Despite four wonderful mainstay entries, the Disgaea series is one that hasn’t been at its best since the original installment. While the gameplay and characters of the second, third and fourth iterations were all delightful in their own way, the cast of the first title still remains the strongest, most interesting and beloved of the bunch — nothing beats Laharl and the gang, no matter how many Mao’s or Almaz’s are considered. Thus, when news dropped that a proper sequel to the initial title was coming down the pipe, fans rejoiced at the thought of re-entering the Netherworld with the troupe that started it all. Now with just over two months until Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness launches, we’ve had some time to sit down with the game — and boy, does it feel good to be back hanging with the arrogant son of King Krichevskoy once again.
Disgaea Dimension 2 picks up where Hour of Darkness left off. In the aftermath of the first title’s epic finale, our anti-hero, and favorite demon bad-boy, Laharl finally finds himself as a full-fledged Overlord. Unfortunately, the Netherworld’s denizens aren’t exactly taking kindly to his reign and do not consider him a ruler at all. As a result, a rebel group of demons, dubbed the Krichevskoy Faction, band together with hopes of dethroning him and putting into power someone they deem more suitable of the job. Making things all the more complicated for Laharl, though, is the unprovoked appearance of Celestial Flowers, which are altering the very atmosphere of the Netherworld itself. Naturally, the Faction see this as an opportunity to further their agenda and consequently lay blame on Laharl for the flowers’ appearances, calling it a retaliatory attack for the events that occurred in Hour of Darkness.
From there, all sorts of zaniness occurs that may or may not land our young hero in the body of a female, turning him into the aptly named Laharl-Chan. Naturally, our fledgling Overlord must find the answers as to why this has happened, all the while winning back his subjects by earning their respect. Of course, to do this he needs to employ the help of his faithful vassals. Thus, players can expect to see Etna, Flonne and Prinny once again, among many other new and familiar faces, as they aid our protagonist in accomplishing his lofty ambitions. Needless to say, Nippon Ichi are certainly looking to broaden the scope of adventure in D2 by tackling a variety of plot hooks and themes sure to bring a smile to the faces of anyone who’s historically marveled in the usual Disgaea wackiness.
But aside from that very distinct level of humor for which the franchise is known, making a return to center stage as well is the tactical combat made famous by Dimension 2‘s predecessors. Sometimes the phrase, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” is used as a catalyst for a creative team not having to think outside the box or deliver an original experience. Other times, however, it’s a design philosophy intentionally chosen because the foundation work already laid is strong beyond words. The latter is certainly true for D2. As a result, the core gameplay in A Brighter Darkness remains the same as in those that came before it. Therefore, players can expect to spend a great deal of their time maneuvering units across isometric battlefields with the intent of squashing any and all opponents in their way.
Aside from that, however, there are some new features to take note of, specifically the Monster Mounting option which takes the place of Magichange from Disgaea 3 and 4. With this feature, a character is able to ride on the back of a Monster and attack from atop while the monster below absorbs the punishment for them. Adding to this layer of strategic depth is the ability to forge relationships with said monsters to raise one’s “heart scale”. By strengthening these bonds, players can influence the strength of combination attacks used when taking advantage of the Monster Mounting mechanic. The amount of damage done in these instances will depend almost entirely on the relationship between the character and their mounted counterpart, so creating a strong tie is essential.
Also new to D2 is the Cheat Shop, a system that grants folks the chance to alter specific attributes of their characters, further enchaining customization capabilities. In addition to that is another change to the formula that gives players and enemies alike substantially increased HP and SP up to 99 billion (well beyond 10 billion seen in previous games). While on the topic of what Dimension 2 is shaking up, the Item World has now been renamed to the Item Sea. This modification brings with it changes to elements such as Mystery Rooms and Item Assemblies, which may take some getting used to by returning players and veterans of the series who knew the Item World like the back of their hand.
But not everything in A Brighter Darkness is new and shiny. In fact, Weapon Mastery has returned from Hour of Darkness and Cursed Memories and remains largely the same. Sure, there’s the option to raise the rank of a specific character’s Weapon Mastery when creating a character, and Skill Boosting has been removed in an effort to create a more refined, balanced experience, but the core components of what made this mechanic so sweet in the past are still very much so in tact here.
By and large, Dimension 2 is the same Disgaea we’ve always known and loved, but with some tweaks — some big, others not so much. Perhaps the most obvious of the bunch, however, is the upgrade in visual fidelity, which infiltrates everything from the central graphics to aesthetic improvements to the HUD, menus and movement grid in combat. Truly, Disgaea has never looked better; and we don’t just mean that in a graphical sense.
By the by, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness is looking to be the JRPG that sends the PS3 off with a bang. During this time of a resurgence for the genre, it’s great to see NIS leading the charge and sharpening the point of the spear with its strong addition to the much adored Disgaea franchise. Dimension 2 is set for a PlayStation 3 release October 8 inNorth America and Europe on September 27.