The Disgaea franchise is a decade old. I'm still trying to wrap my head around that, even as I write this. Developer NIS' Makai series has been one of my favorite franchises in gaming ever since I first went along with Laharl, Etna, and Flonne through their journey for dominance of the Netherworld. There have been a few miscues along the way, but overall the Disgaea series in particular has been consistently enjoyable, and with Disgaea D2, NIS decided to take us back to where it all began. With the returning cast of the original Disgaea, we get Laharl, the newly minted though not necessarily respected Overlord of the Netherworld, his vassal Etna, who's still one plot away from stealing all that Laharl has worked to achieve, and Flonne, the fallen angel who's messages of love and compassion are like nails on a chalkboard to the demons and scoundrels that inhabit the Netherworld. So what happens when another family member shows up laying claim to the Krichevskoy legacy of controlling the Netherworld as Overlord? For better or worse, quite a bit of what we've come to know and love of Disgaea to be frankly honest.
Disgaea D2 brings the story back around as a direct sequel to the original Disgaea released in 2003, featuring the original cast and a few new characters that are along for the ride as the Netherworld seemingly rises up as one to revolt against Laharl and his claim to be the Overlord, led by the servants of the deceased King Kirchevskoy. They'll be a constant thorn in Laharl's side, along with the spreading of flowers that seem to be coming from Celestia, which means the angels are up to something again. And what's up with the guy claiming to be Etna's brother? And Laharl's got a sister from Celestia now? There's plenty of laughs to go along with the different story threads to follow here, but it gets wrapped up pretty well by the end of the surprisingly short story campaign thanks to another quality translation from the team at NIS. There are some post-game missions that can be unlocked via the Dark Assembly, but overall it's a much leaner story than past Disgaea games, which means that by hour 30, if you've played your cards right, you're ready for some of those sweet post-game trips through the Item World.
A lot of Disgaea D2 is going to feel familiar from a gameplay standpoint, as that has mostly remained unchanged for the past 10 years. So if you've never been a fan of Disgaea's gameplay then you can just move along right now, because there isn't really going to be anything that will pull you in if you're not keen on NIS' style of strategy role-playing games. For the rest of you out there, this is pretty much the best rendition of Disgaea yet, with a lot of minor tweaks that go a long way to making it the most customizable experience you could possibly ask for.
So where to begin? Well, let's start with the Cheat Shop. By clearing certain requirements you'll unlock the ability to modify a bunch of different aspects of the game, from the amount of experience and money you gain, to the difficulty of the enemies. So rather than pass a bill in the Dark Assembly to raise the difficulty, it's now a more static setting, allowing you to change it whenever you're not in battle. Then you've got the Dojo, where you can train characters to increase their stats when they level up, or increase the amount of experience or mana they gain when defeating enemies. If you like to micromanage numbers then this most certainly will appeal to you, but if not, it's not going to slow you down to the point that you can't make some decent progress through the game's story mode, though you'll definitely need it when you're ready for some of the end-game content.
Another point of contention for those who aren't exactly down with Disgaea are going to be the dated visuals, do we really need 2D sprites these days? The answer is going to be a matter of contention for some, but for me, yes I do, and I'm glad that NIS is still going this route. They haven't really stepped up their animation game, but what is present is still really pleasant to look at, although zooming in on some units will reveal some low-res pixels at times, but overall, Disgaea still looks like Disgaea, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. The same can be said for Tenpei Sato's soundtrack, which doesn't miss a beat, but still sounds as familiar as ever. I'm not saying he should scrap the whole soundtrack, because what's here is certainly great, but it's not particularly memorable this time around. The voice acting is also kind of hit or miss with some characters, and even the Japanese vocal track can get a little grating with oft-repeated lines that seem to take up way too much time, especially when you're hearing them repeatedly after you cancel an action and select that character again.
So there are some things that are in on this new Disgaea, and there are some things that seem to be conspicuously missing. From a gameplay standpoint these might change how you go about doing battle, or affect the builds you made previously but for the most part their addition, or removal, seems to all be for the sake of speeding up gameplay. First, no more tricky diagonal throws, which is a boon, since a mistimed throw could potentially ruin a battle for me. No more wacky tower attacks, unless they've been hidden from the player behind some sort of obfuscation, but I'd like to think that if I'm running around after completing the game's story and I'm not finding something that used to be there, then it's fair to say it has been removed. A lot of the social gameplay mechanics that were present in Disgaea 4 also received the ax which is a bummer because I enjoyed sending my pirate band out in to the Item World to wreak havoc on others (or provide some leveling fodder for those who were stronger). New bonus levels are in for the Item World now, which can give you some super-powered Innocent units to take with you when you leave, or you can take them out to give the item you're exploring even more of a boost.
Disgaea D2 is in a weird place for me. On one hand I really like that it's a new story featuring the original cast, but at the same time, it doesn't really go anywhere or have the same kind of impact of the first game. [SPOILER ALERT] Like when you found out that Laharl's mom was a prinny [END SPOILER], there are a lot more family ties that seem to get caught up in this Netherworld struggle, but overall it didn't really feel all that new. And while the story is shorter, it actually felt like it was over too quickly. With only 10 chapters, it felt like this is a game that meant to be three acts, but only wound up with two for some reason, and once I reached the end, the post-game stuff didn't really hold the same appeal. The Cave of Ordeals feels shorter than most, and the bonus chapters are fun and humorous, but again, really short. There is one bonus chapter that's a two-parter and you're really going to have to work if you want to unlock that one because the mana costs for it are incredibly high. But at least you're always a trip to the cheat shop away from being able to modify those values.
If you've been around the block with Disgaea then you should have no problem getting wrapped up in Disgaea D2. It's got a lot of the heart that goes into these titles, though it feels like they kind of went half-hearted on the soul. I'm not disappointed in this game, in fact I wish there was just more to it, because what is here is pretty fantastic and you most certainly won't be disappointed. If you've taken a break from Disgaea after playing the first game, now might be a good time to come back, or if you're still holding on to that save file from the original game, it's time to come and see what the gang has been up to.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
I recently cleared the 10 year club with Gaming Nexus. Kind of surprised I've been a mainstay here for a little over a decade now.
In a past life I worked with Interplay, EA, Harmonix, Konami, and a number of other developers and have recently returned from a job in Texas doing production work for a company that did cell phone games. Now I'm working for a record label, along with Gaming Nexus, and anywhere else that sees fit to employ me.