"While Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was fascinating because of its frank discussion about silly subject matter, the sequel tries for a darker and more mature tone. Its attempts at humor seem almost half-hearted, and not just because of Adell. While itís true that there are plenty of times youíll smile at some of the jokes, theyíre just not the focus they were previously."
As Disgaea: Hour of Darkness opened, a young demon overlord named Laharl woke from a fitful slumber to find his not-so-trustworthy vassal Etna hammering at his coffin with axes, swords and various other implements of destruction. Rather than kill her for her treachery, he drug her along on a quest to reclaim the Netherworld from those who wished to make it their own. Their quest was one full of adventure, humor, love and betrayal, told in nearly perfect form so that those who play it wonít ever truly forget it.
Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories isnít about Laharl, though. Youíll miss playing a wisecracking anti-hero, his cries of frustration when he encounters sexy monsters that drain his powers if they draw near. There are numerous funny little twists that donít show up here at all. Instead, youíll get to experience this new adventure as Adell.
Adell isnít an overlord. His standout feature is that his hair is red instead of blue. That, and heís got a strong desire to always keep his promises, no matter what the personal cost. When he vows to kill a demon overlord named Zenon that turned the planet Veldimeís people into monsters, things get complicated. The first wrinkle in his perfect plan arises when the summoning ritual meant to call forth his sworn enemy marks the entrance of a beautiful (and snooty) vixen named Rozalin. Sheís none too pleased to have been pulled from her home, a castle where she has lived since her birth. Thereís more, though: she claims to be Zenonís daughter and has the family crest to prove it.
In gamespeak, thereís now a reason for angst and a long journey. The angst is the part that disappoints. While Disgaea: Hour of Darkness was fascinating because of its frank discussion about silly subject matter, the sequel tries for a darker and more mature tone. Its attempts at humor seem almost half-hearted, and not just because of Adell. While itís true that there are plenty of times youíll smile at some of the jokes, theyíre just not the focus they were previously. That by itself isnít so bad, but the interior monologues that replace the first gameís humorous moments are a poor substitute. Youíll have to play completely through the game once before youíll take an active interest in more than half of what is said. Yes, you can skip any of them that you like, but then you might miss the 50% of the story thatís fascinating.
Thankfully, plot is the only area where Disgaea 2 pales compared to its awesome predecessor. In every other way, itís the perfect evolution of what was already a great game.
The most obvious example of improved design is the Item World, which is every bit as fun as before and then some. At a glance, it works precisely as it always has. You have an item in your active inventory. You go to a guide, who then shrinks you down to pint-size so that you fit in the randomly-generated universe contained within that item. As you dive down one floor after another, monsters get tougher and rewards pile up, so that you can emerge from the item with something better than anything available in a shop. Itís very cool and Disgaea 2 makes it even cooler by adding bonus rooms and pirates.
Some might consider the latter a flaw. Suppose youíve battled your way to the eighth floor in the Item World dungeon. Two more floors and you might be able to make it back to the Ďrealí world with your gleaned stat boosts. Youíre fighting monsters when suddenly a siren shrieks and a boat glides into view, floating in the middle of the cosmos. Pirates! You take a quick look at them and you realize something distressing: theyíre much, much more powerful than you are. At this point, do you make a mad dash for the exit to the next floor, running the risk that you may not make it to safety in time, or do you gang up on the pirate in hope that sheer numbers will win you the day?
The Item World is full of such decisions, and they keep the whole ďone floor after anotherĒ aspect from growing as tiresome as it might have otherwise. Then there are the bonus rooms, which add even more twists. When you enter one, you might find a battle, or an enhancement that lets you dive even deeper into the item, or just about anything else that might cross your mind. The sense of mystery will keep you moving from one floor to another, developing new strategies while constantly watching to make sure that you havenít suddenly surrounded yourself by monsters that can slaughter you instantly.
By themselves, the Item Worldís challenges wouldnít make half the impact that they ultimately do, but Disgaea 2 is all about a bunch of micro-improvements that work together to a cohesive whole. As you might have already guessed, the Item World isnít useful merely for your weapon and armor needs; the abundance of burly monsters mean itís also a great place to level up your characters. In fact, you can easily level up until you reach the point where even the gameís final boss is a pushoveróon your first trip through the game!
If you like tweaking characters endlessly, then youíll understand the appeal in Disgaea 2. There are more than 200 classes. While many of these fall into categories that donít amount to more than palette swaps, the number of truly unique characters is impressive. Because this is a Disgaea game, you can really get your hands dirty with the modifications. For example, a fire wizard can build up his levels, then take on an apprentice from a totally separate class and learn those skills. You can build up a power character that knows nearly every skill in the entire game, or you can spread the wealth over your whole party. The latter action is recommended, of course, because building a single character up to level 9999 can take almost 40 hours, even if you know precisely what youíre doing.
Character and item modification arenít the only areas where Disgaea 2 has been improved, either. There are plenty of other small tweaks, like an opening cinema sequence that fans are sure to enjoy, as well as a high-definition mode. That doesnít work out so well as you might think, since the game is still all about simple two-dimensional sprites and static character portraits, but itís proof of just one more way in which the developers listened to and addressed player concerns.
Ultimately, it wouldnít be difficult to talk about Disgaea 2 and its many nuances for hours on end, while still only scratching the surface. The game can technically be completed in fewer than 40 hours, but most people wonít do that. Instead, theyíll get sucked into the Item World or building the perfect army of warriors or whatever else they unearth. Thatís the sort of game Disgaea 2 is, just like its predecessor. For reasons words canít quite express, the hundredth hour can be every bit as new and exciting as the tenth. If youíre willing to look past a story thatís merely ďgood,Ē youíre sure to find one of the most rewarding and massive quests youíve ever undertaken as a gamer. Donít miss it.
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 08, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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