Fallen Angels, Dragons, and a Whole Lot of Prinnys–Disgaea D2 Delivers
Disgaea fans have been buzzing about this title ever since its announcement. When you read the forums and see the chatter surrounding this title, it makes you realize that there is still a huge following for this series. Sadly, most Japanese RPGs don’t do very well in Western markets these days. Gamers tend to trade in a solid story and brain-straining strategic combat for a more polished and flashy style of gaming. But truthfully, most JRPGs bring a lot to the table.
Fans of the Disgaea series have often wondered what happened to Laharl, Etna, and Flonne after the events of Disgaea –the things that brought them to the events of Disgaea 2 . So the team at Nippon Ichi Software heard their fans’ cries and granted their wish. Disgaea D2 (or Dimension 2 ) picks up very nearly immediately after the events of the first installment. It begins like any other game…with a fallen angel planting flowers in a garden in the Netherworld.
Pretty much launching you straight into the action, D2 sets the stage very quickly–letting the player know what this game is all about. Prince Laharl’s father is dead, and he is trying to prove himself worthy to take the throne, even if most of the demons in the Netherworld disagree. Etna and Flonne are still by your side as you work your way into the role of an unworthy prince trying to make his way. But your foes, namely the Krichevskoy Faction, are trying to usurp the title of Overlord from you and put someone they feel is worthy on the throne.
D2 sticks to the tried-and-true formula of a staging area (this time in the Overlord’s castle) branching off via portals to the levels where you do combat and advance the story. Laharl and company venture out from the castle to do battle with hordes of demons that believe him to be weak and not quite up to snuff as being the Overlord of the Netherworld. Laharl at times…well, actually, all the time, tends to be a little too hot-headed for whatever situation is going on at the moment and charges headlong into the fray without really thinking about what he’s doing. Then it’s up to Flonne and Etna to save him–all so he can take the glory for their deeds.
The combat system in this game is quite the departure from common, more Western-styles of RPGs. It is engineered like a really clever game of chess every time you go into battle. Rather than having real-time control over the motions of each of your characters (you can have ten on the board at any given time), D2 has an easy-to-use menu used to control both the action and pacing of the combat sequences. This system gives you the option of charging into battle and hammering through the level as quickly as you can or taking a more contemplative approach to combat. The system is setup so that you move your characters into position (their ability to move, and how far, is dictated by their XP level) and then issue them their orders. The advantage to this is that you can position your party, issue their orders, and then, once everything is in place, execute all their actions at once. You can also activate each character’s actions one at a time.
Apart from an excellent and well-thought-out combat system, the game never feels stagnant as you roll through the levels of play. Through the story points that unfurl either from the action of the level itself, or the cutscenes in between levels and acts, you always get a healthy dose of quirky Japanese comedy with your demons and magic. One of the best parts about the cutscenes between acts is that they are told through a mock TV show where Etna, not Laharl, is the main protagonist. It tells of HER exploits and how she should be the Overlord when Laharl dies (which he protests loudly as she tells the tale). There were several times that the scenarios played out by Etna’s show were funny enough that I actually laughed out loud. The story points told by the cutscenes and in-game action help to break up some of the longer strings of battles that could otherwise get a little monotonous.
Visually, this game is a little disappointing. I played it on PlayStation 3, and sadly, the game looks like it could’ve just as easily been a PS2 release. The animation sequences are very last-gen, and the game graphics themselves are nothing short of bland. I found this to be altogether tragic, as the rest of the game is quite enjoyable. The textures are not much more defined than that of the last releases of Disgaea on PS2, and the absence of backgrounds altogether is more than a little disheartening. And even more tragic than that, when you go into the Item World to level up your items and characters, it has more in common with Q*bert than it does with a solid JRPG. Graphics are the major weak point of D2 . Had there been a few more improvements over the former installments of this series, this game could’ve been one of the best entries yet.
Another thing that is subpar is the lack of character variety. There is a host of characters to be used in the game, but unfortunately, they are re-skinned models of the enemies you defeat and really are in no way visually different from the enemy versions you defeat to unlock their use. I found myself having to use drastic color differences in the characters that I would create in order to be able to tell them apart from each other and the enemies we were fighting. Because in D2 , your attacks can also affect your characters if they are within the blast zone of the attack chosen. This made for some very frustrating moments early on in my playthrough.
Sound wise, there is nothing overtly stellar. However, there is also nothing that detracts from the gameplay experience. I love the music that plays throughout the opening anime (which oddly, I got a trophy just for watching), and a few of the tracks throughout the game are hummable. Sound effects are run-of-the-mill and nothing fantastic. But they don’t take away from the action. But they also don’t really do anything to add to it. So overall, no real complaints in the sound department, just no real praise either. With a title series as storied as this one is in JRPG circles, I had hoped for there to be just a little more in the sound department to help add to some of the truly epic moments that happen throughout the story.
Before I go ahead and give the final score for Disgaea D2 , I would like to take a second and talk about just a few of the overall issues I had with this game as well as some kudos. First off, I would love to have seen a little less grinding and spending time in the Council chambers trying to get them to allow me to do stuff. I feel that these things break up the pacing of the game far too much. I know it’s an RPG, but I just feel like every now and again, things get a little too drawn out as you try to level your troops enough to get past the next big thing. Secondly, I would like to say how much I love the combat system in this game. It is rare that I play a turn-based RPG that I don’t get a little bored with. But at no point throughout my entire gameplay experience did I feel like the combat system was in any way bad or not well thought out. As a matter of fact, I think that if more developers took a nod from this type of combat system, then turn-based games might not be such a drudge.
Since I am a long-time fan of anime, manga, and a really good Japanese video game (I even modded my SNES so I could play Super Famicom games on it), I think that Disgaea D2 is an overall good game. Is it stellar? No. Did it impress me? No. But it did show me that there are still turn-based RPGs out there that won’t bore me to tears. It showed me that a solid RPG can still be lighthearted and fun–even if the main character is a demon-overlord wannabe who is followed around by an angel and a smart-ass minion who is always saving your butt from disaster. All in all, I feel like this game is a solid journey through the story of Laharl after the events of the first Disgaea . And although it seems a little dated in the graphics and sound departments, the game never really made me want to stop playing. So for all its triumphs and all its faults, I say that if you are a fan of this series, you won’t be disappointed if you pick this game up and give it a go.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
Sadly, this title looks a little last-gen. 4.0 Control
No issues here. Well thought out and intuitive control system. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Again, sounds are a little dated and flat. 3.0 Play Value
Solid RPG with a classic feel and a combat system that puts the player in control of the action. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best