Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days – Staff Review

Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days continues the recent trend of PSP rereleases, retooling Disgaea 2 and dropping it onto Sony’s handheld with some new features. Although it adds some interesting new content, including an epilogue starring Axel, Dark Hero Days lacks some of the wit and energy that made Disgaea so much fun, at least in the plot department. It doesn’t make too many changes to the Disgaea combat system, and most, if not all, of the really new content introduced for this port is available only after completing the mainline quest, meaning this port will probably be a little dull for gamers who have already sucked the marrow out of the game’s PS2 iteration.

Disgaea 2 takes place on a world cursed by Overlord Zenon, a vicious spell that turns humans into demons, sapping their memories and ability to tell right from wrong. Out of the entire world, only the protagonist, Adell, remains human. So naturally, there’s nothing to do but hunt the Overlord down and end the curse, a task which would be significantly easier if Zenon weren’t hailed as the God of All Overlords. Matters are further complicated by Adell’s initial attempts to summon Zenon for a showdown, which inexplicably results in the overlord’s daughter, Rozalin, appearing before him. The two of them embark on a journey to locate Overlord Zenon, Adell to defeat the Overlord and restore his family to human form, and Rozalin to find a way out of the summoning spell that compels her to assist Adell.

Damage can get a little ridiculous late in the game.
Damage can get a little ridiculous late in the game.

On the whole, Disgaea 2‘s story isn’t quite as imaginative or quirky as the original Disgaea‘s was. Adell comes off as a rather cliché RPG hero, in the vein of “never give up, never surrender,” and most of the plot revolves around his resolve and determination. The rest of the cast, which includes Adell’s little brother and sister, a suicide-prone ninja, and a demon frog with a split personality, fares significantly better, helping to make up for the fairly dull antics of the main character. The overall plot has a number of issues, starting with the game’s pacing. Generally speaking, Disgaea plots tend to take a cue from anime series, splitting up into chapters that roughly mirror episodes. These chapters tend to form short plot arcs that break up the game and help to make the wandering of the storyline more palatable. With Disgaea 2, these subplots are very poorly defined, so the game spends most of its time meandering about, seemingly without a purpose. Things do come together in the end, roughly speaking, but for most of the storyline, events feel a bit disconnected and random. With a somewhat dull hero and some unfortunate localization errors, the story isn’t quite as compelling as it could be, and doesn’t quite match up to the sheer off-the-wall strangeness of the first game.

Combat has changed very little from the first Disgaea game, to the point where the only real alterations are cosmetic, or can be completely ignored. As many no doubt already know, Disgaea 2 features a tactical RPG setup, wherein characters are dispatched from a Base Point and moved about on a grid field. Characters are given orders, which are put into a queue and then executed when the player either ends turn or selects Execute from the menu. Disgaea focuses on stringing combos together, granting increased damage to attacks further along in a combo and awarding bonuses at the end of combat depending on how well the player did. Because of this, Disgaea games tend to feel more fast-paced than most TRPGs, and are certainly more flashy.

Disgaea 2 is a bit better balanced than the first game in the series, requiring less grinding, to the point where players can get away with very little extra attention to their levels. It also continues the series tradition of allowing players to decide just how complex they want the game to be. Disgaea 2 has a number of subsystems, which include: the Dark Senate, in which players can pass bills to alter gameplay; a Felony system, which can be used to power up characters and get access to restricted areas; and the Item World, which allows players to level up equipment. Each of these systems can be used to power up characters in one way or another, but none of them are absolutely necessary. With a little cunning and attention to equipment, players can get through the game with only minimal contact with, or even knowledge of, these systems. On the one hand, this sort of adaptability is a hallmark of the series, which has always trumpeted that players can pay as little or as much attention to subsystems as they’d like. But on the other hand, if a system can be safely ignored without a great deal of impact on the game as a whole, it does seem to undermine the point of that subsystem. Personally, I’d say that Disgaea 2‘s adaptability is a mark in its favor, as it allows the game to appeal both to players who want a complex, challenging combat system, and those who prefer a more straightforward experience.

One of the few subsystems that players really have to pay attention to is the Geopanel system. Essentially, this system covers the battlefield in specifically located colored panels, which have effects depending on which Geosymbols are placed on their corresponding color. A holdover from the original Disgaea with minimal changes, the Geopanel system has a massive effect on gameplay. Many stages feel more like puzzles than battles, with players having to figure out how to disassemble the enemy’s Geopanel defenses before attacking. The system is a real asset to the game, adding another layer to combat and making sure battles don’t become mindless slugfests.

The music of Disgaea 2 is very much a Tenpei Sato soundtrack. His sound is such a recognizable part of NIS games, the Disgaea series in particular, that it’s hard to imagine a game in the series without his music. This can be a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the consistency of style helps to draw a stronger line from Disgaea to Disgaea 2, but on the other, very little of the soundtrack is unique, or even particularly unusual. The music is solid both in terms of composition and in how well it matches with the events on screen, but it tends to be a little too predictable to have a big impact.

Players can reincarnate characters into new classes for improved stats and abilities.
Players can reincarnate characters into new classes for improved stats and abilities.

Disgaea 2‘s visual style is a lot more cohesive than a straight up description would seem to indicate. The game uses polygonal stage backgrounds and sprites, with painted backdrops and anime-style character portraits. Although this sort of setup comes off as disjointed and inconsistent in many games that use it, Disgaea 2 gets around this by using a vivid and striking color palette and a number of elements that repeat throughout the visual style, creating a much more consistent style than most games manage to pull off.

On the whole, Disgaea 2 isn’t a hugely challenging game, especially if players spend time with some of the more rewarding side mechanics available. A little proficiency in Geopanels will go a long way as well, especially since so many of the stages are full-blown Geopanel puzzles. The average time to complete will vary a great deal depending on how often the player takes breaks from the plot to fiddle with side mechanics, but by and large, a run through the plot will only take around forty to fifty hours. The game does offer a bit of new content after the end of the game that should tack on another ten to twenty hours as well.

Overall, Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days isn’t a terribly huge shift away from the first Disgaea game, at least where the combat system is concerned. This isn’t really a bad thing, as Disgaea had a highly complex, entertaining combat system with a lot to recommend it, and it didn’t really require a great deal of tweaking. The plot, however, suffers a lot from the loss of the energetic, creative, and above all else, bizarre storyline of the first game. Where Laharl, Etna, and Flonne were highly abnormal protagonists for an RPG, Adell and Rozalin are fairly typical, and much less engaging. In the end, Disgaea 2 is a solid choice for players just looking for more Disgaea-style combat challenges, but the story doesn’t quite ring true to the Disgaea spirit.

This game was played to completion using a review copy provided by the publisher.

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