"Cursed memories, blessed Item World."
I don't remember Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories as well as its predecessor, mostly because its "joke" just didn't land for me. The original gave us Laharl: the trash-talking, antiheroic ruler of Hell who was powerful enough to backup his arrogance. The game also picked apart various roleplaying and narrative quirks while managing to not fall for its own criticisms. It mainly accomplished this end by presenting a foil between Laharl and his love interest, Flonne, who just happened to be an angel in training. One would muse about evil, power, and rule, while the other waxed innocence and ethics.
It's not unreasonable to expect the sequel to ape its predecessor by delivering unique takes on RPG tropes, though such anticipation will eventually lead to disappointment. The sequel sticks you in a realm where evil is widespread and seen as the social standard. Therefore, its goodie-goodie protagonist who fights fair, keeps his promises, and does anything for his family because "that's just his style" is supposed to come across as an ironic contrarian in which the audience invests and finds some measure of clever humor. Instead, he just comes off as your run-of-the-mill hero. Maybe something was lost in translation during the localization or maybe Adell is just a boring lead. Regardless, he did nothing for me. The hardest part of chewing through Disgaea 2's campaign is remembering the primary installment's entertainment values and offbeat comedy while wading through the sequel's merely average tale.
And don't even get me stated on the follow-up's forced humor. Again, I chalk this mishap up to localization. Even with that notion in mind, transitioning from clever takedowns of tropes to ill-delivered "I LIKE BOOBIES!" jokes was rough.
However, it speaks volumes of a franchise when it can have a "middling" installment that's still an awesome entry. Sure, it doesn't live up to its older sibling and suffers a bit of "sophomore slump," but Disgaea 2 manages to keep the ball rolling all the same.
The best and most memorable moments aren't spent delving into its plain story or engaging in a particular scripted battle. Rather, the meatiest bits come when the game leaves you to your devices, allowing you to carve your own path, assemble a contingent of warriors and freaks, and customize your virtual action figures to your heart's content. If you so desire, you can spend dozens of hours guiding your custom army through the Item World, where you could easily experience the bulk of your playthrough's highlights. This is where I spent a good portion of my time, usually descending far enough to encounter jaw-breaking battles and barely escaping with my life and an armful of loot.
On paper, Item World sounds like your average randomized dungeon. Basically, each piece of equipment you carry holds a procedurally generated realm inside of it that's packed with arbitrary terrain designs, foes, and traps. However, there are so many variables involved in generating a floor that each visit is assured to be unique and offer plenty of surprises, hairy challenges, and worthwhile rewards. Sometimes you land in a room where Geo Symbols--environmental objects that bestow various character-modifying attributes to certain colored floor tiles--are plentiful, each one packed with a damning effect. For instance, you might pop into a segment and find yourself surrounded by dragons enhanced with an "Enemy Boost X 3" Geo Symbol combined with a bothersome "Invincibility" modification. During occasions like this, tight strategy can be your best friend. Of course, so can making a beeline for the entrance to the next floor or spending a Mr. Gency's Exit to egress the dungeon all together.
Other visits might thrust you into numerous chambers full of weaklings, which works great for stroking your ego, if nothing else. Sadly, if you bully the game's bestiary enough, you'll eventually get a visit from some overpowered pirates who can make you look twice as pathetic. Unless, of course, you're up to the challenge and want to face the privateers for handsome rewards.
Competing in the Item World isn't only about securing booty and experience, though. Each world is actually generated from a particular item that grows in effectiveness as you complete floors. Seriously, nothing caps off a hard fought and fruitful visit to this place like watching the new weapon you purchased thirty minutes ago mature into a menacing armament because you spent a healthy chunk of time in its own Item World.
Combat here is similar to its antecedent. You're looking at a breezy, turn-based, grid-based S-RPG with a very smooth, fast-past, and intuitive battle system. Each party member and class comes with its own set of standards. Some folks can advance farther along the map in a single turn than others, for instance, plus attack ranges can vary. In other words, someone equipped with a sword strikes an adversary next to them, but a warrior carrying a gun or a bow can select far-off targets in addition to those next to them. The thing is, as with Item World, Disgaea 2's recruitment features and in-game stores provide a gracious enough combination of classes and weapon types to turn troop creation into an obsession.
Of course, much of what I've described above can be attributed to the original outing in this franchise. NIS likely knew character creation and Item World were where it's at and bolstered those facets the most. For instance, several new classes have been added to the roster, including firearm-toting gunners, meatshield heavy knights, swift-killing samurai, and shady sinners. These new additions add an extra level of depth to the game's customization factor by providing units that specialize in specific combat roles.
An even better addition, though, is the felony system, in which your characters will receive subpoenas for committing felonies (read: being "too" powerful). You can then enter the Item World within these subpoenas and battle your way to a Dark Courtroom where you'll receive a certain number of criminal charges that increase the amount of experience a character gains and a prize. It's a small touch, but a generous one that adds hours of play.
Despite spinning a rather dull yarn, Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories is still an excellent S-RPG, mostly thanks to its depth of customization and habit of leaving you alone so you can do whatever the hell you want. If you want to blaze through the plot and take on the final boss so you can unlock New Game+, you're more than welcome to. But if you want to witness as little of the tired narrative as possible, and would rather explore the ever-changing Item World for one hundred hours, there's nothing stopping you. Disgaea 2, like its predecessor, is every bit your game.
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (November 11, 2022)
Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.
If you enjoyed this Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!