lower the XP gauge in the cheat shop and add the difference to the money gauge to get more moolah in every fight. Tired of weak enemies? Manually make them stronger for a challenge or to level up faster. The cheat shop is a fun addition that starts off rather basic but quickly grows to accommodate a wide array of interesting offerings.
Being an NIS RPG, Disgaea D2 sticks with the same anime graphics that have been NIS hallmarks for years. Laharl and cast look like they did in the original Disgaea, though grown up a little, and all the basic classes and enemies are cookie-cut from previous titles. Some might call this lazy design, but with the huge cast of distinct, memorable NPC characters, any alternation might alienate NIS’ diehard fan base. The anime portraits are gorgeous during cut-scenes, and the battle animations exhibit a familiar level of humor and wackiness. They’re also insanely long (typical for the series), which is great for players who enjoy watching a giant, all-consuming moon crash into a single enemy, but thankfully, for those who like quick battles, the animations can be turned off after watching them once.
Music has always been a weak spot for the Disgaea series as a whole. D2 still uses some classic tracks outside of battle to keep a consistent theme going, but on the battlefield, where the music has to be epic, they drop the prinny again. Except for during boss battles, the fight music is generic and uninspired. After hearing the first boss theme, I went to YouTube and put it on repeat instead of listening to the in-game music, and then changed it when I heard the other boss theme. Put simply, the musical moments that are supposed to be epic were thankfully epic, and the non-epic moments were just as non-epic.
D2 hits the player with a prinny bomb to the face with its story. Without ruining any key plot points, it tries to be a lot more emotional than past games in the series. It was interesting and can keep a person’s attention, but the success of the story depends entirely on how much the player understands the characters and their individual nuances. A tear-jerker like The Walking Dead it is not, but it is nevertheless highly creative as it has to keep the same core humor of the series, which is hard when the characters are so extreme in their personalities and ways.
The game’s staggering depth is handled similarly well, as there is a lot to do during the main story and post-story. The randomly generated item world and Cave of Ordeals alone can keep a person busy for weeks, but with the new cheat shop, there is that extra bit of customization for making any stage more interesting. There is also a lot of post-game content that brings in familiar faces for cameo appearances to add a little more fun and excitement. Truly, the game is far from over when the story concludes.
But with so much content, does the combat system hold up? Like all the Disgaea games, D2 is a tactical RPG, and whether you’ve only played Final Fantasy Tactics or you’ve touched every TRPG known to man, it feels smooth and nostalgic, like a worn leather glove. You spend turns moving units across varied terrain and attacking, you can assemble a party of varied skills and specialties, and combo attacks combined with topographical considerations to make for insanely deep strategy. A new likeness meter helps boost the chances of doing team attacks, protects, and monster tag team skills. Killing your own guys by accident, or healing them every chance you get, among other things, affect the likeness meter positively or negatively. The in-game senate still allows you to boost characters, along with taking another character’s evility if you have the mana and bribes to pull it off. Other than that, not a whole lot has changed–far from a bad thing, since Disgaea has always been incredibly fun and addictive.
Overall, the package that Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness offers in depth alone is enough to make any RPG fan ecstatic, regardless of Eastern or Western allegiance. The subtle additions and tweaks to series tradition are an olive branch for those wary of a grindy RPG, but purists can easily change the experience to something more familiar. If you’re not an RPG fan, Disgaea’s off-kilter humor might still keep you entertained, but this is a game for the number-crunching, all-night-playing, hopelessly engrossed strategists. And it won’t be long before the most green series newcomers find themselves among their ranks.