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Disgaea D2 Review: The true overlord returns

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Title: Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness
Price: $49.99
System(s): PS3
Release Date: October 8, 2013
Publisher (Developer): NIS America (NIS)
ESRB Rating: “Teen” for Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, and Suggestive Themes.

It’s been 10 long years, but the most lovable overlord of all has returned. I’m of course talking about Laharl, star of Disgaea, and now Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness . Disgaea is the series that started it all for NIS America. Though it wasn’t Nippon Ichi Software’s first game released outside of Japan, it certainly proved to be their most popular, and the adventures of Laharl, Etna, and Flonne helped build a stable fanbase of adoring, strategy RPG fans for the company. It’s only fitting that, instead of immediately going on to Disgaea 5, NIS and NIS America pay tribute to the original crew on their anniversary with a game that might actually be better than the original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness.

disgaea d2

Laharl is the Overlord, but is he fit to hold the position?

For those who somehow missed Disgaea when it came to the PS2, PSP, and DS, here are some spoilers. A young demon, named Laharl, woke up after a two year nap to learn his father, Overlord King Krichevskoy, died. Chaos ensued, with lots of usurpers trying to claim his title, and Laharl, his vassal Etna, and an angel assassin named Flonne, go on to take control of the Netherworld. Disgaea D2 decides the cannon ending of the original game is the one where Laharl becomes the Overlord, Etna remains his aide, and Flonne becomes a Fallen Angel and remains in the Netherworld.

Caught up? Good. Because even though Laharl is now the Overlord, nobody outside of his castle seems to acknowledge it. It’s to the point where the Krichevskoy Faction, lead by some former advisors to King Krichevskoy, are even trying to depose him and place someone they approve of on the throne. Naturally, Laharl won’t stand for this. He sets off with Etna, Flonne, and an angel that named Sicily that claims to be King Krichevskoy’s daughter, to prove he’s worthy of the job.

But, even if he manages that, things won’t go too smoothly. Disgaea D2 begins with Flonne attempting to plant a few flowers from Celestia in the palace’s garden. Laharl and Etna explain they won’t grow in the Netherworld, yet after they leave, one sprouts. The balance is off in the Netherworld, and it’s having a negative effect on all of its residents. Laharl has a big job ahead of him.

disgaea d2

The quest to turn characters into 9999-damage-inflicting machines.

Confession time, I always felt that the original Disgaea went off course when it brought Captain Gordon, Jennifer and Thursday into the plot. It felt like it was taking the story into a place where it didn’t need to go, distracting from the whole Netherworld/Celestia thing. Disgaea D2 doesn’t do that. It’s a more focused adventure with a compelling story that gradually builds up to a battle against a greater evil. However, don’t take that to mean that suddenly NIS has gone all serious on us. Disgaea D2 is a hilarious game, with quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. Not to mention, it has a fantastic translation and localization, which we’ve come to expect from NIS America games.

Of course, Disgaea isn’t just about the delightful adventure players. It’s about the epic battles that can be waged on field filled with fearsome opponents and possibly detrimental Geo Panels. Rest assured that Disgaea D2 is ready to offer a challenge. In fact, I found the first two chapters to be a bit more difficult than usual. Typically, I never feel forced to grind in the beginning of a Disgaea adventure, yet in Disgaea D2, I did. Fortunately, the newly instituted Cheat Shop meant I could go and adjust how much experience I’d receive from battles, to make sure I didn’t have to grind too much, if I wanted more experience, money, mana, or skill experience.

Cheating isn’t the only way to make sure certain characters get boosted faster in Disgaea D2. There’s a dojo that allows players to work on improving select character stats. All characters can also become a mentor or apprentice to other party members, thus giving them the chance to use and learn skills they wouldn’t normally obtain. Also, the character creation process for non-unique members has been improved. Aside from Evilities, which have been improved to the point where certain characters can only be damaged by certain genders, or get a massive defense boost for not moving, there are personalities that can influence a character’s abilities. N0t to mention, building bonds between characters could lead to them backing each other up with attacks, even if they aren’t near one another on the map.

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Aside from the aforementioned means of character improvement new to Disgaea D2, the general gameplay remains the same. Players dispatch their party members onto the field of battle, in a turn-based fashion. Characters positioned next to each other can follow up attacks when one goes after an enemy. There are plenty of special skills, which level up on their own to become stronger. Not to mention, lifting and throwing allies and enemies can be a crucial part of stage winning strategies. New to the mix is the ability of humanoid characters to mount monster characters. They can then ride the monster characters around the map, and may even have access to special mounted attacks.

Battle just works and flows well in Disgaea D2, which is good, because anyone playing it will be engaging in a lot of them. Aside from the story battles, which can be replayed, there’s also the Item World to explore. Going through an Item World will level up equipment and items, as usual, as floors are conquered. It can also lead to the acquisition of Innocents, which can be shifted over to other items to make them stronger. The pirate ship mechanic returns, except now beating a crew will give players a new ship that they can use to explore deeper into the Item World.

Finally, Disgaea D2 makes the hub area a more inviting place to visit. Typically, it’s just a space to heal, buy new equipment and items, and search once every chapter to find treasure chests with freebies. In this installment, there’s more to do. A double jump can be unlocked, for example, that allows characters to reach new areas in the castle. Also, someone can approach the Dark Assembly to switch the lead character. This means it won’t just be Laharl talking to NPCs and party members chilling around his home. Someone could control Etna, Flonne, Sicily, or even one of the custom characters. It adds a bit of variety and I recommend doing it a few times a chapter, if you have enough Mana, as people in the area will have different things to say to different party members.

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It’s good to see the old crew again.

I loved the original Disgaea, but I believe Disgaea D2 is a stronger game. There’s more character diversity, which leads to stronger crews with better skills, and the means of improving party members, sharing character skills and exploring the Item World is more solid. It’s easier to see what you need to do, and accomplish your goal of creating an unbeatable team of little monsters. More importantly, I feel the story is better as well. It’s more focused, while still retaining that trademark NIS humor. Disgaea D2 encorporates everything NIS has learned about making strategic RPGs over the years, and uses that to craft an idea Disgaea experience. If you’ve ever had any interested in the series, this is the installment to get.

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