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Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories (PlayStation 2) artwork

Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories (PlayStation 2) review

"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 it’s true that there are plenty of times you’ll smile at some of the jokes, they’re 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 won’t ever truly forget it.

Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories isn’t about Laharl, though. You’ll 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 don’t show up here at all. Instead, you’ll get to experience this new adventure as Adell.

Adell isn’t an overlord. His standout feature is that his hair is red instead of blue. That, and he’s 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 Veldime’s 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. She’s none too pleased to have been pulled from her home, a castle where she has lived since her birth. There’s more, though: she claims to be Zenon’s daughter and has the family crest to prove it.

In gamespeak, there’s 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 it’s true that there are plenty of times you’ll smile at some of the jokes, they’re just not the focus they were previously. That by itself isn’t so bad, but the interior monologues that replace the first game’s humorous moments are a poor substitute. You’ll have to play completely through the game once before you’ll 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 that’s fascinating.

Thankfully, plot is the only area where Disgaea 2 pales compared to its awesome predecessor. In every other way, it’s 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. It’s very cool and Disgaea 2 makes it even cooler by adding bonus rooms and pirates.

Some might consider the latter a flaw. Suppose you’ve 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 ‘real’ world with your gleaned stat boosts. You’re 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: they’re 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 “one floor after another” 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 haven’t suddenly surrounded yourself by monsters that can slaughter you instantly.

By themselves, the Item World’s challenges wouldn’t 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 isn’t useful merely for your weapon and armor needs; the abundance of burly monsters mean it’s also a great place to level up your characters. In fact, you can easily level up until you reach the point where even the game’s final boss is a pushover—on your first trip through the game!

If you like tweaking characters endlessly, then you’ll understand the appeal in Disgaea 2. There are more than 200 classes. While many of these fall into categories that don’t 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 you’re doing.

Character and item modification aren’t 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 doesn’t work out so well as you might think, since the game is still all about simple two-dimensional sprites and static character portraits, but it’s proof of just one more way in which the developers listened to and addressed player concerns.

Ultimately, it wouldn’t 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 won’t do that. Instead, they’ll get sucked into the Item World or building the perfect army of warriors or whatever else they unearth. That’s the sort of game Disgaea 2 is, just like its predecessor. For reasons words can’t quite express, the hundredth hour can be every bit as new and exciting as the tenth. If you’re willing to look past a story that’s merely “good,” you’re sure to find one of the most rewarding and massive quests you’ve ever undertaken as a gamer. Don’t miss it.

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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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