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The Disgaea series has always held a special place in my heart. With a penchant for quirky characters, wacky humor and some of the deepest SRPG gameplay mechanics, Disgaea has managed to create a niche for itself over the years. The newest entry in the series, Disgaea D2, attempts to take a crack at the mainstream.
The series debuted with Disgaea Hour of Darkness ten years ago. While technically being the fifth installment in the series, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness has the distinction of being the first true sequel to Hour of Darkness. Laharl, Etna and Flonne finally make their long-awaited return to the spotlight.
The story picks up right where Hour of Darkness left off. Laharl has just taken his father’s place as overlord of the netherworld. The only problem is that not a single soul in the netherworld seems to know or care much about it. Worse still, a group of insurgents have risen up against Laharl deeming him unworthy for the role of overlord. This sets up the premise of the game with Laharl setting off on a journey to reclaim his lost man (boy?) hood. The lighthearted narrative mostly serves as window-dressing for the aforementioned deep gameplay elements. When I say deep, I don’t use the term lightly. No other game offers more bang for your buck than a Disgaea game. This one’s no exception.
So, what’s new? If you’re an ardent Disgaea fan you probably already know the answer to that. Well, not a whole lot. Disgaea D2 retains the visual style of its predecessors but thanks to a little polish it looks better than ever. The core gameplay remains unchanged albeit with a few additions. For instance the renewed emphasis on the importance of teamwork. The more you develop relations between your characters, the better the chances of them having your back in a confrontation. Your allies will come to your aid in the form of cover attacks and protect actions. Watch as they swoop in to save your skin from a fatal blow or deliver the final strike to that one enemy you just couldn’t finish off.
Another new feature is the ability to mount monster units. The monster units in Disgaea have always felt like an afterthought. There was never a compelling enough reason to make them part of the regular roster in the past. The magichange ability was introduced in Disgaea 3 through which any human character could fuse with a monster unit in order to create powerful weapons to use in battle. This certainly made things more interesting but the tedious matter of leveling up said monster unit still remained. The mount system effectively replaces magichange in D2. Now any human character can literally “mount” a monster unit thereby acquiring its defense and movement values while retaining their own attack power. Any actions performed while mounted result in full XP for both parties involved. The new system opens the door to a myriad of possibilities. In my experience, attempting to compensate for one character’s weakness by pairing it up with another that has an affinity to it has yielded the best results so far. There are no absolutes here of course, the system is ripe for experimentation.
An important aspect of Disgaea has always been freedom of choice. While most RPGs simply decide to stick you with a preset group of characters for the entirety of the game, Disgaea more or less lets you dictate how your team shapes up. With the inclusion of the Demon Dojo and the Cheat Shop in D2, the courtesy seems to have been extended to all the other aspects of the game as well. Not only do you get to control who gets to be on your team, now you can even control how they evolve as they level up. The Demon Dojo deals with stat growth while the Cheat Shop can be used to alter the amount of XP, mana and HL received for getting rid of enemies. It fits in nicely with the free-form nature of the game.
For all its changes, at the end of the day this is still a Disgaea game through and through. Fans of the franchise have come to know what to expect by now and are content as long as NIS keeps creating more of its ilk. It’s hard to explain to someone who isn’t a fan but it has a certain endearing quality that’s kept it going for this long. With a more forgiving learning curve and significantly easier difficulty level, this is the perfect time time to hop onto the Disgaea train. You won’t regret it, believe me. Once you sink a hundred or so hours into the limitless depths of item world, you’ll never enjoy any other SRPG quite as much.
Ten years and the formula continues to be compelling. Here’s to another ten. Cheers.