A direct sequel to the very first game and a grand way to celebrate the series’ 10th anniversary, Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness (or D2 as we will refer to it for the remainder of this review) actually delivers the first direct sequel in Disgaea history and a pleasingly accessible introduction for potential newcomers. It may be a sequel with returning characters and an ongoing story, but I’ll let you in on a little secret……..the story doesn’t really matter.
That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining though. While the continuing tale of Laharl, Etna, and Flonne etc will please fans of the original with poor ol’ Laharl’s rule (achieved in the first game after many a tactical battle) being continually undermined by the leaders of Netherworld, what really makes D2 (and the whole Disgaea series for that matter) stand out from the crowd is its bizarre and totally irreverent sense of humour.
While the start is actually a little slow, and dare I say, a tad bland by Disgaea standards (a brief ‘this is what has happened’ and ‘this is what everyone is up to’ is understandably required), you’ll soon find yourself amidst a cast of brilliantly ridiculous characters brought to life by a truly ridiculous script in the kind of world that feels as bizarre as it is strangely grounded. The overarching story will keep plodding along, but it’s essentially there to drag you from one battle to the next, all the while, serving up as many memorable characters and lines of dialogue as any one person could reasonably hope for. In a genre about as po-faced as they come, Disgaea’s colourful world and comedic core continues to provide a pleasing change of pace and a much more welcoming experience than is offered by the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics and its ilk.
The core gameplay is still of the hardcore, tactical RPG persuasion, but thanks to a need to fall in line with the original Disgaea, D2 is actually a much more streamlined and, to an extent, noob-friendly experience than the brilliant, but somewhat intimidating , Disgaea 4. There is still a ton of content buried below the core, isometric grid based battle system, but the slight reduction in additional options and abilities, while unlikely to sit well with the hardcore, does make the experiences a little easier to approach for those who don’t play the series on a regular basis or, God help them, have never played a Disgaea game before.
While there is little actually new to be found is D2 beyond additional customisation options that provide the ability to add additional statistical bonuses by infusing units with unique ‘Evility’ traits and additional team attacks based around how well your members get on with each other, D2 does see the return of a host of previously seen skills and tactical options. The most obvious and affecting of these is the return of Geo Panels and their ability to imbue a host of modifiers on whoever stands on them. This of course is nothing new to the series, but as always, their inclusion does add a huge amount of tactical depth to a combat system that is essentially as deep as the payer wants it to be.
Further to the Geo Panels is the return of Master/Student system (a unique way to master additional class abilities) and the item upgrade system that allows you and your team to enter a specific item to simultaneously level up both the item in question, and the unit inside. Again, none of this is in anyway new, but as always, it all works brilliantly while contributing significantly to the Disgaea series’ unique feel and approach to the genre.
Some may view D2 as a step backward for the series due to its somewhat streamlined mechanics and reduction in additional abilities in comparison to the all-encompassing, Disgaea 4, but with a welcome return to the world of the much loved original providing a chance to trim the fat off a system that, while solid, was arguably becoming too convoluted for those looking to dip a toe in Nippon Ichi’s brilliant subversive world, I for one think that this one step back could provide two steps forward when it comes to the inevitable release of Disgaea 5. As great as Disgaea is, an unclimbable brick wall of systems and stats was slowly being built around a series that deserves to be experienced and enjoyed by a larger following than the current, passionate, but invariably niche following that it currently holds. While D2 is unlikely to prove the breakout hit that it arguably deserves to be, its foundations suggest such a breakout isn’t necessarily out of the question further down the line.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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