I loved the original Disgaea, and when Disgaea 2 was released originally on PS2 I remember being crushingly disappointed that it would be 'almost' a clean break, with a new lead character and main cast, with many of my favorites from Disgaea only in cameo roles.
That frown got flipped upside down very quickly, though - some of the very best characters from Disgaea started popping up in more than cameo roles, and the game itself was everything a sequel to Disgaea should be, with the same incredibly addictive gameplay refined and improved.
The PS2 release went down well with me, but after the immense success of Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness Nippon Ichi decided to port the second title in the series to PSP as well.
Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days takes the popular second entry in the series and competently downsizes it to Sony's portable console with no losses to the actual gameplay and actually several tweaks and changes exclusive to the remake.
Everything you'd expect from a Disgaea title is here: There's grid-based fighting against monsters of many races, detailed character creation and customization and a gigantic level cap of level 9999 - an impressive number that few will reach, to be sure.
The game tells the story of Adell, the only survivor of a curse cast on a town by the Overlord Zenon. He ends up teaming up with said Overlord's daughter as they combine their resources to track him down for their own different reasons. As the plot progresses the party grows immensely with both story-based characters and those you'll be creating yourself.
The story characters have superb interaction, with wonderfully written dialogue and superbly acted and directed English voice acting adding to the game's irresistible charm. There's some satisfying plot twists, and Disgaea 2 certainly has a less predictable story than its predecessor or even Disgaea 3.
The heart of the game is in its turn-based, grid-based tactical battles that allow you to take a large number of characters onto the grid to fight against a large variety of enemies. There's a number of classes of character for you to create, all of whom have different abilities that'll have to be used to win battles. You'll have to juggle different classes, moves and abilities in every battle, with some battles frankly fiendishly difficult.
Terrain-editing Geo stones return, with a much larger focus on them and an understanding of the Geo Stone system now far more important throughout the game. Once again they can be moved, destroyed and stacked to change the terrain and make the fight a little easier, stacking bonuses in your favor.
Another returning element from the previous game is the item world - any item in the game can be used to generate a random dungeon which you can fight through. Fighting through each floor of the dungeon will improve the item in question, making it better - weapons will do more damage, armor will protect you more - all that stuff.
Item World is a fantastic idea and on the PSP it's even better - the practically unlimited number of dungeon combinations provides hours of gameplay and the ease of jumping into the Item World is ideal for portable play where you may fancy one or two quick battles without the shackles of the story mode's cutscenes.
Disgaea 2 bought a lot of important changes to the formula of the series, too - White Mages can now gain experience by healing and casting buffs on friendly characters rather than having to fight to level up - a much appreciated change. In all, Disgaea 2 is a competent improvement over the first title.
The music is fantastic, with several recognizable themes from the previous game returning. The interesting mix of whacky, fun music and pumping battle tunes are back again, and Disgaea is definitely a game you'll want to be plugging headphones into your PSP for. There's a Song Merchant you can purchase new tracks from, too!
But what of Dark Hero Days? The PSP port takes its title from a second story, unlocked after completing the main storyline. This spin-off story sees you play as the "Dark Hero" Axel, who appeared as an NPC in the original storyline. The new storyline isn't as lengthy or as impressive as the main storyline, but is a welcome addition and definitely adds a lot of value - and even more hours of gameplay - to the PSP release.
There's a few additions and tweaks to the gameplay of Disgaea 2's standard story, too. Some Disgaea 3 elements are present now, and there have been a lot of bug fixes, tweaks and changes made aside from that, making the game a little more difficult in places, easing off the difficulty in crazy sections.
With the PSP controls so similar to the PS2 pad that originally was home to Disgaea 1 and 2, the controls in the title are easy to use, intuitive and simple. There have been some improvements to the interface to make browsing the menus easier, too.
Dark Hero Days seems to be running on the same engine as Afternoon of Darkness, and features the same 2D sprites on 3D backgrounds alongside beautiful hand-drawn artwork of the characters for cutscenes - it's all the Disgaea standard, which isn't the most amazing technically but still serviceably pretty.
In conclusion, Disgaea 2: Dark Hero Days is simultaneously one of the better sequels and ports we've seen in the RPG genre, and while it lacks the genre-changing impact that the first title it's definitely a must-have for PSP-owning RPG fans - even if you've already played the original.