Disgaea D2 hit shelves in Japan back in March, and NIS America brought it stateside earlier this month. Here in the states, Disgaea is not exactly “mainstream;” it’s a pretty niche title with a loyal following. If you’re a fan of the Disgaea series, you’ve probably been playing this for a while already (a lot of you probably even imported it). Fans of this series know what to expect it by now and don’t need a review to inform them about the pros and cons of the game, and especially not from a reviewer like myself.
Prior to playing this game for review, I had zero experience with the Disgaea franchise. I have heard of the series for years, and I’ve seen gameplay videos and “Let’s Play” videos of previous installments, but I’ve never been hands on with it. That’s why I was anxious to finally get my hands on it; it had always looked like something I could get into and spend a lot of time with. This review is for those of you who aren’t already fans of the franchise, because it is a niche title and there is a learning curve.
A Brighter Darkness is the direct sequel to the first game in the series, the PS2 title Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. It is the fifth Disgaea game to hit home consoles, and the second for PS3. The series has produced numerous handheld titles and spin-offs, but A Brighter Darkness is the only title that is a full sequel to the original PS2 title complete with the same characters you played with in Hour of Darkness. Now I have no knowledge of Hour of Darkness, but from what I can tell, you don’t need to have played the original (now some 10 years old) to enjoy this one. Longtime fans may get some references and nods, but the rest of us don’t need to worry about missing anything or being “out of it.”
For someone who isn’t plugged into the series, describing it actually proves a little difficult. It’s a Japanese RPG, which unfortunately is enough to scare off many Americans. It isn’t even the Final Fantasy type either. Instead, it’s more a game for those who like tactics (again, unfortunately something else that can scare many off). There’s no epic quest; just a storyline you probably won’t care for (I readily admit to not caring at all for the plot, which I’ll briefly touch on later).
Once you get past the tutorial (which is generous in its easing you into the mechanics without totally holding your hand), you can start to ignore the story some and just grind your way to high levels for your characters. The game really is all about the combat; which takes place on grids of varying sizes and is turn based. You can do these battles with your small starting party, or as you acquire the means, you can bring a large army of people, creatures, and monsters in. The strategy comes in from figuring out not only how to tackle the enemies within the level, but also how to inflict the most possible damage and get the biggest score you can. Surrounding an enemy with party members can trigger a team attack on that enemy that can deal out massive damage.
There is an interesting mechanic within the combat that is super helpful, and that’s the ability to stack and throw your allies. A character may only be able to move a few grid spaces before he can move no further during that turn, but you can get around this by simply stacking characters on top of one another, and then throwing, throwing, and throwing. Of course you don’t want to be stupid and do this at the beginning and end up getting one character surrounded by enemies because you ended up throwing them across the grid. Play smart, use strategy… you’re not running and gunning here so think things through and survey your surroundings.
If you have a friendly monster in your army, you can mount that monster. The cool thing about this mechanic is that its your monster that is taking damage, and you’re still able to attack while mounted on it. This gives weaker characters a little more edge as they’re more protected somewhat. Of course you can’t stack and throw characters with a character that is on a mount, and there are some special skills/attacks that you can’t do while on a mount, so there is a tradeoff to its usefulness.
When you’re not out in combat to progress the story or grind, you’re in the game’s central hub. Now your castle may not look like much, but its actually a useful place where you’re going to spend quite a bit of time. It’s here that you can find treasures, buy new equipment, heal characters, train characters, and create characters, plus a bunch of other stuff. It’s almost exhausting. This is not a game to think you’re going to spend 10 hours with, see everything, and be done with. The game has a ton of stuff to offer, and realistically is something you can spend many hundreds and hundreds of hours with provided you like the game (and it certainly isn’t for everyone).
One thing you’ll want to keep an eye on is what is called “affinity.” You can interact with party members while roaming the castle or in battle. Doing so can increase affection or distaste amongst party members. If you have two characters who care for each other, and they’re beside one another in combat, one will follow up on the others attack and you can chain attacks and deal more damage. If they don’t care for one another, that’s not going to work. You can up this by maybe having a character in defense to protect (i.e. take damage for) another character. It is important to remember that you can hurt allies with attacks in this game, so make sure you aren’t friendly firing on your allies because that is definitely a sure-fire way to get them to hate a character.
Thinking up strategies on how to best handle a level of strong enemies, or solving an environmental puzzle (like different colored grids that affect stats in different ways) is a lot of fun. A large portion of your time will definitely be in the field in combat. But odds are, if you get invested in the game, you’re going to spend an insane amount of time creating party members and really growing the size of your army. Lots of time will be spent leveling all of these characters up, trying to get the best gear for them, and trying to plan out the best possible army that you can get. The game is near limitless here.
There’s so much depth involved here with stats and skills, and things apprenticeships, that it can almost be overwhelming for the new player jumping in. You need game money and EXP to do things, and there is reading to be done too. For those who really get into it, it can legitimately be the only game you play for quite sometime. If you’re the kind who gets easily sucked into games and have a large backlog, beware that this could almost become a commitment.
I did say I would touch on the plot briefly, so here it goes. Main character wise, you play as demon prince Laharal, his vassal Etna, and a goody-good “fallen angel” named Flonne. Laharal proclaims himself Overloard of the Netherworld, but of course other demons want the position and don’t acknowledge Laharal… and why would they? They’re all kids/teens basically. The story does not take itself seriously at all. It’s all goofy and silly, and overall quite “anime” and Japanese. There’s a ton of humor and you’ll know exactly what you’re getting, story wise, from the opening of the game. Odds are, you’re simply not going to care, or even try to follow the story.
Luckily, the game makes up for any story shortcomings by simply being fun to play and both looking and sounding good. One thing that really helps the game be fun is the camera. You can freely move it around so that you can see things, which is great since some of the frustrations I’ve had with other strategy RPG games (and even non-strategy JRPG’s) is horrible camera angles that you can’t control. Any frustration here is going to be because of party members dying due to poor planning on your part.
As someone new to the series, I’ve definitely enjoyed my time with Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness. I did struggle a bit early one, but I caught on to it and subsequently warmed up to it. If you’re open to playing a strategy-JRPG, and I know many people who aren’t sadly, then this one is a great one to give a shot. Just know that you’re not a hero on an epic quest to save a town or world who is going to be battling giant enemies in real time… your a punk demon kid battling enemies in turn-based fashion on a grid. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, skip this because you’re not going to like it at all. If that kind of thing sounds intriguing to you, then you’ll find tons of value in Disgaea D2.
Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness gets a three out of five: GOOD.
* A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.