Hey Dood, has this ever happened to you? A curse spread across the world which caused almost all humans to turn into amnesiac demons.
DEVELOPER: NIPPON ICHI SOFTWARE, INC.
PUBLISHER: NIS AMERICA, INC.
RELEASE DATE: 30 JANUARY, 2017
GENRE: STRATEGIC RPG
You and your family are just so tired of the curse that you all work together to invite the God of All Overlords over to see if you can ask him kindly to stop it. Your mother collects all the necessary ingredients to summon him, your father and your younger siblings all sacrifice their life forces to summon the power and you put on your best pair of gloves in order to discuss the matter with the manly art of fisticuffs. Sadly all that work was for naught because rather than evoking the God of All Overlords, we end up with someone who apparently claims to be his previously unknown daughter. I think we’ve all been there haven’t we… I’m pretty sure we have been at that, Disgaea 2 was originally released back in the day on the Playstation 2 and after a few revamps and re-releases on various consoles it has eventually taken the gateway to the Steam Dimension. The Steam version is the equivalent of Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days, which is the original Disgaea 2 along with all the new content of the re-release versions and all the formerly paid DLC included.
I will come clean and say this is actually my first venture into the wacky world of Disgaea and I am actually saddened by that fact. I’ve been a fan of the traditional turn-based Japanese style Role Play Games and even enjoyed the Strategic RPG variants on that theme all my life so it is a real crime that I never tried a Disgaea game before now. It just isn’t my style to ignore a series entirely. I do have a valid excuse, I never owned a Playstation 2, my first Playstation was the Playstation 3 and even though it was one of the first generation PS3s that could play PS2 games, I had a really hard time finding any for sale. With that, Disgaea kind flew under my radar until I spotted it on Steam. I’ve encountered the Prinny, Disgaea’s odd looking, knife wielding, explosive penguin demon who has a fondness of saying “Dood (Dude)” through friends, but not being that inquisitive I never really thought too much about where it came from. Now that I have played Disgaea 2, I am going to promise myself to play the rest of the series, and I always keep my promises.
About the Game:
In comparison to modern console releases, Disgaea 2 is not going to win any beauty pageants, but that is mostly because Demon Lord Etna already hacked the Beauty Queen title on to herself. The game does look a little dated, and that might be a bit off-putting when you first start playing it but you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you let that stop you from playing it. There are filters for the characters that you can use to help it look a little cleaner though but they don’t really help that much. The default filter is far too blurry for my taste, and unfiltered is a little too retro, so taking the middle option made the game look the best it could for me. The sound track and character personalities really make up for any other shortcomings the game may have. All of the main characters and cutscene characters are voice acted as well, each helping to give the characters their own unique charms and personalities.
Let’s talk about the basics of the story first. The game is set in a world suffering from a curse that changed pretty much all humans into demons. The converted humans can’t really remember their human lives clearly and what they do remember is slowly slipping away as the curse progresses. Adell, the protagonist, appears to be unaffected by the curse for some reason and makes it his mission to save his family from the curse by fighting the Overlord until the curse is lifted. Adell won’t have to face this challenge alone however, as he can hire helpers to aid him on his journey. Along the way he will encounter other people, some of whom are willing to aid him in his quest and others who don’t take too kindly to him despite having a common enemy.
One of these other people is named Axel, who actually has his own game mode which can be unlocked, but we will talk about that more later. Axel is an actor who played a character on TV called the Dark Hero at one point in time, and now is a washed up has been searching for new glory. Sadly for him, Adell was tricked into thinking Axel was the Overlord (no one has actually seen Overlord Zenon) and since Axel is so used to having a stunt double for his action scenes, poor Axel was easily beaten up. From then on, Axel spends a good portion of the game trying to prove to the media he isn’t dead, but the media seems to prefer to think he is dead and this Axel-like person is just a deranged cosplayer. Axel’s attempts to be recognized become more and more desperate as time goes on and is encountered again by Adell multiple times, almost always ending up with Axel being beaten up thoroughly yet again.
Getting back to Adell’s story, the main star of the Adell mode of the game (the default game), his quest slightly changes after the summoning mishap at the start of the game. Rather than finding the Overlord and killing him so the curse will be lifted, his new goal becomes to return the Overlord’s daughter, Rozalin, to him and then kill him. Rozalin, of course, doesn’t like the idea of Adell killing her father, but thanks to the summon binding her to Adell, she has no choice but to go with him. She actually is the reason why Adell attacked Axel in the first place, as she really has no intention of actually helping Adell find and kill her father. I won’t really get too much more into the story other than to say it has to be one of the most wacky, humour laden games I have encountered since the Monkey Island series. Everything about the story and characters are amusing. This is not a serious story sort of game at all, and if the rest of the series is going to be like this one, I am sure going to enjoy that ride.
Game Style and Game Features:
At its core, Disgaea 2 is a Strategic, turn-based, Japanese style, Role-Playing Game akin to Final Fantasy Tactics or Luminous Arc. You command your team of up to ten units against the enemy team and you take turns moving around the map, selecting your moves and trying to beat the other side into submission. There are different elevations to the maps and this can impact movement and your ability to hit the enemy or for your enemy to hit you, so you need to be aware of your surroundings in order to maximize survival. There are also things called Geopanels. Geopanels are tiles that can have status effects on them based on whatever the attached Geosymbol has. It could be beneficial to you, giving you extra defense, money or experience or even restoring your health or giving you an extra attack. Alternatively it could be against you, leveling the enemies up each turn, blocking your way, cloning new enemies, draining your health or disabling some of your abilities. It can be a bit game changing when a move you were planning is thwarted by the fact the enemy is standing on an invulnerability tile. The game also throws a few Geopuzzles your way, which means you can’t just start shattering Geosymbols all willy-nilly as you might quickly find yourself trapped in a no-win situation!
As for the way the game is laid out, it is based around a central hub. This hub is generally the main town of the game. In the town there are NPCs to chat with, some that give you access to the shops and the various other things one can get up to around town. Besides the generic shop NPCs found in virtually any RPG ever made, there are a few interesting elements to be found here. The Hospital, while much like in other games, heals and revives your units, it also rewards you for your patronage. The more you go, the better the rewards will get. In reality, much like real loyalty rewards programs, you have to spend far more than the item is worth in order to get one free, but still something free is always better than nothing free. There is also the Gatekeeper, who is basically how you select where you want to go next. There is the Post Office which will deliver you all your felonies (because just existing may be a crime!). And lastly, there is the Bureaucratic Dark Assembly where even you can live out your dream of being a senator of sorts by voting “yay” or “nay” on various bills!
The Bills System is a rather interesting feature of this game. Rather than having things unlock naturally as you play, you must ask permission of the Dark Assembly. The Dark Assembly will the vote on whether or not they want to let your bill pass. There are various things you can do to help your bill succeed. There is the cheaty method of just reloading the save until it works, but the proper way to do it is to either rack up the felonies so they like you (since they are demons, felonies are like badges of honour similar to those issued to war veterans!) You can bribe them with items until they like you, make the ones that dislike you drunk, sober up the drunk ones that like you or you can beat them up until they accept your way is the correct way, or at least the way that leads to them not being killed again. The fun thing about this system, besides all this, is the fact that they are demons. Even if you bribe them to the point they love you, they might still vote against you because they are a bunch of jerks. I have lost votes by a landslide despite having over 80% approval rating before going into it, and bribing everyone else. With these bills, you can unlock many things. Unlock new character classes, new items in the shops, new areas to explore, plenty of things. Also at the Dark Assembly is where you can create new characters, delete or reincarnate the old ones.
Reincarnation is where you take one of your current characters and restart them at level 1. I can hear you say, “Why would you ever want to do that?” and the answer to that is quite simple. Reincarnation allows you to keep some of the stats and skills the character already had prior to the reincarnation plus it lets you change or upgrade your character’s class. Upgrading the class allows you to take on upgraded forms of the same class or advancing to a new school of magic. For example if you started out with a fire wielding Mage, but found yourself often wishing you had ice or wind magic, you could reincarnate the fire Mage into either of those and have access to both the new ice/wind magic and some of the old fire magic. If you are bored of elemental attacks, you could also unlock and upgrade to a star Mage, which does non-elemental attacks. Each class has an improved version, but you need to play the lower version enough to unlock it. Have you found yourself with too many people with the same basic skill sets? Well you have two choices, make a new character from scratch and level it up, or you can change an existing character into an entirely new class, retaining some of the previous class’s benefits. Your Fighter gets himself beat up too much and can’t heal? Why not Reincarnate him into a Healer and let him live that life for a while before switching him back to a higher level Fighter or some other class entirely. The nice thing about doing it this way, as mentioned previously, you are keeping some of your pre-existing skills and experience, so reincarnation is basically a way to bank levels. This system helps make the game even more enjoyable as it is nearly impossible to really screw up your characters as you can change any choices you make quite easily. You don’t really want to use Reincarnate too often though, because while it is almost always beneficial to reincarnate at some point, you need to ensure you have sufficient Mana to make it worthwhile. This Mana, which is earned from fighting or special potions, is used to construct or reconstruct a character of whatever configuration you so desire. The more Mana you spend on the character the better overall the character will be starting out. If one was to spend the bare minimum for a character, the character would start with a stat hit and bring very little over from their previous life in comparison to someone who you spend a little more on, who will bring over more skills and even get bonus stat points to spend however you like. Spending the maximum amount of Mana requires the Dark Assembly’s approval, however, it yields the best results.
Reincarnating random characters is great as you can make them be the jack/jill of all trades if you so desire, but the officially named characters like Adell don’t have the luxury of putting on their robe and wizard’s hat and roleplay the part of a castor like the others can. For them, it is best to give them students. Students are basically other controllable characters that you create using the Mana from the master character, in this case, Adell. As the student levels it will pass on a little of its highest stat to the master, but that is not all. If the master is standing next to the student, the student can actually train the master as well. So Adell likes to run up and punch enemies, that’s fantastic, but your Healer may not be able to move as far as Adell can per turn or maybe she has other problems to deal with than babysitting the fool for running headlong into battle without reinforcements. If Adell had a Healer as a student (or anyone else who has the heal spell), Adell can start casting it himself. Do it enough times and he won’t even need that condensing Healer’s magic to heal himself when he bravely charges headlong into danger to save the world. Basically any magic is transferable.
You can even equip any weapons you want to your humanoid characters and they can use them just fine. Each class has its own weapon skills, so it is best to give a Mage a staff for example, but nothing would stop you from giving them a sword, axe, bow, etc. The reason why weapon choices are important though is the fact that other than just having the weapons match your characters stats properly is the fact that weapon types affect the ranges of your spells as well. Equipped with a melee weapon and they will have mostly melee range for magic as well. Equip them with a staff and you will have a much further range for your spells. Depending on which weapon class is being used at a time also impacts which weapon skills the character will learn and use. Even if they were the most dead-eyed shot with their gun, give them an Axe and they will no longer have access to their gun skills, not even the melee ranged point-blank Proximity shot. Same thing goes for the equipment your characters can wear. They can equip anything; there are no class restrictions on gear. Each bit of gear however impacts the wearers’ stats in certain ways so it is best to give int boosting items to casters, and hit boosting items to gunners, etc. No two pieces of equipment are the same either. Each one has “residents” attached to it that provide extra stats, resistances or abilities to the weapon or gear. These “residents” can be manipulated in a place called the Item World, so even something as simple as a sword can get quite complicated in this game. There is one last thing I would like to mention about gear as well. If you want, you can upgrade your gear often, but if you leave a piece equipped for a long time, it might fall in love with you! Lovers give boosts to existing gear, which enhances the special abilities of the wearer.
I mentioned class previously so now would be a good time to talk about those in a little more detail. There are two major classes of characters you can use: Humanoids and Monsters. Humanoids come in different subclasses that are fairly obvious to tell what they do. An Archer is one who has a preference for using bows, a Thief likes to steal things, Mages use magic, etc. like I described to some degree already, the other are the monsters you fight. How many times have you played a game and thought to yourself, “wow that was a really cool looking monster, I sure wish I could have that on my team!” well in Disgaea 2, you can! Pretty much any non-boss monster can be caught or created once they have been encountered. After the battle, assuming you were victorious, you can head to the Dark Assembly and create your very own monster! Or if you are being frugal, you could always call yourself Ash, and just capture one. “Prinny, I choose you!” Monsters are quite similar to the humanoids, however they are restricted to only using one of the two monster type weapons. You can freely swap between the monster type weapons though, and they can still equip the humanoid armors and accessories. So now you are faced with a choice, do you just play with the humans or do you mix in some interesting and unique monsters to switch things up. If you do end up fighting with a monster army though, you should consider enlisting the humanoid Beastmaster in order to maximize their potential.
Besides just exploring the quest line, there are plenty of other things you can get up to in the world of Disgaea 2. There is the Item World for starters. Basically what that is, you take any bit of gear or item you may have and go inside of it. Inside each item in the game has a series of levels for you to explore, and each time you go into the Item World, the levels are randomly generated again meaning no two entries into the Item World will be the same even if it is the identical item from a reloaded save file! The deeper you go, the harder it gets, but the rewards are worth it. You can’t just freely leave the Item World (you must have an item that can only be acquired after surviving at least 10 floors at a time), and you can’t save your game or revive/restore your characters until you reach the Innocent Town which only has a chance to occur every 10 levels and even then it may not show up. Not only do you level up the item, you also can enhance its abilities. Also within the Item World are rare items you can’t really find anywhere else. It’s also the place you go to face the Dark Court in order to collect additional felonies on your character (which as mentioned is a good thing in the eyes of the demons). Watch out though, the Item World often contains the challenging pirates which can really turn the tables on you. Defeating a pirate however nets you a bit of a treasure map which unlocks another mode, the Land of Carnage. The Land of Carnage is a great place to level up your character and meet some new friends and contains a whole new set of levels for you to enjoy. There is the Cave of Ordeals which can be unlocked via the Dark Assembly which is another great place to level your characters. The last bit I want to talk about is the Dark World. The Dark World is a crazy alternate universe style area in the game. Basically almost all of the original levels are available in the Dark World, you just have to unlock them by satisfying the conditions required to unlock that stage. It’s full of strong enemies and besides worrying about what the geopanels have in store for you, you have to worry about the Dark Sun. The Dark Sun, similar to geopanels, impact the playing field. Unlike geopanels, the Dark Sun can really mess with you badly. Thankfully, like geopanels, you can stop the effect from happening if you take out the cause. Rather than smashing the geostone, you have to sacrifice a character by throwing it into the sun with the ascend command. After you burn to death a few of your characters, then Dark Sun will leave you alone for the rest of that stage. There is a bit of an extra touch of nastiness here though. If the characters you charred to a crisp were convicted felons, the enemies will level up based on how big of a felon they were. So as you can see, besides just the story, Disgaea 2 has a lot to offer you in terms of game play. There is even New Game+ mode so you could always restart your adventure and drive your levels ever higher! Assuming you don’t do the cheat code on the menu before hand, beating the game will also unlock Axel Mode, giving you Axel as the main character of his very own multi-chapter story!
Disgaea 2 has a lot of hidden little secrets scattered around for you to discover. With self-referential, fourth wall breaking style, the game does hint at these things if you talk to the NPCs in town, however it never usually tells you exactly what to do. For example, you can lift another character in the air that was already holding another character in the air in order to make one massive tower of ten characters that will then all attack in sequence against their chosen target. It’s very silly, not exactly super effective, but it’s a great way to protect you low level characters while still being able to do decent damage to the enemy and it’s really a lot of fun! It’s actually impossible to share all the pleasure or silliness that Disgaea 2 has to offer, plus it would start spoiling the experience for you if you knew exactly what to expect. Just know that the stuff I talked about above is just a small taste of the game. There are plenty of other things you can do in the Dark Assembly, for example, that I didn’t even mention, such as reincarnating yourself into a Prinny temporarily to absolve yourself of your felonies (while still keeping their bonus effect).
The characters in this game are also incredibly fun to watch. For example, Etna, is extremely abusive to the poor Prinnies, not caring at all if they die, and often killing them just because she felt like it. Tink, a man who was turned into a frog, has a split personality, one of them is quite friendly but the other has a short temper and is a bit like Pepé Le Pew around women. You can switch between his personalities in battle to change up his special ability. Yukimaru, who is out to get revenge for the slaughter of her clan is also quick to turn to ritual suicide if she fails her mission or feels like her mission is threatened. There is even Adell’s family. His mother is callus and has little regard for the life of her family, the father who is a bit wimpy and has a dirty minded talking pimple on his chest, the little brother (Taro) and sister (Hanako) each adding interest to the mix.
About the Gameplay:
The last thing we should talk about before I conclude this review is the gameplay itself. It currently has support for keyboard and mouse or gamepad and you can swap between the two without even touching the settings menu. The game will automatically update the button prompts based on whatever controls you last touched. If you move your mouse, the button prompts will swap to keyboard, press a button on your controller and it is back on controller mode. Both work really well, but I mostly used a gamepad for it. It’s a snap to grid style movement and attack style. You can only move or fight things that are within range of your character. Different weapons and equipment can impact your move distances and attack ranges, but overall you will be limited. You have the ability to have at least one action and one move per turn per character. The action could be attacking, using a spell, using an item, or throwing another character forward in order to extend their movement distance by a few more tiles. If a character has not performed an action and no one is standing where that character had started the turn, you can reset them back to their starting position for that turn at any time. This allows you to cheaply set up combos. Combos are basically a chain of attacks that any character in a directly adjacent tile as the attacking character can join in on the action. The more characters joining in, the more damage that is potential and the more moves that will be performed. This only works for melee attacks however, so you can’t cast a spell or ability and expect your neighbours to join in too. Taking part in a combo as an extra doesn’t count as an action, so you can retreat the character and have them stand next to the next attacker in the hopes they will join in again. Towering units will always do a combo, so if you are really desperate for a combo, or if the enemy is just slightly outside of your movement range and you don’t want to throw someone closer, you could have them tower and attack.
The battle gameplay basically is your team versus theirs, and the last team standing is the winner. Each side taking turns planning their actions and trying to hurt their enemies as much as possible. If an enemy is too close to you, and you feel like you need some distance between a weakened character and the enemy, you can either pick up the weakened character and throw them back towards your healer or you can pick up the enemy and throw it away as well. Just watch your aim because you can combine enemies into stronger ones if you are not careful! Throwing enemies into your home portal will attempt to capture them, however, should you fail, all characters still within the portal will die and the portal will shatter spitting out the weakened but still threatening monster. Another thing you should pay attention to is the equipment the enemy is wearing. Do they have a really expensive or otherwise good looking bit of gear? Send in your thief to try to steal it. Stealing it will add it to your inventory and reduce that enemy’s effectiveness in battle. Thanks to a friend pointing out the secret to unlock the Dark World, I seen a level 100 character with a bow I really wanted for my Archer. I repeatedly used my little Thief with all the best gear I could muster to try to steal that bow. Finally I got it. I then had my low-level army (All of them were under level 20) take on the bow-less Archer. Most of them died gloriously, some of them died painfully, but in the end, I have my bow! This also is how I first experienced the Dark World and learned it was a very bad idea for my low level characters to have stolen that lady’s bow several chapters earlier! The magic system works well. As a spell levels up you get additional targeting options. Rather than hitting a single target, you can now hit two in a diagonal, or three in a row, four in a square, five in a plus shape, etc. so it encourages you to keep using your spells. The higher the level your character gets, more powerful versions of the spells begin to unlock. Here is the thing though, more powerful versions might be better, but they also consume more magic points, so sometimes you are better off using a little less power to finish of an enemy. This makes it important to always try to keep leveling up older spells you have surpassed, you never know when you will be too low on MP to use the higher level spell, out of items to restore your magic and about to be killed by a small army of enemies, a highly leveled basic spell might just save your life!
As mentioned previously, while not the best looking game in today’s standards of highly detailed 3D which often is more flash and little substance, we have a game that isn’t exactly modern day pleasing on the eyes (partially due to already being a decade old), but at least it is one that is full of substance. Disgaea 2 is definitely a game you will want to play if you are a fan of the Strategic RPG genre or even if you want a change of pace from the standard JRPG style RPG. The voices used for the game fit the characters quite well and it really makes it feel like those characters are really talking and interacting in a normal fashion, not forced for plot sake. They do break the fourth wall from time to time, but that just adds to the enjoyment of the story. The gameplay itself is really solid and works well, there is very little in terms of mechanics that I would like to see changed. Overall, Disgaea 2 is definitely a Save!
(click on the image to see the rating explanation)